State Department security agents and the FBI are investigating a bizarre security breach in which a man who apparently knew his way around the building walked into an office on the department's executive floor and helped himself to top-secret documents while two secretaries watched.
The incident occurred a month ago, when the Clinton administration was reinforcing military strength in the Persian Gulf for a possible bombing campaign against Iraq.
State Department spokesman James P. Rubin, traveling in Europe with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other officials, said Sunday that the incident represents at least a troublesome departure from security procedures.
But security officials said it is premature to speculate about the consequences of the incident, first reported in Time magazine, because it is not known exactly what documents were taken, who the man was or whether the documents were removed from the building.
"No one has drawn the conclusion that this was benign," one official said, "but clearly this did not represent the MO of any spy. It wasn't clandestine. We do not know whether any national security information has been compromised."
The documents were taken from the office of the department's executive secretary, six doors from Albright's office. That office controls the flow of paper to the secretary of State.
Access to that part of the building requires either an escort or a coded card. A guard is posted just inside the door. Credentials that provide access to the building, such as press credentials, do not permit entry to the seventh-floor security area.
The man, who wore a brown tweed jacket, entered the office, opened a zippered pouch containing highly classified documents, put most of the contents in a briefcase and departed, officials said.
The two secretaries made no effort to stop him, department sources said, because he appeared to have authorized access to the area and seemed to know his way around.