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U.S. suspends security clearance for ambassador to Israel
Investigation focuses on envoy's handling of intelligence information
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. Department of State has suspended security clearance for Martin Indyk, U.S. ambassador to Israel, pending a State Department and FBI investigation into his handling of intelligence information.
Officials believe it is the first time the State Department has suspended a U.S. ambassador's security clearance.
Although officials said "there is no indication of espionage" or "the compromise of intelligence information," they also said Indyk may be guilty of "possible sloppiness" in his handling of classified information.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told CNN late Friday that Indyk, a well-respected U.S. diplomat, had his security clearance suspended September 21 "pending the outcome of an investigation into whether or not he violated the Department of State security standards."
Officials said Indyk was "cooperating fully" with both the FBI and the State Department.
The investigation started in August, prompted by an allegation "from internal sources," and was sparked by an incident that happened before Ambassador Indyk returned to Israel in January of this year, officials said.
The investigation will examine "how he handled classified information ... the security practices he followed and possible violations," a U.S. official said.
On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright notified Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak of her decision to suspend Indyk's security clearance.
The Indyk investigation leaves the U.S. Embassy's number two diplomat, Charge d'affaires Paul Simons, as the most senior U.S. official in Israel.
Indyk was serving a second tour as U.S. ambassador to Israel. After serving in Israel during the Clinton administration's first term, Indyk eventually returned to Washington to assume the position of assistant secretary of state for Near East policy.
In January, at the request of Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton, Indyk returned to Israel to help accelerate peace talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Officials say Indyk's security suspension should have "no direct effect on peace talks," which have been moving slowly since July, when a summit between Israeli and Palestinian leaders at Camp David, Maryland, ended without agreement.
Recent security concerns
Following a series of embarrassing security lapses at the State Department, Albright last summer insisted on a top-to-bottom security review, and has since demanded all employees review security procedures and follow them to the letter.
Among the most serious security lapses was the discovery of a listening device planted in a seventh-floor conference room near Albright's office, and the FBI arrest of a Russian diplomat caught outside the department recording conference room activities.
In addition, last spring, a highly classified laptop computer containing so-called "code word" data on State Department sources and methods disappeared from ostensibly the most secure area in the department.
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