MISSING: A LAPTOP OF DEA INFORMANTS
Federal investigators are frantically trying to determine what
happened to a missing laptop computer that contains sensitive data on
as many as 100 Drug Enforcement Administration investigations around
the country, including a wealth of information about many of the
agency's confidential informants, NEWSWEEK has learned.
The computer was first reported stolen three weeks ago by an auditor
for the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General, which was
conducting a routine review of DEA payments to informants. The auditor
told police the laptop had been stolen from the trunk of his car while
he was at a bookstore coffee shop in suburban Washington. But when
investigators confronted the auditor last week and questioned his
account, the auditor changed his story, saying he had accidentally
damaged the computer--then destroyed it and threw it away in a
Dumpster to avoid embarrassment. Investigators are seeking to verify
his new account.
Either way, DEA agents are "livid," said one senior law-enforcement
official who noted that, although the computer didn't contain
informants' names, it included more than 4,000 pages of case-file
data, including enough details about the informants' work that it
could allow drug traffickers to figure out who they are. "This is a
sin in our business," the official said. The incident is a particular
embarrassment for Inspector General Glenn Fine's office, which has
taken on an expanded watchdog role under Attorney General John
Ashcroft. Only two years ago, the IG issued a blistering report
criticizing Justice agencies, including the DEA and the FBI, for
failure to maintain adequate controls on sensitive items--including
their laptop computers.
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