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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Paging Mr. Ripley

Okay, I'm not generally a conspiracy theorist (though they can be fun!) but I'm not sure even Ripley would buy this coincidence.

This was reported last night:
The Veterans Affairs worker faulted for losing veterans' personal information had permission to access millions of Social Security numbers on a laptop from home, agency documents obtained by The Associated Press show.


The documents show that the data analyst, whose name was being withheld, had approval as early as Sept. 5, 2002, to use special software at home that was designed to manipulate large amounts of data.

A separate agreement, dated Feb. 5, 2002, from the office of the assistant secretary for policy and planning, allowed the worker to access Social Security numbers for millions of veterans.

A third document, also issued in 2002, gave the analyst permission to take a laptop computer and accessories for work outside of the VA building.

"These data are protected under the Privacy Act," one document states. The analyst is the "lead programmer within the Policy Analysis Service and as such needs access to real Social Security numbers."

The department said last month it was in the process of firing the data analyst, who is now challenging the dismissal.

VA officials have said the firing was justified because the analyst violated department procedure by taking the data home; they also said he was "grossly negligent" in handling sensitive information.

Lawmakers expressed dismay over the latest disclosure. They noted that the analyst immediately notified his supervisors after the theft from his suburban Maryland home, but supervisors delayed publicizing the crime until May 22. Nicholson was informed on May 16.

"The gross negligence in this case are the people above him," said Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the acting top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. "They gave him express permission to take the information home. When it was stolen, he reported it right away."

"They're trying to pin it on this one guy, but I think it's other people we need to be looking at," he said.

And now today, just as a Congressional hearing on this issue was about to start, the laptop was found:

[VA Secretary Jim] Nicholson announced the recovery of the equipment at a House committee hearing today, but provided no details about how law enforcement officials obtained it.

"A preliminary review of the equipment by computer forensic teams has determined that the data base remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen," said an FBI statement issued today. "A thorough forensic examination is underway, and the results will be shared as soon as possible. The investigation is ongoing."

I mean, seriously? All this time law enforcement and the VA have no idea where the laptop is, and then just as a hearing is about to start on whether senior VA officials are at fault for allowing the conditions that led to the theft, abracadabra, the laptop turns up? And a preliminary review shows that the data hasn't been accessed?

And they wonder why people don't trust the government?

Anonymous Jet said...

It is a bit weird. If a writer put that in a novel, the critics would tear it up.

Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

Agree with BOTH of you - it's quite the ko-ink-ee-dink if it is indeed just that. I'm having my fair share of doubts about this too - the Government will say ANYTHING to cover it's collective ass...

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

Jet: Totally. I mean, willful suspension of disbelief is one thing, but this is completely absurd. As antigovernment as I am, I'm generally levelheaded when it comes to accusations of conspiracies and assignations of ulterior motives. (I mean, it's not like I'm GTL, regularly ranting about the fascist plots of the Nazi-like Bush administration!) (;

But it's too much to expect me to unquestioningly believe this one.

Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

Thank you very much my fellow libertarian (we'll leave the economics issues out of this one and find common ground in our mutual libertarianism...) - I take your comment as a complete compliment ;-)

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

As intended, my brother.

Anonymous FIAR said...

"I'm not generally a conspiracy theorist"

And you call yourself a Libertarian?

For shame.

Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

I did say they can be fun...

Usually I have too much faith in the incompetence of the government to believe that it can pull off conspiracies.


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