Security glitches plague State Department, IG testifies

Security glitches plague State Department, IG testifies

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

MAY 15—The recent disappearance of a notebook computer containing sensitive information is just one of several security gaffs at the State Department, an official told the House International Relations Committee.

Weaknesses include a lack of disciplinary actions against those who violate security measures or punitive actions too lenient to deter future breaches, State inspector general Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers testified last week.

Officials in State's overseas posts make security and safety a top priority, but the agency's domestic offices do not, she said.

Purchased in 1996, the laptop computer was kept for the use of officers from other bureaus engaged in counterproliferation work, said J. Stapleton Roy, assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research. It was stored in an intelligence-and-research area because it contained highly classified information on the proliferation of weapons and technologies of mass destruction, and related delivery systems, he said.

Personnel were prohibited from removing the computer from the secure area, where open storage was authorized under department regulations, Roy said.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) questioned the logic of purchasing a notebook PC rather than a larger, harder-to-conceal desktop computer.

"We weren't considering theft when we purchased the unit," Roy explained.

State discovered the loss on Jan. 31, when someone outside the bureau asked for it, he told the committee. The department didn't report the computer missing for nearly two weeks as it tried to track down the laptop, contacting all in-house personnel as well as officers outside the bureau who were authorized to use the computer, he said. Some 40 officers outside the country were contacted, Roy testified.

On Feb. 10, the department contacted State's Diplomatic Security unit and notified the CIA Center for Security about the missing computer and the information it contained.

An FBI section chief declined to discuss the particulars of the investigation, but he noted that portable computers present serious potential security problems.

At the FBI, the only notebook computers allowed by the agency carry appropriate safeguards for classified data, including passwords and encryption, Timothy D. Bereznay testified.

"These laptops are maintained by automation personnel and are available for short-period loans to FBI employees," Bereznay said. "The laptop computers are periodically examined, and the stored information purged."

The FBI also purges and reprograms the hard drives before loaning them out again, he said.

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