By Bob Sullivan
July 3, 2006
We have a few more details on what happened to the nation's most
famous runaway laptop computer during those mysterious two months it
was missing, courtesy of NBC's Pete Williams. We're talking about the
computer and hard drive that were stolen from a Department of Veterans
Affairs employee in May, an incident that made headlines because the
hardware contained private information on 26.5 million veterans and
current GIs. Last week, VA chief Jim Nicholson announced in dramatic
fashion  that the prodigal computer had been found, but details
about the return were sparse.
NBC's Williams has been able to fill in some of the blanks after
talking to law enforcement officials investigating the incident.
Both the laptop and hard drive ended up for sale at a black market
just north of Washington D.C., near a subway station outside the
Beltway near Wheaton. We're talking about the kind of market that is
literally run out of the back of a truck, one official said.
Fortunately, a buyer purchased both components at this black market,
keeping the missing hardware together.
The male buyer, who has not been publicly identified, later spotted
fliers posted at a nearby supermarket seeking the return of the
equipment. After matching the serial numbers on the flier with those
on the equipment, the buyer decided to turn in the equipment. No
doubt, a posted $50,000 reward helped encourage that decision.
He had a friend in the U.S. Park Police who brokered the exchange with
the FBI, Williams was told.
At that point, the FBI ran forensics tests on the equipment and
concluded the sensitive data - such as veterans' Social Security
numbers -- had not been accessed. (Read more details about those tests
here). Knowing more about the secret life of the disappearing hardware
should make veterans a little more comfortable that their personal
information was not compromised during the incident.
But not all questions have been answered yet. The obvious missing
puzzle piece is this: How did the hardware get from the VA employee's
home in Aspen Hill, Md., to the back of a truck in Wheaton, about 4
miles away? And what happened during the trip?
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