FBI in the dark about its own lost laptops

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation lost 160 laptop computers in less than four years, or on average nearly four each month, according to the inspector general for the Department of Justice. In many cases, the FBI didn’t know what was on the missing computers.

Although the audit by the inspector general concluded that the FBI was doing a better job of hanging on to its laptops than it had in the past – during an earlier review period losses averaged more than 11 a month – it criticized the agency for not enforcing its own rules on reporting lost or stolen hardware. And the inspector general hit the agency for not being able to detail the contents of the laptops.

Ten of the computers had confidential or sensitive data on their hard drives, according to the report, including one stolen in the Boston area that included software for creating FBI identification badges. And 51 other systems also may have contained secrets. Of those, six had been assigned to the FBI’s counter-intelligence division and one had been with the agency’s counter-terrorism division.

“The FBI did not know the content of these computers or whether they contained sensitive or classified information,” said the report. “Without knowing the contents of these lost and stolen laptop computers, it is impossible for the FBI to know the extent of the damage these losses might have had on its operations or on national security.”

Counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism are two departments in the FBI regularly entrusted with the agency’s most confidential information.

The same audit also uncovered the loss of 160 FBI weapons, including 10 shotguns, six submachine guns and eight rifles, during the 44-month span. Unlike the majority of the laptops, which were reported as lost, 59 per cent of the weapons were stolen, many from agents’ vehicles.

In a statement this week, FBI Assistant Director John Miller noted that weapon and laptop losses at the agency had been reduced, but acknowledged that “more needs to be done to ensure the proper handling of the loss and theft of weapons and laptops, and the information maintained on them.”

The FBI isn’t the only federal agency having trouble keeping track of its computers. The Department of Veterans Affairs, for example, announced earlier this week that a lost laptop may have contained as many as 1.8 million records of veterans and doctors. That’s 36 times more than the 50,000 individuals first thought to be affected by the loss.

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