- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

1:31 p.m.

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 today 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 database remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen.” However, more tests were planned.

Mr. Nicholson said the laptop and hard drive were turned in to the FBI. No suspects were in custody.

“This has brought to the light of day some real deficiencies in the manner we handled personal data,” Mr. Nicholson said. “If there’s a redeeming part of this, I think we can turn this around.”

An unidentified person turned in the laptop yesterday to FBI agents in Baltimore, according Michelle Crnkovich, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore FBI field office.

Agents there conducted the initial forensic examination and were sending the laptop to the FBI in Washington for further tests, Miss Crnkovich said.

She said the tipster who turned in the laptop has not been charged and likely was not the thief. She said the FBI still believes the laptop was taken in a routine burglary and that the VA data was not the target. Miss Crnkovich did not know if the tipster was eligible for the $50,000 reward offered for information on the laptop’s whereabouts.

Mr. Nicholson urged veterans to keep watch over their financial records until more tests are completed in the coming days. The VA’s offer of free credit monitoring for a year is still in effect until subsequent tests are completed, he said.

Newly discovered documents show that the VA analyst blamed for losing the laptop had received permission to work from home with data that included millions of Social Security numbers and other personal information on veterans and military personnel.

Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which was investigating the breach, said he was pleased that veterans now may be able to “breathe a sigh of relief.”

“However, this will not diminish our oversight,” he said. “We will hold the VA responsible and accountable.”

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