Ashcroft concerned about missing FBI weapons, computers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A day after the FBI said hundreds of agency firearms and computers are unaccounted for, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and senators expressed concern over the disclosure.
"We think any time firearms are missing, it's a serious circumstance," Ashcroft said. "I don't want to overstate it. I take it very seriously. And the laptops are to be taken seriously, as well.
"Every organization has problems, the way you define the quality of an organization is by how they respond to problems," Ashcroft added.
The FBI reported Tuesday it had tentatively determined that more than 400 firearms and another 184 laptop computers -- including one that contained classified information -- are unaccounted for.
Ashcroft said he asked the Justice Department's inspector general to find out how the losses happened and to help design a way to prevent such occurrences.
Noting the new leadership is in line for the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ashcroft said, "We've got a great opportunity ahead of us ... to institute procedures to lessen the risk of not being able to locate very serious assets."
Criticism on Capitol Hill
The FBI has been under fire for missteps going back years, including the failure to provide thousands of documents to Timothy McVeigh's lawyers, the Robert Hanssen spy case, the bloody Branch Davidian and Ruby Ridge standoffs and the botched investigation of former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, congressmen were critical after the disclosure of the missing weapons and computers.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, speaking at an oversight hearing on FBI management, said "there are some very, very serious management problems" at the agency.
"When you look at the number of guns, as compared to the number of guns in the FBI inventory, it seems to be a very small number. The number of computers, it may be a very small number.
"What bothers me is that some of the computers are supposed to [have] contained classified information, and you would think after the total fiasco of the FBI handling the [Robert] Hanssen matter, that they would have learned on this matter," Leahy said.
"Large FBI foul-ups used to be extraordinary events, yet now they appear to be deteriorating into regular occurrences," added the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin in a report by The Associated Press.
Security not compromised, FBI says
Ashcroft said Wednesday he did not want to overstate the problem and that many of the weapons probably would be located.
"The FBI has about 28,000 people in the agency and the number of weapons in the agency could be as high as 50,000 weapons," he said. "And there are some that I am sure will be found, they should be found and we need to be able to locate these."
One of the 184 stolen or missing laptops contained classified information from two closed investigations. Officials refused to identify which investigations were involved, but said they were 2 or 3 years old.
FBI officials insist there is no evidence any investigation was compromised. They said none of the computers involved the Robert Hanssen spy case or the Wen Ho Lee nuclear secrets investigation.
The FBI attributed many of the missing laptops to the lack of documentation when they destroyed outmoded virtually worthless computers. The agency said that of the 13,000 laptops used by the FBI, they said 171 were missing and 13 were stolen.
Agency hints at criminal investigations
Criminal investigations could be opened against the estimated 70 individuals who had retired or been fired, and not returned their weapons, the FBI said.
FBI officials also said they believe some of the lost weapons can be attributed to undercover operations involving task forces, and to training weapons provided to local police departments, which were not returned.
The FBI said it was not shocked by the numbers, saying it conducts inventories every year, and finds some missing weapons. But under the intense scrutiny from the Justice Department and Capitol Hill, the FBI conducted a thorough examination of missing guns and laptops, which took them four weeks to complete.
To emphasize the extent of the scrutiny and the importance of inventory, the FBI said it was warning its 56 field offices that if the inventory controls are not completed by September 30, they face loss of their appropriated funds for the coming year.
The FBI's decision to examine its inventory came after a lawmaker inquired about missing weapons in the wake of an inspector general's report in March that showed the Immigration and Naturalization Service had 539 unaccounted for firearms.
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