Lawmakers grill State about notebook theft

Lawmakers grill State about notebook theft

Madeleine Albright has made moves recently to improve security at State.

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

State Department officials this month told a House committee they remain clueless about the whereabouts of a missing notebook PC containing classified information.

The computer's disappearance while in the custody of the department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research is the latest security gaffe at State.

Jacquelyn L. Williams-Bridgers, State's inspector general, said one reason for the repeated problems could be that senior management is too lenient and takes no disciplinary action against department employees who violate security measures.

State's home offices offer ineffective access controls, Williams-Bridgers told the House International Relations Committee.

Office doors are often left open, making the loss or theft of sensitive information and equipment by unescorted, uncleared visitors and contractors possible, William-Bridgers said.

Earlier this year, State removed software from systems that it had bought under a sole-source contract because a citizen of the former Soviet Union had written the program. Senior managers feared a Trojan horse could be residing in one of a million lines of code, State officials said.

That program, written by Synergy International Systems Inc., which has offices in Vienna, Va., and Moscow, was being used to produce budget documents. The FBI and the National Security Agency are investigating the software, State officials said. The program had been installed on unclassified systems at about 170 embassies.

In recent weeks, State has made an effort to bolster its security oversight. Last month, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright made the Bureau of Diplomatic Security responsible for sensitive documents and information, a move that Williams-Bridgers lauded.

As for the missing notebook PC, officials bought it in 1996 so officers from other bureaus engaged in counterproliferation efforts could work at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, testified J. Stapleton Roy, assistant secretary of State for intelligence and research.

It was stored in a secure area because it contained highly classified information bearing on the proliferation of weapons and technologies of mass destruction, he said. Employees were not permitted to remove the computer from the secure area, he said.

Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) questioned Roy about the logic of buying a notebook rather than a larger, harder-to-steal desktop computer.

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

On Jan. 31, a would-be user from outside the bureau asked for the computer, but it was not found, Roy told the committee. The department didn't report the computer missing for nearly two weeks as it tried to track it down. The bureau contacted all personnel in the office, as well as officers outside the bureau who were authorized to use it, he said. Some 40 officers outside the country were contacted via phone or cable, Roy testified.

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

Timothy D. Bereznay, an FBI section chief, declined to discuss particulars of the FBI investigation but noted that notebook PCs present serious potential security risks.

At the FBI, only notebooks carrying appropriate safeguards for classified data, including passwords and encryption, are allowed, Bereznay told the committee.

'These laptops are maintained by automation personnel and are available for short-period loans to FBI employees,' Bereznay said.

Williams-Bridgers told the committee that State pays excellent attention to security concerns at its overseas posts, but domestic security procedures fall short, she said.

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