WASHINGTON – The Justice Department has lost track of 775 weapons and 400 laptop computers, more than half of which may have contained national security or sensitive law enforcement information, an internal investigation found.
Some of the weapons were recovered after they were used in armed robberies, the department's inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, said in a report released Monday.
Most of the 775 weapons reported missing belonged to the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Before last year, the FBI had not taken a complete inventory of laptops and weapons in almost a decade, despite an agency policy requiring one every two years, the investigation found. Last year's inventory was prompted when other agencies, including the INS, reported large numbers of missing weapons.
"The FBI showed serious deficiencies in management in keeping track of weapons and laptops," Fine said Monday.
Fine reported in March 2001 that an audit of the INS found the service had lost about 500 weapons. The audit prompted criticism from Congress and a request by Attorney General John Ashcroft to review the Justice Department's other component agencies.
The new report, which includes the INS figures revealed in the March 2001 audit, prompted more criticism Monday.
"This problem has sparked consequences, in criminal acts and danger to national security," said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee. "According to the reports, the problem of missing guns at the FBI, in particular, is a mess, and it's been that way for years.
"It stems from weak discipline, lax standards, tardy reporting and few, if any, consequences."
Some Justice Department officials attributed much of the problem to faulty paperwork and tracking, suggesting some of the equipment may have been loaned to other government agencies or may still be in the possession of government employees.
The FBI said Monday it is creating new programs to address the problems.
"The institutional response to the loss of any sensitive property, like a gun or laptop, will be prompt and robust, both from a security standpoint and from an accountability standpoint," the FBI said in a statement.
Regarding weapons, the inspector general's report found the INS and the FBI reported losses of 539 and 212 weapons, respectively, during the time frame of the audit, October 1999 to January 2002. The FBI reported an additional 211 missing weapons outside that period.
The other three Justice Department components -- the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service -- reported a combined total of 24 missing weapons during their audit period, October 1999 to August 2001.
With respect to laptop computers, the FBI reported 317 of its more than 15,000 laptop computers as missing, the Marshals Service reported 56 of its 1,450 laptops missing, the DEA could not provide the number of losses due to unreliable data. The Bureau of Prisons reported 27 laptops missing.
Some of the weapons were believed used in crimes.
The report says local police found one gun in a murder victim's pocket; it had been stolen from an FBI agent's home in New Orleans. Police in Atlanta recovered a stolen DEA weapon during a narcotics search at a suspect's residence; and police in Philadelphia and Tampa, Fla., recovered INS weapons that were used to commit armed robberies.
Fine suggested in the report that the Justice Department impose deadlines for reporting missing.