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US State Dept. Loses Anti-Terrorist Program Laptops 223

Posted by timothy
from the around-here-someplace-gimme-a-minute dept.
Stony Stevenson writes "It has surfaced that the US State Department can't account for up to about 1,000 laptops, perhaps as many as 400 of which belonged to the department's Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program. Internal auditors found that the department lost track of $30 million worth of computer equipment, 'the vast majority of which... perhaps as much as 99 percent,' were laptops, according to one official. Another official calculated that the average State Department laptop costs US$3,000 and figured that meant as many as 1,000 laptops might be astray — not 10,000 laptops as the US$30 million figure suggests. They're obviously not very good at maths."
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US State Dept. Loses Anti-Terrorist Program Laptops

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  • Blame Iran (Score:5, Funny)

    by Trigun (685027) <evil@nOSpaM.evilempire.ath.cx> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:52PM (#23328728)
    They're using them and a bunch of XBoxes to create a supercomputer possible of calculating what wacky thing the president is going to do next.
  • laptops it is?

    I mean, seriously :)

    Who they want to fool?
  • by pembo13 (770295) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:52PM (#23328742) Homepage
    Seems like that is the most effective thing right now.
    • Yes, at first thought that works, but then we would see gov't. employees missing along with the laptop.
      My solution would be to chain the employees to a welded down desktop so the whole building would have to be lost/misplaced/sold in a pawn shop.

      After seeing SO many of these articles, I can only surmise that giving them laptops in the first place is a poor choice.
  • now they have to scrap the whole program and start from scratch thanks to poor training and human error.

    your multi-billion dollar system is rendered useless by one incompetent employee.
  • eBay? (Score:5, Funny)

    by VincenzoRomano (881055) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:57PM (#23328794) Homepage Journal
    I would give eBay a try to find them out!
  • by Qzukk (229616) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:57PM (#23328798) Journal
    Obviously the problem is in assuming that all of the laptops were "worth" the same. Actually, there were 999 laptops that the government paid about $1,000 each for, which had important documents containing SSNs, medical and employment records, etc of every single person in the united states who was not a member of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as various secret anti-terrorist initiatives, identities of government moles working within terrorist groups and so on, totaling a value of about $999,000.

    The other $29,001,000 is due to the loss of one laptop containing the SSN and medical records of the director of the Department of Homeland Security.
  • by Starturtle (1148659) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:58PM (#23328832) Homepage
    Call in Jack Bauer, I'm sure he'll have them back within 24 hours.
    • by jd (1658)
      You want Captain Jack, from Torchwood. Y'know, the world's mot famous secret organization, beyond the government, outside the United Nations, second left over the flyover, straight on at Budgens, first right at the lights then first left at the Kwiksave. He should have them back before they were taken.
  • by Aeonite (263338) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @03:59PM (#23328848) Homepage
    Were they MacBook Airs? Perhaps they're stuck inside some manila envelopes.
  • by piojo (995934) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:03PM (#23328886)
    A state department laptop costs an average of $3000? That's completely insane! No (non-gaming) laptop costs that much unless you're just trying to burn money. This further reduces my faith in the abilities of the national government (and makes me feel really great about my taxes). =/
    • by mazarin5 (309432) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:09PM (#23328972) Journal
      I presume that price includes software, created by government contractors at high price for a specific purpose, divided amongst the few thousand computers that have it installed.
      • by mcmonkey (96054) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:38PM (#23329378) Homepage

        I presume that price includes software, created by government contractors at high price for a specific purpose, divided amongst the few thousand computers that have it installed.

        Software would be a part of the purchase price, but not the calculation of the value of the lost property.

        After all, software is licensed not bought. When a computer gets lost, they still have the license, right? It's not like they have repurchase the same software for the replacement computers.

        • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:01PM (#23329680)

          It's not like they have repurchase the same software for the replacement computers.


          Haven't dealt with Microsoft lately, have we?
        • yes my kid (in the Army) would nuc a harddrive from orbit and reinstall everything, being easier than figuring out what some shake-and-bake lieutenant did to FUBAR the thing besides asking the sadist questions "OBTW you did back-up everything you wanted to keep didn't you Sir?" was one of the perks of the job. Of course now that EDS is vendoring support we have to pay for troubleshooting before they nuc it anyways.
        • Remember Bill Clinton claiming $4 rebate for each pair of used underpants he donated to charity?
    • by Enleth (947766)
      There are some Sony VAIOs and high-end ThinkPads (a few really high-end T series models and a few more X series models, especially "t" and "s" variety) that cost even more and definitely aren't gaming laptops, but no one buys them just like that, especially the TPs, they are more of a special-purpose tool than a typical laptop and are usually bought because someone actually needs them.
      • by mapsjanhere (1130359) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:27PM (#23329228)
        Actually these were special DHS laptops with the ultimate security feature:
        An ultraslick teflon outer coating to prevent the employees from writing down their automatically generated 16 letter+capital+number+special changing once a month passwords on sticky notes and glue them to the notebook.
        • by Enleth (947766)
          Well, it's clear now - those laptops must have been stolen by the manufacturers of frying pans!
    • by corsec67 (627446) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:13PM (#23329048) Homepage Journal

