We Know The FBI Can't Count Phones. A New Report Shows It Can't Count Guns And Ammo Either.

from the multi-billion-dollar-agency-using-pen-and-paper-to-track-weapons dept

We know the FBI can’t accurately track how many encrypted devices it has in its possession. Two consecutive directors have pushed a “going dark” narrative using an inflated number of uncracked phones. At one point the FBI claimed it had nearly 8,000 phones in its possession, each one presumably full of evidence. When pressed for information by members of Congress, the FBI suddenly realized it had overstated this number by at least 6,000 phones. It discovered its error in May of 2018. It has yet to release an updated number.

The FBI can’t track seized phones so it should come as no surprise it can’t accurately track the guns and ammo in its possession. The DOJ Inspector General has completed its audit [PDF] of the FBI’s weapons control system and found that the FBI isn’t really controlling its weapons.

The FBI claims to have nearly 58,000 firearms in its inventory. This is pretty much the extent of the good news in the IG report:

We found that the FBI has strong physical controls over its unassigned firearms, and Special Agents are personally responsible for properly safeguarding assigned firearms. The FBI tracks its firearms using the Asset Management System (AMS), its automated property management system. During our physical inventory we were able to locate all firearms selected for our sample.

And here comes the bad news. The IG found over 360 firearms that had no designated property custodian, which is against FBI policy. Its audit sample also found two guns the FBI could not explain how or why they were in its possession.

We were unable to trace two firearms back to AMS, both of which were located in a gun safe in the Madison Resident Agency. The Firearms Instructor in Madison explained that the origins of the firearms were unknown.

The FBI also has trouble tracking firearms that have been lost or stolen.

Of the 45 lost or stolen firearms, 24 have been recovered, 1 of which was used in a crime. We also found that the FBI did not maintain complete documentation for 8 of the 45 lost or stolen firearms, including its make, model, or serial number; and a stolen firearm that was subsequently recovered more than 1 year ago was still marked as lost or stolen in AMS.

The list of lost/stolen guns is an interesting read. In every case, agents who lost weapons were suspended. But safely handling firearms appears to be an ongoing problem. Guns were stolen from vehicles, left behind in restrooms and hotel rooms. One was apparently “left on a bumper.” But the best/worst missing gun synopsis is this: “stolen by daughter.”

The agency’s control of ammunition is even worse. Only one of the sites visited by the IG is doing this job properly.

The FBI maintained duty ammunition at 14 of the 15 sites we reviewed. We found that the FBI stored its ammunition in secured areas with access limited to FBI personnel. However, we identified weaknesses in the FBI’s ammunition tracking and physical inventory policies that increase the risk of ammunition being lost or stolen without detection. As a result, we found that 6 of the FBI sites included in our audit were not tracking over 1.2 million rounds of ammunition, and another 7 sites were not adequately tracking ammunition.

Explosives tracking fared a little better, but the system used for keeping tabs on explosives contains weaknesses that could increase the risk of explosives being lost or stolen. Only two of the eight sites with explosives on the premises were adequately tracking these items.

The Inspector General obviously recommends the FBI do better at tracking guns, ammo, and explosives. The FBI pretty much agrees with all of the IG’s suggestions. But it’s had plenty of time to improve things and it hasn’t done all that much. The FBI loses far fewer weapons than it used to, so it at least has this area mostly under control. A 2007 audit showed the FBI had 354 weapons lost or stolen over a 22-month period in 2001-2002. By 2007, it had cut that number in half. The most recent audit shows only 45 lost/stolen weapons over a three-year period.

But this report highlights the agency’s inability to count and control things in its possession. So, it’s hardly surprising it has no idea how many encrypted devices it has on hand. And if it doesn’t know that, it can’t present an accurate picture of device encryption and its impact on investigations.

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Comments on “We Know The FBI Can't Count Phones. A New Report Shows It Can't Count Guns And Ammo Either.”

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19 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: why so many guns?

It’s not clear from the article whether all 58,000 are government property purchased for official use, or whether some of those may be "evidence" seized in the course of an investigation. It’s also possible that some of them are semi-obsolete, but have not been sold off/destroyed yet. (Some of them may even be encrypted, and cannot be fired without getting a backdoor key from the manufacturer.)

If they are all government property and none are obsolete, it seems a bit high, but perhaps not massively so. Assuming that only 2/3 of the FBI personnel have a duty reason to be armed (and that the others are clerk type positions), that is ~2.48 guns per field agent. Firearms covers both handguns and rifles. If we assume every field agent is entitled to carry a handgun, that leaves us with 1.48 unaccounted firearms per agent. Perhaps we should assume every field agent gets two handguns, so that they won’t be unarmed after they lose one in an embarrassingly preventable incident. That gets us down to 0.48 unexplained firearms. Since the FBI likely has numerous SWAT teams, and by nature SWAT teams have a substantial armory relative to the number of personnel assigned to the team, every agent assigned to a SWAT team probably accounts for at least 2 more firearms than an agent not on a SWAT team. The FBI probably also has spares in storage for mundane reasons, like arming agents whose assigned weapon is temporarily out of service, having a weapon on standby to arm new hires without waiting for a requisition to come through, etc.

So overall – yes, it seems high, but not implausibly so.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: What part of "[armory] content moderation at scale is im

when I try to point out how we already have judicial mechanisms that are supposedly capable of operating at that scale

What judicial mechanisms are capable of analyzing

  • hundreds of millions (maybe billions) of photos
  • billions of messages
  • hundreds of thousands of hours of video

in less than a day? Because that is what gets posted to just a few of the biggest social media sites every day.

Lawrence D’Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: Re: What judicial mechanisms are capable of analyzing

Judicial mechanisms are there to

  • Ensure the rules are observed
  • Provide due process for adjudicating infractions, including
  • Right of appeal if defects are perceived in the verdict.

Currently most users have no recourse if Big Content/Big Social takes action against them. Those with a certain level of fame can use that to mobilize some measure of public opinion to bring pressure to get their punishments reconsidered. Everybody else can go to hell.

Anonymous Coward says:

It'd be Nice for the Country if ...

… the FBI went back to actually being a law enforcement agency instead of a housewife-sniping, child-immolating, anti-patriot, pro-terrorism, un-American clandestine coup d’etat organization on behalf of the usual suspects.

Then they might be able to do some competent law enforcement work, such as maintaining accountability of what’s in their evidence locker.

Upstream (profile) says:

Some perspective

I wonder if they can count how many political organizations they have illegal dossiers on? Or how many people they put into "internment camps" based solely on their ethnicity? Or how many people they have investigated for exercising their First Amendment rights? Or how many crimes they have aided and abetted in the name of "catching bigger fish"? Or how many people’s civil rights they have violated because of their political positions, or "just because"? Or how many people they have helped to wrongly imprison based on flawed "forensics" analysis? Or how many people they have killed for trivial legal violations? Or how many peoples lives they have ruined based on their sexual orientation? Or how many warrant-less searches they have conducted?

It seems to me that losing count of some guns and ammunition, and creatively counting some phones, pales in comparison to the FBI’s long and persistent history of serious civil and criminal violations.

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