28 February 2014

Lost guns and terrorism records

A perspective on data breaches - especially through the loss of laptops, portable hard drives, CDs and USB sticks - is provided in a nice little article by the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel regarding carelessness by officers of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

The Journal Sentinel on 25 February reported
ATF agents have lost track of dozens of government-issued guns, after stashing them under the front seats in their cars, in glove compartments or simply leaving them on top of their vehicles and driving away, according to internal reports from the past five years .... Agents left their guns behind in bathroom stalls, at a hospital, outside a movie theater and on a plane, according to the records, obtained Tuesday by the news organization under the federal Freedom of Information Act.  … It is clear that agency rules were not followed in many of the incidents, which show at least 49 guns were lost or stolen nationwide between 2009 and 2013.

Examples provided by the Journal Sentinel  -
  • In December 2009 two 6-year-olds spotted an agent's loaded ATF Smith & Wesson .357 on a stormwater drain in Bettendorf, Iowa. The agent lived nearby and later said he couldn't find his gun for days but didn't bother reporting it until the discovery featured in the local newspaper. He told police that he had recently misplaced the gun, thought it would eventually turn up, and had no idea how it got into the drain or when it was lost.
  • In 2011 an agent in Los Angeles went out drinking with other agents and friends. The next morning he woke up and realized his ATF-issued Glock was gone. It was not found.
  • In Septemer 2012 in Milwaukee an undercover agent had three of his guns (including an ATF machinegun) stolen from his government truck parked at a coffee shop. 
  • On 15 June 2012 an agent at Swedish Hospital in Bellevue, Washington, left his loaded ATF-issued Sig Sauer .40 caliber pistol in a bathroom stall. The gun was later found by someone in the bathroom. 
  • On 11 June 2012 an agent in Plainfield, Illinois was dropping off his children at a soccer game  when he put his government-issued Smith & Wesson revolver on his car's roof, forgot about it and drove away. The gun was found on an off-ramp and turned in to police. 
  • On 20 July 2009 an agent in Fargo, North Dakota put his ATF gun on top of his car and went to water his lawn. He forgot it was there; his daughter took the car to a friend's house. The agent scoured the area but could not find the gun. 
  • In November 2008 an agent left his ATF gun in a fanny pack on a Southwest Airlines plane in Houston. He came back later to retrieve it. 
  • In 2008 another agent in Houston didn't realize he had lost his gun for a week. It was not found.  
More disturbingly, the Journal Sentinel indicates that
the ATF used mentally disabled people to promote operations and then arrested them on drug and gun charges; opened storefronts close to schools and churches, increasing arrest numbers and penalties; and attracted juveniles with free video games and alcohol. 
Agents paid inflated prices for guns, which led to people buying weapons at stores and selling them to undercover agents hours later, in some cases for nearly three times what they paid. 
In addition, agents allowed armed felons to leave their fake stores and openly bought stolen goods, spurring burglaries in surrounding neighbourhoods. 
Given my interest in benchmarking I note that
The ATF has weapons stolen or loses them more frequently than other federal law enforcement agencies, according to a 2008 report from the Office of the Inspector General with the U.S. Department of Justice. In a five-year span from 2002-'07, for example, 76 ATF weapons were reported stolen, lost or missing, according to the report. That's nearly double the rate of the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, when considering rates per 1,000 agents. The inspector general's office found the majority of losses and thefts were a result of carelessness or failure to follow ATF policy. 
The 2008 report cited "agents leaving weapons in public bathrooms, atop their vehicles, on an airplane and one in a shopping cart".
"There's no doubt that people leave things around, but when you have an agency whose task it is is to focus on firearms, it would seem to me like an extra measure of care would be called for," said David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and an expert on law enforcement tactics and regulation. 
"If they are doing this at a rate that is higher than others (in law enforcement), it is something to worry about." The sloppy attention to securing weapons could stem in part from poor communication about the importance of the issue by leadership or lack of adequate consequences for those who violate the rules, Harris said. 
"You have to make it real. … People have to see there are real consequences," he said. "If you don't do that, you might as well not have the rules. It's just window dressing." 
In the UK Information Commissioner has imposed a civil monetary penalty of £185,000 on the Department of Justice Northern Ireland for what was described as a very serious data breach, i.e. selling a locked filing cabinet that contained personal information relating to victims of a terrorist incident.

The cabinet contained information about the injuries suffered, family details and the amount of compensation offered, as well as confidential ministerial advice. It was sold at auction when the Compensation Agency Northern Ireland, under the Department's control, moved offices in February 2012. The buyer forced the lock and found papers dating from the 1970s through to 2005.

The Commissioner comments "While failing to check the contents of a filing cabinet before selling it may seem careless, the nature of the information typically held by this organisation made the error all the more concerning".