      This further reduces my faith in the abilities of the national government (and makes me feel really great about my taxes). =/


      If you got all of your money by stealing it from people, I don't think you would care too much about wasting some of that money.
      In government, where is the incentive to not waste money?
      • MOD PARENT UP (Score:4, Insightful)

        by InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:33PM (#23329296)
        I was about to reply with the same thing. This is yet another example of why it is ridiculous to say it is better to "just let the government handle it". Not only is there no incentive to be cost-effective, secure, OR efficient, but the exact opposite becomes the case - government employees get their jobs through friends and family, ie cronyism, so because they did not need to prove their competence to get their jobs, there is also no incentive for them to be competent in their positions.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Abcd1234 (188840)
          This is yet another example of why it is ridiculous to say it is better to "just let the government handle it"

          You are correct. In some cases. But only a blind fool would believe that's universally true.
        • And that's no different in the corporate world. Look at the senior ranks of management at a lot of companies. They get payed ridiculous amounts for running the company into the ground.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TheLink (130905)
          Right, and "just let private corporations handle it" will be better?

          You think corporate employees don't get their jobs through friends and family or cronyism? There are efficient government run systems.

          The problem is not "because it is done by government". It all depends on the people you have, it doesn't matter if it's "private or gov". Some stuff governments just do better than private corps. The idea is governments try not to do too much stuff that they're not good at, and regulate the private corps (esp
    • by sm62704 (957197)
      Three hindred dollar hammers and you complain about laptops?
    • by rujholla (823296) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:25PM (#23329190)
      Ya but we feel confident that they can do a good job with health care!!
    • by qoncept (599709)
      And all they were using them for was to type "turban" or a racist synonym in to a Google Images search!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:34PM (#23329320)
      As a scientist working for a US-government research lab, these stories make me die a bit inside.

      Where I work, we are very budget conscious. We could never justify spending $3000 on laptops. In fact we have to make a very solid case before we can get our desktops upgraded to even modern commodity levels (despite the fact that, as you might guess, we do plenty of work that pushes a desktop machine to its limits). Moreover, we have a very strict inventory system. All equipment (including computers) is accounted for, and has to be barcode-scanned annually to make sure it's still accounted for. Even computers that are so old no one would want them are still meticulously tracked.

      I always assumed that this was standard for government agencies... but I guess some agencies are able to bend and break these rules more wantonly than others. It makes me sad to think of the wastage in one branch when we are diligently following the rules, and barely scraping by, in another...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mckorr (1274964)
        The DHS machines aren't any better than yours. I seriously doubt the laptops cost the government more than the roughly $1000 you would normally expect them to pay. The additional money actually goes to fund operations and projects which are kept off the books. It's the same with the $300 hammer or $10k toilet seats for the military. They pay the same price you do, and the extra money goes to "black ops". Special Forces operations in foreign countries, counter-terrorist measures, anything that has to be
    • Maybe they decided to get Macs.
    • i bet they really spent $300 each on 10,000 OLPCs, can you imagine the noise that'd make when they all mesh together?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by couchslug (175151)
      "No (non-gaming) laptop costs that much unless you're just trying to burn money."

      Itronix and Panasonic semi-rugged and rugged units routinely cost far more than that.
    • by k1e0x (1040314)
      Well.. when government can pay any price for something what would you expect?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Vellmont (569020)

      A state department laptop costs an average of $3000? That's completely insane!

      I'm not sure I'd start jumping up and down just yet. You're basing this all one one minor fact that some dumb journalist likely got wrong, or took out of context. And as we all know, journalists never make factual errors except when you have personal knowledge of the story.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Excelent, Socialism by Ludwig von Mises [econlib.org] is now #2 on a google search for "socialism." It's the book that converted previous liberal democrats like Hayak to free markets. I bet you would have even less faith in government if you read through that.
    • by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @07:08PM (#23331284)
      A state department laptop costs an average of $3000? That's completely insane! No (non-gaming) laptop costs that much unless you're just trying to burn money.

