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6/29/2006
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FBI Recovers Stolen Veterans Affairs Laptop

The Department of Veterans Affairs and the FBI aren't saying much about how or where they recovered the laptop and its external hard drive, but they did say the database containing 26.5 million personnel identities was intact and hadn't been accessed.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said Thursday that it has recovered a laptop and external hard drive containing 26.5 million veteran and active-duty military personnel identities.

The FBI said its preliminary examination of the hardware "has determined that the data base remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen," the Associated Press reported. The FBI is planning additional forensics tests.

The computer was turned in by an unidentified person on Wednesday. A spokesperson for the law enforcement agency, which has been investigating the data loss since it was made public in mid-May, said that the person had not been charged and was not a suspect in the May 3 burglary of a Veterans Affairs data analyst's home. The analyst had taken home the hardware and the database containing the personal records to work on a project after hours.

The FBI and VA had posted a $50,000 reward for the return of the computer and hard drive, but it's unknown if the person who brought in the gear will be eligible for the bounty.

The well-publicized theft led to hearings in the Senate and House, the dismissal of at least one manager in Veterans Affairs, and a recent memo from the White House's Office of Management and Budget with new security recommendations for all federal agencies.

In late May, VA Inspector General George Opfer told a joint Congressional hearing that the analyst had been taking home data for years. Recent documents acquired by the Associated Press showed that the analyst had received permission in 2002 to work with massive numbers of records that included Social Security numbers, and was allowed to take data off VA premises.

The analyst, still unnamed, is currently contesting his dismissal from the agency.

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