US assesses and reacts to Soviet spy damage. Walker case characterized as `serious but not catastrophic'

Stung by the revelation of a network of alleged spies in its midst, the US Navy is putting more safeguards on its secrets. The number of Navy personnel with access to classified material will soon be cut. Commanders are to evaluate their security officers personally. Random briefcase checks are to begin at Navy installations.

``It's very clear that our security system has left a lot to be desired,'' Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. said Tuesday in announcing the changes.

The Walker espionage case has greatly embarrassed the United States Navy, as well as possibly compromised some of its most sensitive information. Any conversation with a Navy officer these days inevitably ends with a discussion of the affair.

The Navy says it expects no new related expos'es. Adm. James D. Watkins, chief of naval operations, said Tuesday that the probable damage revealed so far ``is very serious. But it is not catastrophic.''

Admiral Watkins said the most sensitive information apparently passed to the Soviets involved how to design and use secret communication equipment such as secure phones and coding devices. ``New designs must be accelerated'' for the compromised equipment, he said.

The Navy must also assume that the USSR has learned details of the equipment and tactics the US uses to track Soviet aircraft, ships, and submarines, Watkins said.

But any information relayed about US nuclear missile submarines would today be out of date and of little use to an enemy, he added.

Appearing with Watkins at a press conference, Secretary Lehman announced a number of measures aimed at preventing future episodes such as the Walker case.

The Navy will soon reduce the number of service personnel with security clearances by 10 percent. Ultimately such clearances will be cut in half, Lehman said.

``Today, out of 1 million people in the Department of the Navy, nearly 900,000 hold security clearances,'' he said.

Navy commanders have been directed to check the reliability of those who control the flow of secret documents.

Destruction of secret documents is to be better controlled. Commanding officers must make sure that papers awaiting burning or shredding are protected at all times. An existing rule requiring two people to be present at actual destruction is to be strictly enforced.

Random security inspections of individuals are to begin aboard Navy ships and in buildings where classified material is handled.

``Compliance with these procedures might have denied the Soviets access to classified information,'' reads an order issued by the Pentagon to Navy installations.

In addition, Lehman urged an expansion of the number of lie-detector tests administered to Navy personnel. He also called for tighter travel controls on Soviet government representatives in the US.

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