Data analyst, top officials blamed in VA data theft incident

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An investigation into the VA laptop data theft incident has wrapped up after two-months, placing the bulk of the blame on the agency’s top officials as well as the data analyst who took the laptop home without authorization in the first place, the Washington Post reports.
   
VA Inspector General George J. Opfer was in charge of the investigation and oversaw the resulting 68-page report. Opfer wrote in the report that VA Secretary Jim Nicholson "take whatever administrative action deemed appropriate" against officials at the agency that failed to speedily report and investigate the theft. Nicholson has already made some policy changes at the VA, but the situation calls for the development of “one clear, concise VA policy on safeguarding protected information,” Opfer wrote, according to Washington Post reports.

The report does not include that many new insights regarding the theft, though it does uncover that the external drive, not the laptop itself, contained the VA data. Also, unlike previously believed, had the thieves sought to access the sensitive information they would not have needed to operate special statistical software on the machine, the Washington Post reports.

The laptop was recovered in late June and after evaluating it the FBI could find no evidence that any of the sensitive information had been compromised.

Secretary Nicholson has taken his share of lumps as a result of this situation. "We're waiting for the secretary to act," said Robert Wallace, executive director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in a released statement regarding the report. "I want him to take every action he has to clean that place up. The secretary seems to be the poor guy sitting out on a limb; he's the last guy to know, and then he responds."
   
Nicholson has made efforts to assure the public that he is taking action. "VA has embarked on a course of action to wholly improve its cyber and information security programs," he said in a statement, the Washington Post reports. "The IG's report confirms that we must continue with our aggressive efforts to reform the current system," he added.

Heads have rolled at the VA since the news broke. In early June, Veterans Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Michael McLendon resigned his position in response to the growing storm over his apparent delay in informing top VA officials or the FBI regarding the theft.  Dennis Duffy the acting head of the division for which the data analyst worked recently ‘retired’.
   
The data analyst who took the computer home has also been fired, though he has since challenged his termination.