DOJ missing hundreds of laptops

The Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General released an audit report Aug. 5 revealing that more than 400 laptop computers have been reported lost or stolen from Justice agencies, including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to the report, "it is possible that the missing laptop computers would have been used to process and store national security or sensitive law enforcement information that, if divulged, could harm the public."

The bulk of the missing laptops belonged to the FBI (317) and the U.S. Marshals Service (56). The FBI laptops reported missing equate to about 2 percent of the agency's inventory (15,000 total). The Bureau of Prisons reported 27 missing laptops out of an inventory of 2,690.

The DEA could not provide the inspector general with the number of losses because of the "unreliability of data," the report noted.

The audits of the Bureau of Prisons and the Marshals Service cover laptop computers reported lost, stolen or missing from October 1999 to August 2001, and the FBI's audit covers equipment reported missing from October 1999 to January 2002.

"The loss of these items is significant because of the sensitive nature of the missing property," Justice Inspector General Glen Fine stated in the audit. "The information contained on these laptop computers could compromise national security or jeopardize ongoing investigations."

Before last year, the FBI had not taken a complete inventory of laptop computers in almost a decade, breaking agency policy that requires inventory to be taken every two years, Fine said.

In a statement released Aug. 5, FBI officials said, "We commend the inspector general and his staff for thorough investigation into this matter involving unaccounted-for laptop computers."

The inspector general listed a series of recommendations for Justice agencies to follow to strengthen controls over laptop computers. The proposals include:

* Encourage components to take advantage of bar codes and scanning devices to enhance the management of sensitive property.

* Strengthen requirements for reporting the loss of laptop computers by establishing deadlines, requiring that the loss discovery date be reported, and requiring timely reports of laptop losses to the National Crime Information Center.

* Revise the guidelines for retrieving sensitive property from employees who leave.

* Require that laptop computer disposal documents certify that all sensitive information has been removed before the computer has been discarded.

As a result of the inspector general's recommendations in key areas of security, FBI officials said they can strengthen and better enforce current policies and practices as well as implement new steps in security provisions.

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