June 7, 2006 at 9:44 PM ET
What could be worse than losing secret information that identifies all the nation's veterans?
Losing secret information that identifies men and women fighting a war.
Those who have tracked the Veterans Administration lost data debacle know it was already one of the worst data loss stories ever. Initially, the VA said the lost equipment -- stolen by a house burglar from a VA employee's home -- included data on 26.5 million veterans. Two weeks ago, a VA spokeswoman specifically told me National Guard troops were not involved.
The story's changed now, much for the worse. During the weekend, the VA revealed that some active duty members might have been in the list. Then Monday evening, the Washington Post reported that up to 2.1 million military men and women were on that equipment. And yes, that includes National Guard members.
No slight to the harm done to the veterans -- but this strikes me as a far more severe story. Imagine what an enemy agent could do with that information, with a list of current military fighters. They could create fake IDs, or harass family members. Or, I'm sure, even worse.
There was already confusion about this story. Vets have been writing me for days asking if there was any way to know who was on the computer. The VA hasn't been able to give specifics. In fact, the original announcement said "some spouses" were also on the computer, but that's all.
Tuesday's disclosure makes the story all the more frustrating. How are active duty military personnel supposed to deal with this news? Many are hardly in a position to look up their credit report and check for signs of identity theft.
Thanks to NBC's Pete Williams, we can offer a few more details about why the VA has been so vague. The data apparently was taken home by an employee on either DVDs or CDs. Some of those CDs or DVDs were copied to the employees computer, but no one knows how many. In the best case scenario, only some of the data was copied before the computer was stolen.
The CDs/DVDs themselves were not stolen.
It's also possible that some of the data, after it was copied "was erased over time," VA spokeswoman Louis Filkins told me.
Pete Williams is also reporting Wednesday night that about 10 percent of those active duty military who may have been exposed by the theft are currently engaged in wartime activity.
As more information dribbles out about what happened to this data, Critical information is still missing: Namely, who's on the list? That's what vets and active GIs need to know.