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Guards for Madeleine after leaving office

By MARTIN WALKER

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 -- Madeleine Albright will become the first outgoing Secretary of State to be guarded by the Diplomatic Protection Bureau for six months after leaving office, under the new rules on security for top officials, because of growing concern for the terrorist network supposedly run by the Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, a Department of State spokesman said Friday. Under the old rules, an outgoing Secretary of State was granted protection for just 30 days.

The Diplomatic Protection Bureau provides security for top U.S. government officials and diplomats and senior foreign diplomats in Washington. Under the same new rules, Albright's successor would be the first Secretary of State to have official bodyguards from the moment of his nomination. Usually, this protection starts when the Secretary assumes office.

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"Secretary Albright has been a very high-profile leader around the world in the foreign policy arena, and our role in the world and US foreign policy will continue to require Secretaries of State to assume similar positions", said Department of State spokesman Phil Reeker said. "So the vulnerability and the threats don't end automatically upon leaving office, and that is why we think it is very important to have the ability to respond, to evaluate, and to provide necessary security for that additional period".

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Asked specifically if Secretary Albright was reckoned to be a target of Osama bin Laden, the State Dept spokesman replied: "I just can't get into perceived or specific threats in terms of this. Obviously those are threats. There are threats out there. We have seen terrorism at work".

Reeker went on: "I think everybody understands the need to protect our leaders, particularly those that are most visible. And that threat doesn't disappear after people leave office. Secretary Albright, for instance, has been very high profile around the world. Her face is known. She is a known figure".

Secretary Albright did not ask for the extra protection, the spokesman emphasized, and the costs of the extra protection would be absorbed within the existing security budget. The new rules were agreed by State Dept officials in consultation with the Secret Service, which provides protection for the President and the first family.

In 1993, the Secret Service extended its protection to the vice-president and his family -- a move that triggered a wider security review which led to the new State Department rules. No details were given on the scale of protection, whether it would operate for 24 hours a day and weekends, or whether guards would be resident and authorized to travel abroad with Mrs Albright.

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Meanwhile ABC News reported from the Yemen that American and Yemeni investigators have traced two direct links from Osama bin Laden, currently being given refuge by the fundamentalist Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and the October 12 bombing attack on the USS Cole. The attack on the US warship in Aden harbor killed 17 American sailors.

One suspect in custody, Jamal al Badawi, is reported to have confessed that he was trained in bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan, and fought alongside Arab guerrillas loyal to bin Laden to defend the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo in 1994-95. Another suspect in custody claims to have received $5000 from a known associate of bin Laden to help finance the attack. He was also asked to videotape the blast..

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