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Report Shows Lost FBI Computers Still a Problem

Washington Post | February 12, 2007  
Dan Eggen

The FBI reported 160 laptop computers as lost or stolen in less than four years, including at least 10 that contained highly sensitive classified information and one that held "personal identifying information on FBI personnel," according to a new report released today.

The bureau, which has struggled for years to get a handle on sloppy inventory procedures, also reported 160 missing weapons during the same time period, from February 2002 to September 2005, according to the report by the Justice Department inspector general's office.

In addition to the 10 or more laptops that were confirmed to contain classified information, the FBI could not say whether another 51 computers might also contain secret data, the report said. Seven were assigned to the counterintelligence or counterterrorism divisions, which routinely handle classified information.

"Without knowing the content of these lost and stolen laptops, it is impossible for the FBI to determine the extent of the damage these losses might have had on its operations or on national security," the inspector general's office said.

FBI Associate Deputy Director Joseph L. Ford said in a written response that the report overstated the number of missing weapons by 43, but acknowledged that "more needs to be done to ensure the proper handling of the loss and theft of laptop computers."

The results are an improvement over findings of a similar audit in 2002, which reported 354 weapons and 317 laptops lost or stolen at the FBI.

Although the scale of the FBI's losses have improved, the new report said, investigators were still troubled by the numbers of missing items and the haphazard recordkeeping surrounding them. The report said that in some cases FBI officials did not attempt to assess the potential damage to national security when a laptop containing classified information was lost.

The FBI maintains more than 52,000 weapons and 26,000 laptops, the report said.

"Our review determined that the FBI has made some progress in improving its controls over weapons and laptops," Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said. "However, significant deficiencies remain, particularly with regard to the FBI's response to lost or stolen laptops that may contain sensitive information."

The previous reports of missing items at the FBI and other Justice Department agencies prompted stern rebukes in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and vows by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and others to improve weapon and computer security.

The 2002 report found nearly 1,000 missing firearms in Justice agencies, including at least 18 weapons later recovered by local police departments in connection with criminal investigations. Several were used in armed robberies and one was found in the pocket of a murder victim, according to the previous audit.


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