By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
The FBI said that 160 laptop computers were lost or stolen in less than four years, including at least 10 that contained sensitive or classified information -- one of which held "personal identifying information on FBI personnel," according to a report released yesterday.
The bureau, which has struggled for years to improve its sloppy inventory procedures, also reported the same number of missing weapons -- 160 -- from February 2002 to September 2005. Those weapons included shotguns and submachine guns, according to the report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.
In addition to the 10 laptops that were confirmed to contain sensitive information, the FBI could not say whether 51 other computers may also contain secret data, the report said. Six were assigned to the counterintelligence division and a seventh belonged to the counterterrorism division. Both units 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 report said.
The results are an improvement on findings in a similar audit in 2002, which reported that 354 weapons and 317 laptops were lost or stolen at the FBI over about two years. They follow the high-profile losses last year of laptops containing personal information from the Veterans Administration and the Internal Revenue Service.
In a statement yesterday, FBI Assistant Director John Miller emphasized that the report showed "significant progress in decreasing the rate of loss for weapons and laptops" at the FBI. The average number of laptops or guns that went missing dropped from about 12 per month to four per month for each category, according to the report.
But several lawmakers said they are still concerned about the FBI's difficulties in keeping track of weapons and sensitive data.
" 'Making progress' may seem like a win for the FBI, but it's unacceptable when you're talking about lost weapons and computers with sensitive information," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a frequent FBI critic.
The report acknowledged the FBI's improved loss rates, and said that "some weapons and laptops will inevitably be stolen or go missing" in a large law enforcement agency. But investigators said they were still troubled by the numbers of lost or stolen items and the haphazard record-keeping surrounding them.
The FBI maintains more than 52,000 weapons and 26,000 laptops, according to the report.
The FBI failed to report 20 percent of the missing weapons and 76 percent of the missing laptops to the Justice Department as required, the report found. In the case of stolen or lost weapons, the bureau even failed to enter the losses into its own criminal information database, the report said.
It also said that in four of the 10 confirmed cases involving missing laptops that contained sensitive data, FBI officials did not attempt to assess the potential damage to national security.
Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), the ranking Republican member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the Justice Department reported only two missing laptops to his committee when asked for a tally of incidents last year.
"This is the latest in a long string of personal information breaches at federal agencies, and there is no end in sight," Davis said.
The FBI quarreled with the inclusion of 43 missing weapons in the current report, saying that they were lost or stolen before the inquiry began. But Fine's investigators said the report includes all weapons and laptops reported missing during the study period, and noted that the weapons in question were not included in the previous audit.
To "delete them would give the appearance that the FBI had 43 fewer lost or stolen weapons than was actually the case," the report said.
The FBI reported that the contents were unknown for six of the 10 missing laptops with potentially sensitive data.
The rest included one in Boston with software for creating identification badges; one in New Orleans used to process digital images from surveillance operations; and one stolen from the security division that contained a "security plan" for an electronic access system. The final laptop was stolen from the FBI Laboratory at Quantico and contained the names, addresses and telephone numbers of FBI employees. The lost or stolen weapons include "handguns, rifles, shotguns and submachine guns," the report said. More than 80 percent were pistols, and about 10 percent were training weapons that did not use live ammunition.
The 2002 report found nearly 1,000 firearms were missing at the FBI and other 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.