FBI investigates State's missing computer

FBI investigates State's missing computer

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff



A House committee intends to grill State Department officials about their systems security after a notebook computer that contained sensitive information was left in a conference room and apparently stolen.

'The missing laptop is the latest in a long string of security failures at the State Department,' said Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House International Relations Committee. 'It is obvious that the department lacks a professional environment that is sensitive to security concerns.'

State officials do not know for certain what was on the computer, which disappeared from the department's Intelligence and Research Bureau in early February, State spokesman Andy Laine said.

'The information is only described as highly classified,' Laine said. He said he did not know if the computer contained material that could put agents' lives in jeopardy.

The FBI is investigating the computer's disappearance.

Laine said State is pursuing all possible leads, including building contractors who had been working in the area from which the computer disappeared.

The department is also conducting a damage assessment to find out what information the computer contained, he said.

This is not the first security gaffe for the Intelligence and Research Bureau.'The State inspector general last year reported that the bureau failed to comply with many security procedures, Laine said.

The bureau handles all top-secret reports at State. Low-level security documents are the responsibility of the Office of Diplomatic Security, Laine said.

In another incident, a bugging device, apparently placed by agents of the Russian intelligence agency, was discovered last year in a department conference room near the Office of the Secretary of State, Gilman said.'And in 1998, a man walked into the secretary's suite of offices and removed a sheaf of classified papers, Gilman said. The man and the papers were never found, he said.

'Our committee intends to pursue these security failures with public hearings in May and through other oversight mechanisms,' Gilman said. 'Such security lapses are unacceptable.'

But Laine said there are stringent security procedures. 'Unlike recent incidents, this appears to be an instance where it isn't a failure of the security program,' he said. 'It's a failure of an individual to follow the program.'

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