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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 01:09 GMT 02:09 UK
FBI under fire in Congress
FBI Headquarters
The disclosure is another embarrassment for the FBI
By Jon Leyne in Washington

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has come in for heavy criticism following the revelation that hundreds of its firearms and several computers containing classified information have gone missing.

At a congressional hearing in Washington, one senator said it was hard to believe the situation had deteriorated to the extent that it had.

How did this great agency fall so far, so fast? Or has this been there for such a long time and it's been carefully concealed?

Senator Richard Durbin
The criticism follows a series of recent embarrassments, including the failure to hand over crucial evidence in the Oklahoma bombing case and the failure for years to catch the spy Robert Hanssen.

It is open season on the FBI in Washington at the moment, with this latest embarrassing revelation just increasing the hue and cry.

Even more damaging was the news that laptop computers containing classified information had also vanished.

Robert Mueller
Problems are piling up on the in-tray of new FBI director Robert Mueller
At a congressional hearing on the problems, Senator Charles Schumer said it was incident after incident.

"You have to say to yourself, what is going on?" he said.

Another senator, Richard Durbin, was even more outspoken.

"It is hard to believe that the situation has disintegrated and deteriorated to the point that it has at this once great institution.

"How did this great agency fall so far, so fast? Or has this been there for such a long time and it's been carefully concealed?"

No tracking system

FBI staff told the committee there had been no system to keep a track on laptops containing sensitive information till late last year.

They also testified that the once-feared agency's information technology system was years out of date.

These are all problems piling up on the in-tray of the new FBI director, Robert Mueller, who has yet to take office.

Some people are now beginning to ask if the agency is beyond hope.

As one senator witheringly put it: "The FBI is becoming a place where the sum is less than the parts."

See also:

18 Jul 01 | Americas
FBI 'loses' computer secrets
06 Jul 01 | Americas
FBI agent admits spying for Moscow
05 Jul 01 | Americas
Bush names new FBI chief
12 May 01 | Americas
McVeigh shows FBI 'in turmoil'
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