WASHINGTON — More than 180 computers, at least one containing classified material, are missing from the FBI along with some 450 weapons, officials said Tuesday.
A total of 184 laptops are missing, including 13 that are believed to have been stolen, officials said. They said that in addition to one known computer containing classified information, three others that are missing might also have classified material.
As for the weapons, some 184 weapons were stolen and 265 were lost, said officials, discussing the problem on condition of anonymity. They said some of the weapons were used in crimes.
The revelation came on the eve of an FBI oversight hearing on Capitol Hill — at which bureau whistleblowers were scheduled to testify. The FBI has been under fire for weeks for missteps, including the failure to provide defense lawyers for Timothy McVeigh with thousands of pages of evidence documents in the Oklahoma City bombing case.
That problem forced a postponement of McVeigh’s scheduled May 16 execution for the crime, and he was put to death by lethal injection on June 11.
In connection with the problem disclosed Tuesday, Attorney General John Ashcroft has asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to do a department-wide review of inventory controls over guns and other law enforcement equipment.
The weapons that are missing are mostly sidearms, officials said, but also include submachine guns.
Questions about the missing equipment are sure to surface at Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, the committee’s chairman, opened oversight hearings on the FBI earlier this year after a series of high-profile mistakes, including the missing evidence in the McVeigh case and the discovery that veteran agent FBI agent Robert Hanssen spied for Moscow for years. Hanssen pleaded guilty to several counts of espionage on July 6 and is to be sentenced in January.
Wednesday’s hearing, with FBI agents including Assistant Director Robert Dies and Deputy Assistant Director Kenneth Senser scheduled to testify, was to focus on the FBI’s management but now will likely be dominated by questions about the missing guns and computers.
About 13 of the missing weapons had been used in crimes, mostly robberies, FBI officials said.
Bureau officials said that, altogether, the FBI has roughly 50,000 guns and 13,000 computers. The FBI has determined that 66 weapons were lost in connection with a retired agent and about four were carried by agents who were either fired or died, officials said.
They also said that that some weapons apparently were lost during training operations with other law enforcement agencies – and said that laptops sometimes are lost as they are passed around from office to office.
The missing computers and weapons were discovered during a comprehensive inventory of equipment undertaken at the behest of the Department of Justice following the recent series of problems at the FBI.
FBI officials said Tuesday the bureau tracks lost weapons, but also said this was first time that a serious effort was mounted to try to get a total accounting of missing equipment from all FBI field offices.
This is not the first time the federal government has misplaced computers with sensitve information on it. The State Department misplaced a laptop with highly classified information in early 2000.
The guns and computers reported missing Tuesday represent equipment that has been lost, stolen or otherwise unaccounted for over the last 11 or 12 years, FBI officials said.
The FBI has ordered all field offices to do a comprehensive inventory of all equipment worth over $500 by Sept. 30. Components that fail to make the deadline could see their appropriations withheld, officials said.
They also said the bureau will open criminal investigations into what happened to weapons that were given to some agents who have retired or been fired.
News of missing FBI equipment follows a Justice Department inspector general’s report last March showing that the Immigration and Naturalization Service couldn’t find some 540 weapons.
Justice Department officials said that 44 of the INS guns were found, 130 are considered lost or stolen and 119 were incorrectly reported as missing. The INS is looking into what happened to the other 246 weapons.
EDITORS: Associated Press reporter Jesse Holland contributed to this story.