June 29, 2006

Stolen laptop with veterans’ data recovered

By Vicki Allen

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A stolen laptop computer containing
sensitive information on more than 26 million U.S. military
veterans has been recovered and a preliminary review indicated
no data was taken, the FBI and Veterans Affairs Department said
on Thursday.

Both the laptop and the external hard drive that were
stolen in early May from the home of a VA employee were
recovered, federal authorities said in an announcement along
with the Montgomery County, Maryland, Police Department.

"A preliminary review of the equipment by computer forensic
teams has determined that the data base remains intact and has
not been accessed since it was stolen," the agencies said in a
statement. "A thorough forensic examination is under way, and
the results will be shared as soon as possible."

The theft of the laptop from a VA employee who had taken it
to his home in Aspen Hill, Maryland, raised fears that nearly
all military personnel were at risk of identity theft.

The FBI and VA did not say how the laptop was recovered but
credited the U.S. Park Police, saying its "efforts led to the
recovery of the equipment."

Lawmakers and veterans' advocates voiced alarm that the
government failed to safeguard the data, which could be used in
credit card fraud and other crimes.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig, an
Idaho Republican, called the recovery of the laptop and hard
drive "wonderful for veterans and active duty personnel. We are
all holding our breath now for the FBI forensic analysis which
we hope will confirm that the data has not been compromised."

Both Republicans and Democrats had blasted the
administration for allowing the data to be lost and for
responding slowly to the theft. Officials have said VA
Secretary Jim Nicholson first heard of the May 3 crime on May
16 and only informed the public on May 22, almost three weeks
after the theft occurred.

The theft also was going to be costly to taxpayers. The
administration asked Congress on Wednesday for $160 million to
to pay for one year of credit monitoring of military personnel
to check for possible identity theft.

The VA also was spending millions of dollars to respond to
the incident, including a special call center to respond to
veterans' concerns.

Rep. Steve Buyer, an Indiana Republican who chairs the
House of Representatives Veterans Committee, said the laptop's
recovery "provides reason to be optimistic." But he said the
"history of lenient policies and lack of accountability within
VA management must be rectified."