- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 29, 2006

Federal investigators have recovered a stolen laptop computer containing personal data on 26.5 million veterans and 2.2 million active-duty personnel, and they say there is no evidence the information was accessed in any way.

“We feel we can be relatively certain the information was not compromised,” William Chase, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Baltimore Division, said at a press briefing late yesterday.

The laptop, missing nearly two months, was located in Baltimore on Wednesday, based on a tip from a person who had seen posters offering a $50,000 reward for information.

The laptop was stolen May 3 from the Aspen Hill home of a computer analyst for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its recovery was disclosed yesterday morning by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson before the start of a congressional hearing into the matter.

In its statement, the FBI said an analysis of the equipment by its forensic teams “has determined that the database remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen.” The FBI thinks the laptop was stolen by someone who was unaware of the VA data it held.

At the press conference, Mr. Chase said the investigation is “ongoing,” and no suspects were in custody. A spokeswoman in Baltimore said the tipster has not been charged and probably was not the thief.

The missing data included names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of all U.S. veterans discharged since 1975, as well as more than 2 million active-duty service members, National Guard and Reserve personnel.

There was widespread concern the information could be used in identity fraud, but Mr. Nicholson told reporters there have been no reports of identity fraud arising from the theft.

Veterans organizations yesterday commended federal and local law-enforcement agencies for the find.

“It’s very encouraging that the computer and data have been recovered,” said Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. But he said that until the FBI has “proof positive” that they were not compromised, “the government should continue its efforts to provide free credit monitoring” for those who could be affected.

Mr. Nicholson yesterday told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs that the scandal “brought to light some real deficiencies in the manner we handled personal data, but … I think we can turn that around.”

When the VA first disclosed the burglary, it said the data analyst violated departmental policy by taking home files without permission. But the Associated Press reported it has obtained information documenting that the man was given written permission to do so as early as 2002. It said one document shows he had been allowed to access millions of Social Security numbers on a laptop from home.

The department said last month it was in the process of firing the employee, reportedly a 34-year career civil servant, but the man, who has never been publicly identified, is fighting termination.

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