Carona loses his national security clearance

Times Staff Writers

In a further erosion of his powers, indicted Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona has been stripped of his national security clearance and forced to give up a seat on the Department of Homeland Security Advisory Council.

Carona, charged last month with misusing his office to enrich himself and others -- including his wife and a longtime mistress -- also has been given a leave of absence from the board of directors of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. The appointment followed the high-profile capture of the man who kidnapped and killed 5-year-old Samantha Runnion in 2002.

David Egner, the center’s spokesman, said Friday that the decision to remove Carona was made after the charges against him became public, and that it is “long-standing policy” to take such action against any indicted board member.

Homeland Security spokesman Larry Orluskie said Carona submitted his resignation to the advisory council Thursday night. He said the sheriff had lost access to all levels of classified information because “any time an employee is under indictment, the first thing we do is suspend their security clearance.”

Amid a cascade of calls for his resignation, Carona took a 60-day paid leave of absence last week while he fights the corruption charges. He put Undersheriff Jo Ann Galisky in charge of the department in his absence.


Through a spokesman, Galisky acknowledged Friday that she would have to be careful about what information she shares with Carona. But she said the department and public safety would not otherwise be affected by the suspension of the sheriff’s credentials because other members of the command staff have security clearances that give them access to classified information needed for terrorism investigations.

Other outside law enforcement officials agreed.

“I don’t want to say it doesn’t make a difference, but I wouldn’t say it’s critical to the operation of the department,” said Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, president of the California State Sheriffs Assn. “I know they’ll still manage to be safe and understand what the threats are.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, through a spokesman, said he did not believe he needed national security clearance to do his job.

Another Southern California law enforcement official, who did not want to be identified, said the corruption charges would have greater consequences because federal authorities, already reluctant to share information with local agencies, would be reticent to do so with a department led by an accused criminal -- whether or not that person had security clearance.

Chris Norby, chairman of Orange County’s Board of Supervisors, cited the revocation as one more reason why Carona should consider resigning.

“It’s unfortunately a story that has legs, and it’s like a centipede,” Norby said Friday. “With more than 3 million people, the county traditionally has had a leadership role in several areas and it’s sad to see that this is affecting that. There’s only one way to end this quickly with dignity, and we know what it is.”

Under a posting called “Only One Best Option,” Norby writes on his website that his office has been flooded with calls and e-mails from the public, with messages of “outrage, concern and embarrassment, all of which I share.”

Supervisor John Moorlach has pushed for the sheriff to step down.

Carona was named to the Homeland Security Advisory Council in 2003 by President Bush. Most recently, he was assigned to two council task forces -- one that examined the future of terrorism and another that addressed employee morale within the Homeland Security agency.

Earlier this year, an international law enforcement network that gathers and shares information about terrorism and organized crime barred the Orange County Sheriff’s Department from accessing its database because of Carona’s association with some businessmen, including a Las Vegas strip club owner with reputed mob ties who is now serving time for racketeering.

At the time, Carona downplayed the suspension, saying that he had never heard of the network, which is known as the Law Enforcement Intelligence Unit and is composed of about 250 police agencies in four countries.

In his three terms as sheriff, Carona has been named to a variety of other law enforcement boards and councils. His appointment to the missing and exploited children’s board came in 2003, a year after his camera-grabbing performance during the search for Runnion’s killer.

He trumpeted this and other appointments on his campaign website, which also lists an endorsement from former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik -- since indicted in his own corruption case.

As of Friday, Carona’s appointment to the advisory board of the U.S. Justice Department’s National Institute of Correction appeared to be safe -- at least for now.

“I know there has been some concern expressed about the charges, but no action has been taken so far,” said the organization’s director, Morris Thigpen. “The decision rests with the attorney general.”


Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this report.