Agency notebooks on the lam

Michael Bechetti

Despite assurances a year ago from attorney general John Ashcroft that the Justice Department would tighten control of its gear, its agencies continue to misplace notebook computers and weapons.

Over the past two years, the department's inspector general reported last week, Justice agencies lost more than 400 notebook computers and 775 weapons.

Also last week, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations said it is investigating the possible theft of two notebooks from U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla., the command responsible for Middle East operations.

About this same time last year, when the IG reported on notebooks misplaced by the FBI over the past decade, Ashcroft said law enforcement agencies' effectiveness hinged on their ability to 'perform not only the most complex duties, but also the most basic responsibilities.'

The new audit said the lost, stolen or missing computers may have contained national security or sensitive law enforcement data 'that, if divulged, could harm the public.' The IG could not determine the types of information stored on the computers because Justice agencies generally do not record the sensitivity of the information used on them, although some of the systems were for classified use.

The Bureau of Prisons lost track of 27 notebooks between October 1999 and August 2001. The Marshals Service reported 56 notebooks lost, missing or stolen in the same period. The FBI had 317 notebooks lost, missing or stolen between October 1999 and January 2002. The bureau has more than 15,000 notebook computers, and the Marshals Service about 1,450.

The Drug Enforcement Administration did not have reliable records of its notebooks. The IG did not check on Immigration and Naturalization Service notebooks.

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