Audit highlights missing laptops.
An audit of laptops used by operatives at one of Britain's main intelligence agencies revealed that the agency “lost track” of 35 laptop computers, including three that were certified to hold Top Secret information; a parliamentary intelligence and security committee reported this past Thursday. The rest of the laptops were not approved for unclassified information. According to the report, the agency's process for logging the allocation and subsequent location of laptops at GCHQ had been "haphazard" and that the agency showed a "cavalier" attitude to tracking equipment – an attitude that generated sharp criticism from the government last week.
"The Committee considers that this formerly cavalier attitude towards valuable and sensitive assets was unacceptable. GCHQ must ensure that it controls, tracks and monitors its equipment effectively. Now that proper processes have been introduced, we trust that this problem will not arise again."
In response to the report, a government statement said it accepted the committee's criticism and conceded that GCHQ had been unable to account fully for all of its laptops at that time. The government statement pointed out that although the missing laptop documentation was troubling, there was “no evidence of any loss of laptops or classified information." "The most likely explanation in most cases is that the laptops were destroyed but without the destruction being fully recorded. GCHQ has now tightened up its controls." Over the past several years, the British government has been repeatedly embarrassed by lapses over missing laptops and storage devices involving losses of information, such as when tax authorities lost data on 25 million people exposing them to the risk of identity theft and fraud.
GCHQ is the responsibility of the UK Secretary of State. The agency carries out intelligence functions similar in many ways to the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Based in Cheltenham, the agency operates under the guidance of the Joint Intelligence Committee, and falls under the direct supervision of the British Secretary of State. GCHQ was originally established after World War I as the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS or GC&CS), by which name it was known until 1946. During the Second World War, GCCS was based largely at Bletchley Park, and is most famous for cracking the German Enigma code.