The theft of a laptop computer has landed a federal employee in big trouble, and now some twenty-six million veterans are wondering whether their social security numbers and other information have been compromised.
The theft occurred two and a half weeks ago but law enforcement officials are defending their decision not to reveal the breach until now.
The Department of Veterans Affairs admits one of its analysts improperly took home electronic data -- names, social security numbers and dates of birth of as many as twenty-six million veterans and spouses. And it all disappeared in a home burglary earlier this month in suburban Maryland.
"He took this home to work with it on a project he was working on-- in a clear violation of policies and procedures," said James Nicholson, Secretary of veterans affairs.
Law enforcement officials say it's unlikely the thief knew what was on the stolen computer equipment .
"We have no reason to believe at this time there has been, the identity of these veterans has been compromised, but we feel obligation to alert veterans so that they can take the appropriate steps to protect this information," said Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
Some lawmakers are already calling for an investigation.
"This is just inexcusable, its disgraceful that we would put any veteran in a position where his identity can be violated," said Representative Peter King.
Now federal law enforcement officials are scrambling to recover the data, and make sure the veterans don't become victims of identity theft.