State Department Missing Hundreds of Laptops

Wednesday, 14 May 2008 10:35 AM

By Phil Brennan

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The State Department cannot account for hundreds of laptop computers, an audit has revealed.

The computers are valued at about $3,000 each.

Moreover, as many as 400 of the missing employee laptops belonged to the department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, officials familiar with the findings told CQ's National Security Editor Jeff Stein who explained that the program provides counterterrorism training and equipment, including laptops, to foreign police, intelligence and security forces.

That program, run by the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), which is responsible for the security of the department’s computer networks and sensitive equipment, including laptops, also provides protection for visiting foreign diplomats and provides counterterrorism training and equipment, Stein wrote in an exclusive report.

According to CQ, DS officials have been scurrying around their Washington-area offices, sending vans to collect and register employee laptops.

The state's inspector general's office, which would not comment on the matter, launched an audit of the equipment about three months ago but only the first stage, or inventory of equipment, has been completed, Stein wrote.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., chair of a House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees State Department operations, told Stein she was concerned about the security revelations.

“The importance of safeguarding official laptops and office equipment containing sensitive information is not a new concern,” a spokesman told CQ addling that “I intend to review the facts about this situation.”

The audit showed that the department had somehow lost track of $30 million worth of equipment, one official told Stein, adding that “the vast majority of which . . . perhaps as much as 99 percent,” were laptops.

CQ revealed that hints of the laptop losses first surfaced on March 31 in an anonymous post at an obscure Web site frequented by employees of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, called "Dead Men Working."

“We’re not talking about a missing laptop or two,” said a poster who identified himself as “Steve.”

“A Department-wide audit found hundreds of laptops unaccounted for and identified DS, now rushing to close the barn door before the scandal really breaks, as having the laxest control of any bureau in the agency,” Steve wrote.

John Naland, a retired diplomat who is president of the American Foreign Service Association, told CQ the alleged losses were worrisome and perplexing.

“If the missing ones might have contained classified data, this could be serious,” Naland said.

“At my last overseas post, we did not have any laptops,” Naland continued. “But we sure did an annual serial number physical inventory of computers. Sometimes our initial count came up with discrepancies, but then we remembered that we returned one to Washington or whatever and that cleared up the paperwork discrepancy.”

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