Stolen VA Computer Recovered

Veterans Affairs computer data disk theft AP / CBS

The government said Thursday that it has recovered the stolen laptop computer containing sensitive information for up to 26.5 million veterans and military personnel. The FBI said a preliminary review found no evidence that anyone accessed Social Security numbers and other data on the equipment.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson made the dramatic announcement just before the start of another in a series of hearings Congress has had on one of the worst breaches of information security.

CBS News Capitol Hill Correspondent Bob Fuss reports the FBI says it has no evidence that the burglars got inside the laptop and saw any of the names and Social Security numbers.

VA Secretary Nicholson says the are still studying that and can't say with certainty the danger of ID theft has passed, reports Fuss. The government plans to provide free credit monitoring to all 26 million veterans and active duty personnel. But if this initial FBI report is right, those affected might not need them, Fuss reports.

Nicholson said that so far there have been no reports of identity theft stemming from the May 3 burglary at a VA employee's Maryland home.

"There is reason to be optimistic," Nicholson said told. "There is not a certainty, but we have to remain hopeful they have not been compromised."

The FBI, in a statement from its Baltimore field office, said a preliminary review of the equipment by its computer forensic teams "has determined that the data base remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen."

Nicholson offered no immediate details on how the laptop was recovered. He acknowledged that the burglary "has brought to the light of day some real deficiencies in the manner we handled personal data."

"If there's a redeeming part of this, I think we can turn this around," he said.

Newly discovered documents show that the VA analyst blamed for losing the laptop had received permission in 2002 to work from home on data from included millions of Social Security numbers on a laptop from home.

"From the start, the VA has acted as if the theft was a PR problem that had to be managed, not fully confronted," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. "They're trying to pin it on this one guy, but I think it's other people we need to be looking at."

The department said last month it was in the process of firing the analyst, who is now challenging the dismissal.

VA officials have said the firing was justified because the analyst violated department procedure by taking the data home. They also said he was "grossly negligent" in handling sensitive information.

Veterans groups and lawmakers from both parties have blasted the VA for the theft, which occurred after several years of warnings by auditors that information security was lax.

The VA has also been criticized for waiting nearly three weeks — until May 22 — to notify veterans about the theft. Nicholson himself was informed on May 16.
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