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Hold FBI to account

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In the post-9/11 world, sensitive and classified information must be handled with the greatest degree of accountability. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, a Justice Department audit reveals, is deficient in that regard.

The audit found that 160 firearms and 160 laptop computers were stolen or lost between February 2002 and September 2005. One of the computers contained telephone numbers and addresses of FBI employees as well as software used to make bureau identification badges. At least seven of the missing laptops were assigned to the FBI's counterintelligence or counterterrorism divisions. Those units handle some of the most sensitive national security material.

Obviously, these losses are not acceptable. FBI agents and their superiors must be held to a higher standard in securing sensitive and classified information.

For its part, the FBI reports that the numbers cited in the new audit represent an improvement over the past, when an audit determined that 354 weapons and 317 laptops had been lost or stolen in a 28-month period that ended in January 2002.

If one simply examines the numbers, one could argue that the bureau has made substantial improvements. However, authors of the new audit have determined that the FBI has not consistently followed equipment-tracking plans established after the 2002 audit. The procedures require employees to report missing weapons or equipment within five days. Many of the recent reports detailing the loss of 51 weapons lacked "critical information," such as the dates of the losses, auditors said.

The audit also revealed that the bureau took fairly minimal corrective action upon investigating the loss or thefts of 10 missing laptops that contained sensitive or classified information. The FBI conducted investigations in six of the cases. One resulted in a three-day suspension of an employee, two inquiries were pending and three others led to no disciplinary action. When matters of national security are at stake, it is disheartening to contemplate that harsher consequences are not meted out to employees who do not guard this sensitive equipment or their weapons zealously. Imagine if the names and home addresses of FBI employees fell into terrorist hands, let alone the capability to make authentic bureau identification badges. It's every terrorist's dream come true.