WASHINGTON – Since capturing a spy in its ranks, the FBI has reduced the number of agents with access to sensitive intelligence and conducted hundreds of polygraphs that have identified possible problems with about 10 employees, officials said.
Senior FBI officials said the intensified focus on preventing espionage also has increased the number of disciplinary cases in the last six months involving employees.
No new espionage suspects have been identified, officials said. Most matters have been referred to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates internal wrongdoing, the officials said.
"Our goal is to bring the culture along to the point where security is considered part of the daily operations," said Ken Senser, a CIA employee who was brought over to the FBI in 1999 to improve internal security. He now oversees the FBI's new security division.
Over the last six months, the FBI has reduced by hundreds the number of employees who have access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), which is even more sensitive than top secret intelligence.
Roughly half of the FBI's 28,000 employees held SCI clearance at times before the number was reduced. Officials said the new, lower figure is classified, but only employees with a need to know such information for their immediate jobs now hold the high-level clearance.
"We focused on the numbers of people who had access to SCI and actually we were able to reduce that number noticeably," Senser said.
Former CIA and FBI Director William Webster is wrapping up a massive review of the FBI's internal security in the aftermath of the Robert Hanssen spy case. The senior agent spied for Russia for more than a decade without U.S. detection.
While awaiting Webster's recommendations, the FBI agreed to answer questions earlier this week from The Associated Press about some of the changes and findings already made.
FBI officials said they have conducted more than 700 polygraphs of FBI agents and workers with access to the most sensitive information and have identified a small number whose tests raised flags, such as possible deception, that warranted additional scrutiny.
Officials said the number was just over 1 percent of those tested — just under 10 workers. They declined to be more specific, citing ongoing investigations and personnel privacy.
Officials said that some workers whose polygraphs raise initial concerns about deception may eventually be cleared because things like medical conditions can cause anomalies on the tests. But they described a broad effort to remake the FBI's internal security procedures.
Assistant FBI Director John Collingwood said internal security for too long was not given the priority and emphasis it needed inside an agency whose primary focus was catching criminals and which relied on a family oriented system of trust.
"We have failed to do those basic things, as mundane as they may seem, that are vital, and that are becoming increasingly vital, in today's world," Collingwood said.
In March 2001 as the bureau was still reeling from the breadth of Hanssen's espionage, then-Director Louis Freeh announced several changes that included increased use of polygraphs.
New Director Robert Mueller has gone even further, reorganizing the entire structure of the FBI to put added emphasis on terrorism prevention and improved internal security.
FBI officials said a key focus will be on a multiyear project to craft new computer systems that will detect suspicious activity as it is occurring rather than years later.
The goal eventually is to provide FBI supervisors with regular reports "that says these are 10 things that happened last night that you ought to look into that are causes of some concern," Senser said.
In the interim, every FBI field office has created a security council to routinely review issues of security and sensitive intelligence in day-to-day operations.
The sharper focus on security isn't limited to the FBI.
The Justice Department this month enacted tighter restrictions against foreigners working on computer systems at the department.
Officials indicated they may allow foreigners to continue working on some current projects if they determine there is "an acceptable level of risk," according to an internal memo.
"Waivers will be granted only in exceptional and unique circumstances," but foreigners would never be allowed to work on classified technology systems at Justice, the memo said.