FBI officials said Tuesday that 184 laptop computers — at least one containing classified material — are missing from the agency, along with 449 weapons, in the latest of a series of embarrassments to the bureau in recent years.
The missing laptops include 13 that are thought to have been stolen. One of the missing computers is known to contain classified material and three others might have classified material, said officials from the Justice Department and FBI, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
They said 184 weapons were stolen and 265 were lost; one was used in a homicide. The weapons mostly are sidearms, but some submachine guns are also missing.
The disclosure came on the eve of Wednesday's FBI oversight hearing on Capitol Hill at which bureau whistleblowers were scheduled to testify. The FBI has been under fire for a series of missteps going back years, including the failure to provide thousands of documents to Timothy McVeigh's lawyers, the Robert Hanssen spy case, the Branch Davidian and Ruby Ridge standoffs and the botched investigation of former nuclear scientists Wen Ho Lee.
In the latest incident, Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked the Justice Department's inspector general to do a department-wide review of inventory controls over guns and other law enforcement equipment.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened oversight hearings on the FBI earlier this year. Wednesday's hearing, with FBI agents including Assistant Director Robert Dies and Deputy Assistant Director Kenneth Senser scheduled to testify, was to focus on the FBI's management but now will likely be dominated by questions about the missing guns and computers.
"To have laptops missing that could have national security information on them would be atrocious," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a longtime FBI critic. "For the FBI to have lost firearms and failed to account for them is inexcusable."
Added Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y: "The fact that, with computers with classified information and with weapons like machine guns, the FBI had such lax procedures is damning, especially for what has been regarded as the premier law enforcement agency in the world. One scratches one's head in wonderment and asks: 'How does a law enforcement agency lose guns, especially machine guns?'"
Bureau officials said the FBI has roughly 50,000 guns and 13,000 computers. Officials say the FBI is in the process of tracking down the whereabouts of each one of them.
The one lost computer that contained classified information was used by a field office in connection with two investigations that were closed within the last few years, officials said. Neither operation involved the FBI's investigation of Hanssen, who has pleaded guilty to spying for Moscow over a 15-year period, they said.
While conceding they can't rule it out, FBI officials said they don't believe that any investigation has been compromised as a result of the missing computers.
The FBI has determined that 66 weapons were lost in connection with a retired agent and about four were carried by agents who were either fired or died. Ninety-one of the missing guns were training weapons rendered inoperable by removing the firing pin, officials said.
They also said that that some weapons apparently were lost during training operations with other law enforcement agencies — and said that laptops sometimes are lost as they are passed around from office to office.
But the overwhelming number of missing laptops were older computers that were probably discarded, officials said.
The missing computers and weapons were discovered during a comprehensive inventory of equipment undertaken four weeks ago in response to inquiries from Congress and an independent panel looking at internal security problems at the FBI.
FBI officials said Tuesday the bureau tracks lost weapons, but also said this was first time that a serious effort was mounted to try to get a total accounting of missing equipment from all FBI field offices.
The missing guns and computers represent equipment that has been lost, stolen or otherwise unaccounted for over the last 11 or 12 years, FBI officials said.
The FBI has ordered all field offices to do a comprehensive inventory of all equipment worth over $500 by Sept. 30 or risk having their funding withheld.
News of missing FBI equipment follows a Justice Department inspector general's report last March showing that the Immigration and Naturalization Service couldn't find some 540 weapons.
Justice Department officials said that 44 of the INS guns were found, 130 are considered lost or stolen and 119 were incorrectly reported as missing. The INS is looking into what happened to the other 246 weapons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.