By Bob Sullivan Technology correspondent
msnbc.com
updated 6/29/2006 7:47:51 PM ET 2006-06-29T23:47:51
BREAKING NEWS

The missing laptop and hard drive that contained veterans' personal information has been found, Veterans Administration Chief Jim Nicholson announced Thursday. 

The announcement came at the beginning of a hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing.

"It was confirmed to me by the deputy attorney general that law enforcement has in their possession the ... laptop and hard drive," Nicholson said in a statement at the hearing.  "The serial numbers match."

Experts were conducting forensic tests on the laptop and hard drive, Nicholson said. It was not immediately clear if the data on the equipment had been copied or compromised, but Nicholson said "there is reason to be optimistic."

He did not say how the equipment was recovered, on where it's been during the past two months.  The equipment was found Wednesday; Nicholson said he wasn't aware of any arrests made in connection with the incident.

An FBI spokesman said the laptop computer was recovered "in the area," but could not provide more specific information.  Forensics tests showed "the sensitive files were not accessed," according to special agent in charge Bill Chase.

In early May, the computer equipment was stolen from a VA employee's home. The agency revealed the theft two weeks later.  The news has spurred criticism of the agency's computer security procedures.

The announcement was a surprise at the hearing, which was intended to examine the government's treatment of sensitive data.

Even after the announcement, Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.) was still critical of the agency. 

"The intention seems to be to blame all of this on one guy," he said.  "But he had permission to download the data.  He had help downloading the data."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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