Central Intelligence Agency spokesman William Harlow said Friday he knew of no precedent for the action taken against Deutch, a former deputy defense secretary who spent 38 years in public service before leaving the CIA in December 1996.
The decision to suspend Deutch's security clearances was made by CIA Director George Tenet, Deutch's successor. Tenet acted after reviewing an inspector general's report on Deutch's improper handling of classified materials.
"Director Tenet regrets that it was necessary for him to take this action, particularly in light of Dr. Deutch's distinguished record of public service," the CIA public affairs office said in a written statement.
Deutch issued a written statement through the CIA in which he acknowledged he erred by using an unsecured computer to write classified documents and memoranda at his home. He stressed that investigators found no information was compromised as a result of his lapses.
"I respect the decision of the director to suspend my CIA clearances," Deutch said. "As for the future, I intend to do everything in my power to reassure my colleagues at the agency of my commitment to comply with the rules that safeguard classified information."
The inspector general's report to Tenet on July 13 is classified. Tenet said it found no evidence that national security information was lost due to Deutch's security lapses, but "potential for damage to U.S. security existed."
The CIA normally does not announce suspension of security clearances but did this time because of prior news coverage about the Deutch case, officials said.
John Pike, an intelligence specialist at the Federation of American Scientists, said he believes Tenet acted because of the public uproar over allegations that Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, gave China secrets about America's nuclear arsenal. The Lee investigation has unleashed an avalanche of charges about government inattention to lapses in protection of classified materials.
"There was no way they could conceivably explain letting Deutch off the hook" in light of the Lee case, Pike said, even though most officials regarded Deutch's lapses at the time as "the sort of normal violation that is against the rules but is frequently practiced" and not punished.
Deutch is an unpaid consultant to the CIA. The suspension of his security clearances makes it unlikely that the relationship will continue, Terrence O'Donnell, his personal attorney, said in an interview. O'Donnell said the CIA gave no assurance when the suspension might be reconsidered.
Deutch was CIA director from May 1995 to December 1996. When he was leaving his CIA post, agency tchnicians went to his home for routine checks to ensure that secrets were properly protected. They found 31 classified documents on a CIA-issued computer not configured for classified work.
The Justice Department decided in April not to prosecute Deutch but recommended that the CIA review Deutch's continued suitability to hold high-level security clearances. It concluded that Deutch's security lapses were reckless rather than criminal.
In its statement Friday, the CIA said Tenet decided to suspend Deutch's clearances indefinitely in light of the "nature of the security violations involved" and the former director's responsibility as a senior intelligence official to set the highest standards in the protection of classified information.
Just last month, Deutch concluded a stint as chairman of a bipartisan commission that assessed the government's preparedness to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction, a role in which he relied on CIA security clearances.