- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 24, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson yesterday said he was outraged by his agency’s decision to keep the theft of veterans’ personal data quiet for two weeks.

Mr. Nicholson first learned of the theft late on May 16 and immediately notified the FBI, according to a government official familiar with the timing, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter.

The department made the theft public on May 22, nearly three weeks after the May 3 burglary at a VA data analyst’s home.

“I will not tolerate inaction and poor judgment when it comes to protecting our veterans,” Mr. Nicholson said.

“I am outraged at the loss of this veterans’ data and the fact an employee would put it at risk by taking it home in violation of our policies,” he said. “Upon notification, my first priority was to take all actions necessary to protect veterans from harm.”

Mr. Nicholson said he had asked the department’s inspector general to expedite an investigation to determine who was responsible for the time delay in revealing the burglary.

Mr. Nicholson’s remarks come amid growing outrage from lawmakers over the theft, which involved the birth dates and Social Security numbers of 26.5 million veterans. The VA employee had taken the information home without authorization.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy yesterday said President Bush should call Mr. Nicholson “into the woodshed” because of the theft of personal data involving the veterans. Citing past budget problems at the VA, Mr. Leahy said Mr. Nicholson should consider resigning.

“It all adds up to a heck of a bad job for America’s veterans,” said Mr. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “The president should call Secretary Nicholson into the woodshed for a serious shake-up in how the VA is run.”

Burglars on May 3 took the government-owned laptop and disks from the VA employee’s suburban Maryland home. The equipment contained information mainly on veterans discharged since 1975.

But the FBI was not notified until late last week, two law-enforcement officials said Tuesday, a move that delayed a warning to veterans now at risk in one of the nation’s largest security breaches.

The Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Committee on Veterans Affairs said they would hold a joint emergency hearing today and call Mr. Nicholson to testify. “Twenty-six million people deserve answers,” said Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, chairman of the VA panel.

Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, and Rep. John Salazar, Colorado Democrat, introduced legislation late Tuesday that would require the VA to provide free credit monitoring and reports to the affected veterans.

In a written briefing to Congress, acting VA inspector general Jon Wooditch said the agency did not appear to do enough to prevent the breach.

In every year since 2001, the office warned that access controls were a “material weakness” in the department’s security of information, Mr. Wooditch wrote. The briefing paper cited vulnerabilities related to the operating system, passwords and a lack of strong detection alerts.


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