      Ok, buy a laptop. Put the most popular business OS on it. Put the most popular business office suite on it. Put "standard" software on it, Acrobat, virus scanner, CALs for email, SQL, and such. Now look at the cost. Having bought a number of computers for companies, the hardware costs $500-$1000 for the desktop, and $2000+ after all the software. And yes, they essentially throw out all the licenses when they get rid of the computer, but by then the software is usally obsolete as well. Not to mention that a laptop order here is usually for someone "special" with special needs. With the cost of the one laptop was an extra battery, an extra charger, a monitor, a stand, a dock, a case, a mouse, a keyboard (invariably wireless) and sometimes even things like printers. The "laptop" was half accessories or more.

      So when they "cost" $3000, that's probably not the cost of the hardware laptop only, but includes other expenses.
  • If you see anyone who looks like this [slashdot.org] then the laptops have fallen into the wrong hands.

    Sorry, had to do it. :)
  • The guy said he was a drug dealer down on his luck. Now I understand why it had these pictures [slashdot.org] in it.

    I smoked a joint and got all paranoid and shit and threw it in Lake Springfield. Sorry.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:09PM (#23328974)
    1) They've only done one pass of their inventory. Once this has become public, the supervisors will get pushed on from their bosses to make sure that more equipment is accounted for in the second and third passes.

    2) The reason that many of these laptops are listed as worth ~$3,000 is probably that some of them are 10+ years old (when laptops were really really expensive). That also explains why some of them can't be found; they're shoved in the back of filing cabinets or in the bottom of desk-drawers because they haven't been used in years and years. Their practical value is probably nothing, but -- on paper -- they're worth thousands because that's what they were bought for all those years ago...
    • by Jaysyn (203771)
      So much for depreciation.
    • by lelitsch (31136)

      The reason that many of these laptops are listed as worth ~$3,000 is probably that some of them are 10+ years old (when laptops were really really expensive).
      If the government uses generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) like almost any other organization in the US, ten year old laptops should be listed as worth next to nothing. The depreciation schedule is about 3 years, I think.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Red Flayer (890720)

        If the government uses generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) like almost any other organization in the US, ten year old laptops should be listed as worth next to nothing. The depreciation schedule is about 3 years, I think.

        Well, first off, the US government doesn't comply with GAAP across the board, it picks and chooses where it wants to comply. There's plenty of questionable accounting practices, despite efforts to clean it up (see GAO annual report).

        And as for ten-year-old laptops, while it's

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by budgenator (254554)
      Somewhere along the line there is going to be a break in accountability and sooner or later, if you signed for 100 laptops, you had better be able to produce 100 laptops or 100 signatures on equipment issue receipts. If you can't your going to pay for the shortage and if your lucky they'll be able to depreciate them down but 10 cents on the dollar can really add up.
  • Papertrails (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TibbonZero (571809) <Tibbon@nOSpAm.gmail.com> on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:10PM (#23328984) Homepage Journal
    I haven't worked for the government ever asides from working as an intern for a local County government's IT department, so I really don't know the answer to this.

    What in the world happens with these things as far as papertrails go? This question comes to mind every time they "lose" weapons or laptops. Isn't there anyone that has their name on these items as being responsible? Surely either the shipping departments, the departments that they were assigned to, or the people that they were assigned to could be held responsible right?

    I imagine for example that in moving of large arms shipments around the Middle East for our troops that there's someone always in charge of the stuff, or that last touched it. Wouldn't a great place to start (and place the blame) be the last person that signed off on something like this? In anything bigger than a really tiny company, there should be very clear paper trails like this right?

    Doesn't someone have to answer? Isn't it the auditors job to know who last touched them?
    • by Incadenza (560402)

      I imagine for example that in moving of large arms shipments around the Middle East for our troops that there's someone always in charge of the stuff, or that last touched it. Wouldn't a great place to start (and place the blame) be the last person that signed off on something like this? In anything bigger than a really tiny company, there should be very clear paper trails like this right?

      Well, if you are stoopid enough to place your ballistic missile parts in the unclassified storage room, and then accid [cnn.com]

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I work as a scientist for a US-government research lab.

