Commerce Secretary Unveils New Security Policy
By Ben White
Commerce Secretary William Daley has announced measures to tighten security and limit access to classified information in his department. He said they include appointment of a top manager for security issues.
The initiative to tighten security came after intense criticism of the ease with which John Huang, as a deputy assistant secretary for trade missions, obtained clearance to attend high-level briefings and view sensitive documents, while maintaining contacts with his former employers, the Indonesia-based Lippo Group, and possibly the Chinese government.
In his announcement Monday, Daley said concerns about Huang's access to top-secret clearance with only a preliminary review have been largely addressed. He said in an interview that the reforms also address broader issues such as the proliferation of sensitive electronic data.
Daley said the internal review was assessed by the Security Policy Board, an interagency body chaired by the Director of Central Intelligence. Intense scrutiny of the department following the public revelations about Huang's access was mirrored by concern within the department about how Huang was able to maintain his clearance after he left.
Huang moved in December 1995 from Commerce to the Democratic National Committee, where he became a pivotal figure in the controversy over questionable funds raised by Democrats during the 1996 campaign. Senate investigators pointed to Huang as key to an alleged Chinese attempt to influence U.S. elections.
Even before the Huang issues arose, critics had charged that under the previous secretary, the late Ronald H. Brown, spaces on overseas trade missions were awarded to big-ticket Democratic donors.
Daley named David Holmes, formerly director of the Office of Inspection at the Secret Service, to fill the new position of deputy assistant secretary for security. He will take over the Office of Security Feb. 15.
Holmes will implement what Daley called a new "need to know" policy on access to confidential material and briefings.
The 1997 congressional campaign-finance hearings revealed that while at Commerce, Huang was shown hundreds of secret reports on Asia during briefings he attended between October 1994 and November 1995. Those briefings, by Commerce officials as well as CIA agents, reportedly included information such as business opportunities in Vietnam and the business climate in Hong Kong.
The new policy ends automatic clearance for political appointees such as Huang and periodic, unannounced reviews of security practices. Daley said the number of clearances at Commerce has dropped from 5,415 to 3,978 during his tenure.
The budget had been increased 25 percent for the Office of Security, which now consolidates supervision of security personnel in the secretary's office.
In May 1997, House Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) wrote Daley criticizing Commerce for what he viewed as a lax attitude toward top-secret material. He cited the length of time it took the department to provide information on Huang to the House committee investigating campaign finance.
Daley responded by explaining that the effort to reform security measures included development of a better system for tracking classified documents.
Holmes will implement a computer system to keep better track of classified information, including reports on foreign trade and the highly sensitive domestic economic information handled by the department. The new system will use bar codes to track documents as as they travel around the department.
In a statement, Solomon said Daley had taken "an important step in trying to get a grip on the flow of sensitive classified material through his department, in stark contrast to the stonewalling and obstructionist attitude of his immediate predecessor."
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