Laptop with Veteran Information Recovered

June 30, 2006 ( - Federal and local officials reported Thursday that they had recovered a laptop and external hard drive that was stolen May 3 from the Maryland home of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employee.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the FBI said in a statement a review of the equipment by computer forensic teams determined that the database remains intact and has not been accessed. The FBI said a thorough forensic evaluation is underway.

The database contained records of 26.5 million veterans and up to 1.1 million active-duty military personnel. Previous reports said the employee was unauthorized to take the data home.

However, the Associated Press reports it has obtained documents that show the employee had approval as early as September 5, 2002 to use special software at home that was designed to manipulate large amounts of data. An agreement dated February 5, 2002, from the office of the assistant secretary for policy and planning, allowed the worker to access Social Security numbers for millions of veterans, while another document, also issued in 2002, gave the analyst permission to take a laptop computer and accessories for work outside of the VA building.

The VA fired the employee, saying he was “grossly negligent” in handling the sensitive information, but lawmakers disagree, according to the AP. “The gross negligence in this case [is by] the people above him. They gave him express permission to take the information home. When it was stolen, he reported it right away,” said Representative Bob Filner (D-California) the acting top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The VA did not report the crime until May 22.

Separately, the AP reports that the president asked in a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) for $160.5 million to help the VA cover the costs of credit monitoring and fraud watch services. Money that would otherwise go unused or from programs previously set for elimination would be taken from programs in the departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Labor, Transportation, Treasury and Veterans Affair, Scott Milburn, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, told the AP.

Lawmakers were told the money would cover monitoring for about half of the 17.5 million people whose Social Security numbers were compromised, and would pay for out-of-pocket expenses ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 for those whose identities are stolen.