September 2, 2008

Gonzales Admits Security Breach — Lawyers: Ex-AG Mishandled Secrets

By Lara Jakes Jordan

WASHINGTON - Former Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales mishandled highly classified notes about a secret counter-terror program, but he did not do so on purpose, according to a memo by his legal team.

The memo acknowledges that Gonzales improperly stored notes about the program and might have taken them home at one point.

Removing secret documents from specially secured rooms violates government policy.

Gonzales' lawyers wrote in their memo that there is no evidence the security breach resulted in the viewing of secret information by anyone who was not authorized.

The classified notes focus on a March 2004 meeting with congressional leaders about a national security program that was about to expire. Efforts to renew the program sparked an intense Bush administration debate that played out at the hospital bedside of then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft.

The memo was prepared by Gonzales' legal team as a response to a report being finalized by the Justice Department's inspector general. The report, which could be released as early as today, is expected to criticize Gonzales' handling of sensitive compartmentalized information, or SCI, according to the memo.

Gonzales agrees with inspector general's findings that his handling of notes and other SCI documents "was not consistent with the department's regulations governing the proper storage and handling of information classified as SCI," concluded the legal team's memo. "Judge Gonzales regrets this lapse."

Sensitive compartmentalized information is one of the highest and most sensitive levels of classified documents and is deemed top secret. It usually relates to national security cases.

Gonzales' lawyers acknowledge that he kept the notes in a safe in his fifth-floor office at the Justice Department, along with a small number of other highly classified papers, instead of in the special facilities accessible only by certain people with top-secret security clearances.

He also might have taken the notes home in 2005 as he was moving out of the White House counsel's office, where he served until he was sworn in as attorney general at the start of President Bush's second term, the memo says.

Originally published by Lara Jakes Jordan Associated Press .

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