A laptop computer containing top-secret information vanished from the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research more than a week ago, and the FBI is investigating whether it was stolen, a senior State Department official said.
The laptop's disappearance from a supposedly secure conference room at the department has set off an intense effort to recover the computer and a search for suspects, including contractors who have been renovating the area, the official said.
Another person familiar with the incident said that the missing computer contains "code word" information, a classification higher than top secret, and that it includes sensitive intelligence information and plans.
The incident is the latest in a string of embarrassing security breaches at the State Department. Last year, counterintelligence officials from the FBI discovered a Russian spy lurking outside the department and later an eavesdropping device planted in a conference room. In 1998, a man dressed in a tweed coat strolled into the executive secretary's office, six doors down from the office of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, helped himself to a sheaf of classified briefing materials in plain view of two secretaries, and walked out. The man was never identified, and the materials were never recovered.
A senior State Department official said it remained unclear whether the laptop was misplaced or stolen and, if it was stolen, whether the thief realized the sensitivity of the material it contained or took it simply for the value of the hardware.
The senior State Department official added that the laptop's disappearance was not the result of poor security procedures but of a failure by department employees to follow those procedures. He said it appeared that some contractors had not been properly escorted when working in the building.
"Some policies and procedures were not followed," said the senior official. "It is my very sincere hope that the responsible individual or individuals will be punished."
Another person familiar with the incident said that an official had propped open the door of a secure conference room, that contractors lacking security clearances were working in the sensitive area and that the laptop had not been properly secured.