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Audit reveals FBI has lost firearms and computers

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WASHINGTON — An internal FBI inventory has found that 449 firearms and 184 laptop computers, including one containing classified data, are missing or have been stolen, bureau officials said Tuesday, acknowledging what appears to be another lapse at an agency already battered by criticism of its managerial practices.

Bureau officials said the laptop that was known to have secret data contained information from two closed cases, which were not identified. The officials said that three other computers were suspected of containing classified information. The bureau has a total of about 13,000 laptops.

Of the missing or stolen firearms, at least one was recovered from local law enforcement authorities after they determined that it had been used in a crime, although the officials said the nature of the crime was uncertain.

The missing and stolen weapons consisted mainly of handguns, but also included rifles, shotguns and submachine guns.

The FBI's inventory focused on about 50,000 weapons dating back to the 1970s, the officials said. About 66 of the missing firearms were lost when agents retired and apparently failed to return their bureau-issued handguns.

About 91 of the lost weapons were training firearms that had been altered so that they could no longer be fired. Four weapons had been issued to agents who were fired or died.

In addition, bureau officials said that some weapons were lost during training operations with other law enforcement agencies. Some laptops were misplaced as they were passed among employees, and some older models may have been destroyed by agents who regarded them as having no value.

The disclosure of the missing guns and computers came one day before the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the agency's management controls.

Several FBI whistle-blowers are expected to testify about difficulties they encountered in exposing lapses at the agency.

The bureau has turned its inventory data over to the Justice Department's inspector general for further investigation, which could lead to criminal inquiries if circumstances warrant it, the officials said.

They said the bureau routinely tracks lost weapons, but added that the inventory of firearms represented the first time that a high-level effort had been undertaken to obtain a full accounting of missing equipment from all FBI offices.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said he had asked the Justice Department's inspector general to expand the review of inventory controls to agencies throughout the department.

"The department must ensure the highest standards for the inventory and accounting of law enforcement equipment issued to Department employees and agents," Ashcroft said.

He added, "In order for law enforcement organizations to be effective, they must have the public's confidence in their ability to perform not only the most complex duties, but also the most basic responsibilities."

The most significant problems of Ashcroft's tenure have been centered largely on the FBI. In February, in one of the most humiliating episodes in bureau history, a veteran counterintelligence officer, Robert P. Hanssen, was arrested and subsequently pleaded guilty to spying for Moscow for more than 15 years.

In May, Ashcroft was forced to postpone for a month the execution of Timothy McVeigh after bureau officials disclosed that they had discovered thousands of pages of investigative reports related to the Oklahoma City bombing that should have been turned over to McVeigh's lawyers.

The FBI inventory, which will ultimately include any government property valued in excess of $500, began in response to congressional inquiries, Ashcroft's review of the bureau's internal controls and a review being conducted by William H. Webster, a former head of the FBI and CIA, who is examining the bureau's management of secret data in the aftermath of the Hanssen spy case.