Thursday, September 18, 2008

Missing ATF laptops bigger concern than stolen guns

Federal ATF agents misplaced 76 firearms and hundreds of laptops in the last five years according to a recent audit, AP reports. While we see weapons at police agencies show up missing rather frequently, I'm especially interested in what's becoming an even more widespread problem of lost or stolen law enforcement laptops, in this case at ATF. Most went unreported and nobody knows whether they contained critical case information, identities of informants or undercover agents, or just downloaded porn:
ATF employees did not report 13 of the 76 lost weapons, or 365 of the 418 missing laptops, to internal affairs as required. ATF officials also did not report much of the lost equipment to the Justice Department.

Investigators could not conclude what was on 398 of 418 missing laptops — except that few were encrypted. That means any sensitive material on the laptops could have been exposed.

Moreover, "we found that ATF did not regularly attempt to determine whether the lost, stolen or missing laptop computers contained sensitive or classified information," the audit said.

A few years ago a DEA agent had a laptop stolen containing personal information about 100 confidential informants and thousands of pages of internal case files. That could have also happened with ATF, except that auditors have no idea what was on 95% of the missing laptops.

That's a bigger deal than the missing guns, IMO. Crooks can buy firearms anywhere, but information compiled on an ATF investigator's computer might be a particularly valuable commodity.

Nobody knows for sure if any of these laptops fell into the hands of organized crime, but at least two of the guns wound up in the hands of crooks:
Two weapons reported stolen were used to commit crimes. In one instance, a gun was stolen from an ATF car parked outside the agent's home and later used to shoot through the window of another residence, the audit found. In the other, a stolen ATF gun was taken from a burglary suspect.
So if some of the weapons wind up in the hands of criminals, it's a good bet the same is true for at least some percentage of ATF's missing laptops.

RELATED: From Bruce Schneier, "UK Ministry of Defense loses memory stick with military secrets."


Anonymous said...

The ATF routinely prosecutes businesses and citizens for minor paperwork violations, losses of inventory, theft, et, et. They should be held to the same standards that they enforce, shouldn't they?

Anonymous said...

Most LE officers keep their data on jump drives, and just keep software on the laptops. Jump drives are easy to encrypt, easy to secure, and leave no footprint on the host computer. One would hope the ATF officers use this procedure.

Anonymous said...

You want to find most of those laptops and weapons? Search the homes of the ATF officers and most of them will amazingly be discovered. LEOs are all scum. They think they are entitled, deserve special dispensation and privileges. But basically they are mostly liars and thieves under color of law.