Two Laptops Missing From U.S. Central Command

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Published August 08, 2002

| FoxNews.com

Two laptop computers have disappeared from the military command center in Florida orchestrating the war in Afghanistan, at least one of them containing classified information, Pentagon officials confirmed to Fox News.

Maj. Mike Richmond of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations told Fox News that his office is investigating the disappearance of the two laptops from U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday.

The report comes on the heels of the disclosure by an internal probe that 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.

Richmond would provide no further details on the reports of the two laptops missing from Central Command, but Pentagon officials told Fox News at least one of them did have some classified information on it.

The laptops were discovered missing on Thursday by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, as investigators with that unit were down at Centcom investigating the leaks of war plans to The New York Times.

Officials told Fox News the laptops were fairly new and are not believed to have a lot of information on them -- but they do contain some classified information.

The officials said it is not suspected that this was a foreign intelligence operation, it's believed that this was just a case of stolen military property, but they don't know for sure.

Central Command would not release further details, such as what information was stored on the computers and what office or person was responsible for them.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news conference at the Pentagon that one of the computers contained classified information. He said it was too soon to say whether the computers were simply missing or stolen.

"The good news is that they were in a single room that is tightly controlled, where access is tightly controlled," Myers said.

Central Command, led by Army Gen. Tommy Franks, is responsible for U.S. security interests in the Middle East. It oversees the continuing military operation in Afghanistan and has been deeply involved in planning for a widely expected U.S. effort to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Most of the 400 computers lost by the Justice Department belonged to the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and many had classified information. The agencies said poor tracking of equipment was likely to blame, not theft.

Some of the weapons were recovered after they were used in armed robberies, the department's inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, said in the report, which was released Monday.

Most of the 775 weapons reported missing also 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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