The Washington Post

Copies of Arlington records found in storage facility

Sixty-nine boxes of copied burial records containing the personal information of people buried at Arlington National Cemetery were found this month at a private storage facility in Northern Virginia, cemetery officials told a congressional subcommittee Thursday.

The boxes were discovered by the manager of the facility, who went to clear out the unit after he had not received rental payment. When he noticed that the records belonged to Arlington, he called the cemetery.

The cemetery notified the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division, which is investigating how the records ended up in storage, said Kathryn Condon, director of the Army’s cemeteries program. Army officials reviewed the records — which contained the full names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth of veterans and family members buried with them — and said that the risk of anyone’s personal identification being compromised was low.

Condon said that the records found in the storage unit June 9 were duplicates meant to be digitized and that the cemetery has all of the originals.

An Army CID spokesman said that criminal investigators had returned all but one of the boxes to Arlington. He would not say why investigators were holding on to that box.

During the hearing, U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) said he found it “extremely troubling that boxes containing this kind of information were left unsecured and only discovered allegedly due to a lack of payment for the use of a storage facility. . . . I take this breach very seriously.”

Paul Stephens, policy director for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit agency that tracks security breaches, said the deceased soldiers’ personal information probably could not have been misused to open credit accounts or engage in identity theft.

“There really is not a security issue for an individual who is deceased,” he said. “Though I suppose people can always find a way to abuse information.” 

In general, Stephens said, soldiers’ deaths are updated regularly in the Social Security Administration’s death master file, and any attempt to use the number of a deceased person would be flagged during a bank review for credit.

The storage unit was being rented by an employee of a company that the cemetery had hired to digitize its burial records, cemetery officials said. Citing the investigation, they declined to identify the company.

An investigation by the Army inspector general last year found that the cemetery had paid millions to a few companies in failed attempts to create a digital database of its paper records.

Condon said the cemetery had not notified the public about the find because the records belonged to the dead and the Social Security numbers “are no longer in use.”

“If there was a potential where we thought that there was current personal identifying information, we would have immediately notified not only the families but put out a press release,” she said.

Previously, CID had investigated allegations of conflicts of interest between Arlington personnel and a civilian contractor and referred its findings to the U.S. attorney, but prosecutors did not pursue charges.

Christian Davenport covers federal contracting for The Post's Financial desk. He joined The Post in 2000 and has served as an editor on the Metro desk and as a reporter covering military affairs. He is the author of "As You Were: To War and Back with the Black Hawk Battalion of the Virginia National Guard."

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.