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State Department missing 15 unclassified laptop computers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The State Department Thursday said 15 department laptop computers are missing, and warned its employees about their use of laptops.
"The use of laptop computers introduces a number of security threats to the Department of State and to every federal agency," wrote David Carpenter, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security, in a three-page memo.
A senior State Department official confirmed that, after a recent inventory of 1,913 unclassified laptop computers, 15 "are unaccounted for," reported stolen or missing over the last 18 months.
"Today's technology enables laptop computers to store vast amounts of information," Carpenter said. "Laptop computers are a high-risk target for theft and require us to take special safeguards to protect them. The capabilities of laptop computers also create significant technical vulnerabilities. For example, infrared and modem capabilities can cause data to be transferred without the users' knowledge."
The memo directs each executive director at the department to finish a review, and report by June 2, the information on all unclassified laptops.
"It is imperative that laptops remain in control of the department," Carpenter said. "Losses of laptops must be reported immediately to executive directors. Laptops are high-value items and must be controlled as such."
State Department officials said most of the 15 missing laptop computers "were used in areas that normally do not handle classified information."
For example, one laptop was used at the State Department's National Foreign Affairs Training Center, where diplomats study foreign languages. Another laptop was used in the Bureau of Administration, described by one State Department official as "a non-sensitive, unclassified environment."
Some of the laptops were lost while department officials were traveling, officials said.
A few of the 15 may have been used in a classified environment, but the State Department insisted the laptops themselves contained no classified information. Officials said they are "following up."
The State Department did not rule out the possibility that more laptops could be missing; the inventory review went back only 18 months.
The State Department's security review was prompted after the news media reported the January disappearance of a laptop containing highly classified information from the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), supposedly one of the most secure bureaus at the State Department.
The laptop held several thousand pages of "code word" documents on the sources and methods of what the State Department calls "proliferators" of weapons of mass destruction.
Following the report and subsequent congressional ire, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ordered the security review. The report includes 43 recommendations, said several people who have seen it.
Carpenter's memo warns employees to label all laptops and reminds them that the "password policy applies to the laptop as well as the standard workstation."
The missing classified INR laptop did not have "password protection" and its raw data were "not encrypted," neither of which was needed, because the machine had been stored in a high-security room, the State Department said.
Two more laptops missing from U.S. State Department
U.S. State Department, Official Web Site
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