Theft of Government Property Skyrockets

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Published August 09, 2002

| FoxNews.com

A report released Thursday said the U.S. Customs Service lost 2,251 computers between 1999 and 2001. The report comes just one day after the FBI said it had "misplaced" 317 laptop computers.

The report from the Inspector General of the Treasury says Customs lost $690,000 worth of computers. Customs agents also lost 59 weapons, 613 badges and 572 government credentials.

Customs has not said whether the computers were lost or stolen.

The report was requested by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who was not pleased with the results.

"I think heads have to roll and more than a slap on the wrist if you are going to change this behavior," Grassley told Fox News from the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Big issues relating to the loss of the materials are sure to beleaguer the Customs Service.

According to the Inspector General's report, "Each of these items poses a potential threat to National Security, public safety, or ongoing investigations, if lost or stolen."

The computers likely contained classified data, while the badges and credentials, security specialists fear, could be used by terrorists posing as customs agents.

And one loss has already resulted in violence: One of the weapons that went missing was later used in a drive-by shooting.

Earlier this week, the Justice Department announced that it had lost or had stolen 775 weapons and 400 computers from the FBI, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Marshal Service between October 1999 and January 2002. Justice Department officials said poor paperwork and tracking may have resulted in the missing equipment and suggested some of it may have been lent to other government agencies or may still be in the possession of government employees.

"Compared to the FBI, this is a mammoth case of mismanagement, but whether it is small or whether it is large, there are several lessons we've got to learn from this. One is better property management control. Secondly, the discipline of people that lose these things or have them stolen is just terrible," Grassley said.

In addition, some of the drugs confiscated by customs officials have also disappeared. The problem seems to be the worst at the customs office in Chicago from where, the report notes, 2.5 pounds of heroin and 173 pounds of marijuana went missing.

While the facts released in the report are embarrassing to the Customs Service, Grassley suggested that there is even more embarrassing stuff that can't be discussed. Key passages of the 35-page report have been blacked out to unclassified eyes.

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