      Where I work, we have an elaborate tracking system. Every piece of equipment has an inventory number and a barcode. We have to reconcile the inventory at least yearly, which involves people walking around and scanning in each item. Any missing items (or even relocated items) have to be found. There is a special procedure for throwing out any tracked item. The whole system is actually a bit of a pain, but stories like this make me realize why these inven
      • by Vegeta99 (219501)
        You have that inventory managment system because you're a scientist, not one of the "Anti-Terrorist" cronies.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by anmida (1276756)
      Having worked at a national lab for a bit, I can attest that accountability of items is FUBAR. They're pretty good at some things, like chemical inventory (can't let the terrorists steal our stuff...our 10 grams of stuff...and blow us up with it!) They are pretty horrible at some other things, though. The lab I was at actually undertook a program of reducing "extraneous" laptops and other electronic storage devices that were no longer necessary. The reason a lot of things go unaccounted for is that getti
    • A decade ago, it cost $100 for someone to touch a part (widget) in a government contract production environment. That accounts for the paper, time, overhead, profit, etc. involved with simply certifying that a particular part was in a particular place at a particular time. Now, a $3000 laptop may seem like an item worth tracking, but if you figure that most employees can't do any amount of work without one (including answering an email), most laptops are less likely to get lost until they are no longer used
    • One of my friends works for the U.S. Army as an engineer. He used to work at a base here in town, until they decommissioned that facility and offered their employees jobs at one in another state.

      Anyway, I remember years ago, him telling me about all the extra/unused computer equipment they had sitting in storage, on-site. There was a lot of "office politics" going on all the time, where somebody in charge would "mandate" that the whole division use a specific operating system version, or specific version
    • Most likely because they don't have to care. One thing I have noticed when reading stories of government incompetence is that no one really gets in serious trouble. Worse the government has this propensity to impose rules on businesses and individuals that they not only do not adhere to but will actually codify into law that it does not apply to them (remember the days of discrimination laws?)

      So in a case like this accountability isn't built into the system. The powers that oversee them are themselves.
      • by Vegeta99 (219501)

        Now take the military, they have a process in place and when a mistake gets made it gets tracked very thoroughly and the parties responsible are punished - even if this means going far up the chain.


        Ever heard of the My Lai massacre?
  • by athloi (1075845) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:10PM (#23329000) Homepage Journal
    Cost of laptop: $3000

    Cost of personnel to procure it, insurance, shipping, paperwork, legislation, research, etc on a per-item basis: $8000

    Total cost in taxes, per laptop, to you: $11000

    Cost of laptop, out of back of 10-year-old SUV with motor running, on street, from some guy named Joey with methamphetamine acne: $400

  • by captainjamie (956435) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @04:11PM (#23329006)
    They're obviously not very good at maths

    9/11 changed everything... even multiplication.
  • Then they wouldn't go missing.

    More stupid gov spending.

     
  • Now do you think someone, somewhere, has a Beowulf cluster going?
  • ...One Laptop Per Terrorist program.
  • The $30M number is bogus, it includes a lot of other stuff.

    This whole article is sourced from a blog called "Dead Men Working" which is focused on venting the frustrations diplomatic foreign service officers about their problems with getting security clearance from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; coincidentally the group alleged to have lost the laptops. So take the article with a grain of salt.

    Also, the blog reported yesterday that the laptops were all found and accounted for. So, really, nothing

  • everytime one of these stories comes out, we have the predictable gov't is a bunch of people who don't care about our money comments.
    but is gov't really worse then priv sector ? don't forget, priv sector isn't under the openess rules of gov't a corp looses a 1,000 laptops, they don't talk about it.
    What i have seen in industry, there is just as much waste, if not more.
  • It is just the new anti-terrorism program in action.

    Give the major suspects a computer and a WoW account and they won't have time to design bombs....

    And talk about no meat to the article :(
  • While its still high, they might have included the rest of the costs involved, setup, admin time, software...

    Base cost of the box is not total cost of the unit.
  • And this ladies and gentlemen is the reason why laptops are now searched at airports.

    To find their missing stuff again! :p
  • "If the missing ones might have contained classified data, this could be serious."

    Sorry, I RTFA.

  • by Tatsh (893946) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @05:52PM (#23330420)
    will end up on Wikileaks! I will wait patiently.
  • Stop putting important things on laptops! Good laptops are relatively expensive and especially easy to steal; like many common items, one can calmly pick one up in a crowded public area without anyone taking notice. A desktop doesn't have to leave the office, flash drives are cheap, easy to keep track of with a neck/wrist strap, and not much of a target. Lose a thousand encrypted flash drives and you'll only be missing a few tens of thousands, compared to stupidly passing out laptops like candy.
  • What really happened is they all had those dodgy exploding batteries in them so we arranged for them to be "lent" to known terrorist organizations with a bunch of phony national security docs on them to keep them interested. That's why we have to search laptops at airports - we don't want any of these dodgy laptop batteries being brought back into the country.

    This is an important security matter; how would you like to be the guy having to explain to George W. that a burnt out rental car that had been hir

  • by bloody_liberal (1002785) on Wednesday May 07, 2008 @06:33PM (#23330892) Homepage
    At least according to this website: http://www.cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?parm1=5&docID=hsnews-000002717866 [cqpolitics.com]

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