Stolen Laptop With Veterans Data On It, Found - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/28/06-Washington, D.C.

Stolen Laptop With Veterans Data On It, Found

The government has recovered the stolen laptop computer and hard drive with sensitive data on up to 26.5 million veterans and military personnel.

The FBI said Thursday there is no evidence that anyone accessed Social Security numbers and other data on the equipment.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson, in announcing the recovery of the computer, said there have been no reports of identity theft stemming from the May 3 burglary at a VA employee's Maryland home.

The FBI, in a statement from its Baltimore field office, said a preliminary review of the equipment by its computer forensic teams "has determined that the data base remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen."

Nicholson said the burglars in this case may have been the same ones who committed similar burglaries in the area. In other cases, information on the computers was quickly erased and the units resold.

"There is reason to be optimistic," he told reporters just before the start of another in a series of hearings Congress has had on one of the worst breaches of information security.

"It's a very positive note in this very tragic incident," Nicholson said.

Nicholson offered no immediate details on how the laptop was recovered.

Newly discovered documents show that the VA analyst blamed for losing the laptop had received permission to work from home on data that included millions of Social Security numbers.

"From the start, the VA has acted as if the theft was a PR problem that had to be managed, not fully confronted," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-California.

"They're trying to pin it on this one guy, but I think it's other people we need to be looking at."

According to the documents provided to The Associated Press, the analyst, whose name was being withheld, had approval as early as Sept. 5, 2002, to use special software at home that was designed to manipulate large amounts of data.

A separate agreement, dated Feb. 5, 2002, from the office of the assistant Veterans Affairs secretary for policy and planning, allowed the worker to access Social Security numbers for millions of veterans.

A third document, also issued in 2002, gave the analyst permission to take a laptop computer and accessories for work outside of the VA building.

"These data are protected under the Privacy Act," one document states. The analyst is the "lead programmer within the Policy Analysis Service and as such needs access to real Social Security numbers."

The department said last month it was in the process of firing the analyst, who is now challenging the dismissal.

VA officials have said the firing was justified because the analyst violated department procedure by taking the data home. They also said he was "grossly negligent" in handling sensitive information.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Powered by Frankly