Hundreds of Laptops Missing at State Department

The State Department’s computer security team has lost 400-odd laptop computers, CQ’s Jeff Stein reports.

Hundreds of employee laptops are unaccounted for at the U.S. Department of State, which conducts delicate, often secret, diplomatic relations with foreign countries, an internal audit has found.

As many as 400 of the unaccounted for laptops belong to the department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, according to officials familiar with the findings. The program provides counterterrorism training and equipment, including laptops, to foreign police, intelligence and security forces. Ironically, the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program is administered by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), which is responsible for the security of the department’s computer networks and sensitive equipment, including laptops, among other duties. It also protects foreign diplomats during visits here.

DS officials have been urgently dispatching vans around the bureau’s Washington-area offices to collect and register employee laptops, said department sources who could not speak on the record for fear of being fired.

The inventory sometimes strips DS investigators of their laptops for “days, or weeks,” they said.

Truly bizarre. My guess is that Bruce McQuain is on the right track here and that this is more a matter of bureaucratic incompetence rather than any serious security issue. Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the computers wound up pretty much where they were supposed to go but that the system for keeping track of them is so screwed up that we’ll never know for sure.

And only a bureaucratic agency could come up with a solution that simultaneously 1) won’t solve the problem, 2) costs innumerable manhours of work not to get done, and 3) has everyone getting paid as per usual.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John says:

    Your guess is probably right, most of them are probably locked up in cabinets somewhere. That’s been my experience with “inventory problems.” I wouldn’t be surprised if a few actually did grow legs, or if some were at home with some employees being used as a personal computer, though.

  2. Bithead says:

    Indeed, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the computers wound up pretty much where they were supposed to go but that the system for keeping track of them is so screwed up that we’ll never know for sure.

    I’ve been doing PC support since the middle 80’s, at large institutions. I’ll tell you point blank, James that your instincts here serve you well.

    From a purely technical standpoint, yes, there can be security issues, but for the most part the systems you’re talking about simply developed legs… and usually after having been retired.

    These usually slip through the cracks of record keeping.

  3. Maggie Mama says:

    Money. Those laptops represent MONEY.

    Our gov’t can only collect it.

    It cannot keep track of it…it cannot use it efficiently…..it cannot stop criminal fraud.

    Independent auditors proved the Dept of Education was worse than the Mafia when it came to corruption.

    WHY DO WE PERMIT A LOGISTIC NIGHTMARE HAVE REIGN OVER OUR CHECKBOOKS? ? ? ? ?

  4. Bithead says:

    It’s not nearly the financial impact you make it, Maggie.

    Usually, when such events happen, the systems are already through their lifecycle, and are to be turned in, where they’ll get sold off to scrappers, who will pay pennies on the dollar for them. This is a normal practice for any large agency, governmentally based or not.

  5. jainphx says:

    You could walk out of most Government offices with a computer under each arm and another on your head, and no one would stop you,

  6. Richard says:

    Or one might add; 4) Only a bureaucratic agency could conveniently ‘misplace’ hundreds of laptops and fall back on the fact that no one would be too terribly surprised that is happened in the first place.

  7. Elmo says:

    Well, we should probably start a search for Rodney, and the Thursday caption contest results 🙂

    (Hope you’re O.K. Rodster).

  8. rpk says:

    Having been the one to sign off inventory records, the real problem is with the lack of record keeping. Just knowing where all your desk top computers are is a real pain. All it takes is for a change out to occur with out proper documentation and the computer is “lost”. Notebooks are even worse. I am with the others, most of the notebooks are probably there, just not where they thought they were. A lost or stolen computer receives attention because the individual will be looking for a replacement.

  9. Bithead says:

    well, desktop computers are a little easier. At least in those cases, it’s simple to locate hem by where they last logged in from, if you’re running LO scripting correctly.
    Laptops are a little harder in that regard. But as I say, in our case the laptops aht disapepared were already retired and hadn’t logged into our network in a year or more in most cases.

  10. Dodd says:

    Ironically, the Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program is administered by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), which is responsible for the security of the department’s computer networks and sensitive equipment, including laptops, among other duties. It also protects foreign diplomats during visits here.

    This (typical) misuse of the word “irony” is fast becoming a pet peeve. There’s nothing “ironic” about this – quite the opposite, rather than being the opposite of what one expects, it’s right in line with rational expectations. IOW, this is indeed precisely as “ironic” as “rain on your wedding day.”

    Grr! Argh!

  11. James Joyner says:

    This (typical) misuse of the word “irony” is fast becoming a pet peeve.

    The irony is that the agency responsible for securing the laptops did just the opposite. But, yes, who else was going to lose them but the people charged with looking after them?

  12. I’ve quoted you and linked to you here.