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Laptop, government secrets vanish Code-word info on missing State Department computer By Steven Mufson WASHINGTON POST April 17 A laptop computer containing top-secret information vanished from the State Departments Bureau of Intelligence and Research more than a week ago, and the FBI is investigating whether it was stolen, a senior State Department official said.
A senior State Department official said that it remained unclear whether the laptop was misplaced or stolen and that, if it was stolen, whether the thief realized the sensitivity of the material it contained or took it simply for the value of the hardware.
THE LAPTOPS disappearance from a supposedly secure conference room at the department has set off an intense effort to recover the computer and a search for suspects, including contractors who have been renovating the area, the official said.
Another person familiar with the incident said that the missing computer contains code word information, a classification higher than top secret, and that it includes sensitive intelligence information and plans. The incident is the latest of a string of embarrassing security breaches at the State Department. Last year, counterintelligence officials from the FBI discovered a Russian spy lurking outside the department and later an eavesdropping device planted in a conference room. In 1998, a man dressed in a tweed coat strolled into the executive secretarys office, six doors down from the office of Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, helped himself to a sheaf of classified briefing materials in plain view of two secretaries, and walked out. The man was never identified and the materials were never recovered. A senior State Department official said that it remained unclear whether the laptop was misplaced or stolen and that, if it was stolen, whether the thief realized the sensitivity of the material it contained or took it simply for the value of the hardware. The senior State Department official added that the laptops disappearance was not the result of poor security procedures, but rather the failure of State employees to follow those procedures. He said it appeared that some contractors had not been properly escorted when working in the building.
Some policies and procedures were not followed, said the senior official. It is my very sincere hope that the responsible individual or individuals will be punished. Another person familiar with the incident said that an official had propped open the door of a secure conference room, that contractors lacking security clearances were working in the sensitive area and that the laptop had not been properly secured. The material the laptop contains is classified as sensitive compartmented information (SCI), the governments most sensitive intelligence reports. The Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) is responsible for handling all top-secret reports at State; information with lower levels of classification is handled by the Office of Diplomatic Security. Last year, INR came under fire from the departments inspector general for lax handling of that material. The department is substantially not in compliance with the director of central intelligences directives that govern the handling of SCI, the inspector general, Jacqueline Williams-Bridger, concluded in the report.
The CIA also questioned INRs dedication to the proper handling of the top-secret material, the State Department official said. The CIA and other agencies believe that the State Department in general fails to attach adequate importance to safeguarding secrets.
The inspector general recommended transferring responsibility for SCI to States Office of Diplomatic Security. But a just-completed internal review recommended leaving responsibility for SCI with INR and adding 19 new people to help the bureau better handle the material, the department official said.
The inspector generals report and the Russian bugging incident prompted criticism from Congress, which sequestered some funding earmarked for INR and demanded a review of how top-secret information is handled at the department. At a Feb. 7 presentation of States budget, Albright said she was continuing to study the possible need for structural changes to ensure that the mandate for the best security is everywhere understood and everywhere applied.
The State Department laptop incident follows two intelligence episodes involving stolen laptops in England. A laptop containing sensitive information was stolen from a British army officer at Heathrow Airport. Separately, a laptop containing secret information about Northern Ireland was stolen from an MI5 agent at the Paddington Station of the London Underground. In a third incident, an MI6 officer left his laptop computer containing training information about how to be a spy in a taxi after a night spent drinking at a bar near the agencys London headquarters.
MI6 is the British agency responsible for foreign intelligence and foreign spies; MI5 handles internal security matters. The MI6 officers laptop was recovered after the agency placed a classified ad in a newspaper offering a reward for its return. The MI5 officers computer has not been found. ) 2000 The Washington Post Compan
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), April 17, 2000