WASHINGTON -- A suitcase containing highly classified government documents, including secret codes, disappeared this summer after an aide to Iran-contra independent prosecutor Lawrence Walsh checked it at curbside at Los Angeles International Airport.
The FBI has launched an intensive effort to recover the documents, which one source said had been carried to California for an interview with former President Reagan.
Mr. Walsh's office said yesterday that the documents were stolen. The Justice Department charged that Walsh waited more than two weeks before notifying it of the loss, reducing chances of finding the material.
It could not be learned what information was contained in the missing documents and whether national security was in any way compromised. However, the Justice Department accused Mr. Walsh's office of a "flagrant violation" of security that could affect pending Iran-contra cases.
During his nearly six-year investigation, Mr. Walsh has obtained thousands of classified documents, largely involving secret U.S. activities in Central America, Iran and Israel.
Mary Belcher, spokeswoman for Mr. Walsh, described the incident as a theft but refused to provide any details. "An employee's bag was stolen on an official trip," she said. "We cannot comment further."
The FBI and Justice Department also declined comment yesterday. But an Aug. 14 letter to Mr. Walsh from Deputy Attorney General George J. Terwilliger III discussed the incident in detail.
Mr. Walsh's assistant, Mr. Terwilliger wrote, placed a folder containing the secret documents "in a suitcase, which he then checked with an airline at a curbside check-in station. At the conclusion of the assistant's flight to Dulles Airport, the suitcase was missing and has not subsequently been located."
Mr. Terwilliger described the missing papers as "highly classified."