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Agents recover stolen laptops; suspect in custody

WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Agents of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations recovered two missing laptops containing highly sensitive U.S. military information Aug. 9.

A week earlier, the laptops had been reported missing from a secure location at U.S. Central Command headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., triggering the influx of 46 OSI agents to investigate their disappearance.

OSI agents recovered the laptops from a private residence in the MacDill area after identifying the suspect and learning the location of the laptops.

The suspect is a military member who had access to the area within CENTCOM from which the laptops had been taken. He was placed in the MacDill detention facility Aug. 9.

"Recovery of the laptops was a huge triumph for all the OSI agents and support personnel who applied their skills and resolved this case in short order," said Special Agent Jeffrey Vent, who led the investigative team. "This was an extremely important investigation, and I couldn't be more proud of everyone involved."

The laptops remain in OSI's possession and will be examined by agents specially trained in computer forensics to determine whether any of the sensitive data has been manipulated or compromised, Vent said.

Beyond examination of the laptops, more investigative work remains to be done to corroborate elements of the suspect's story, Vent said.

Vent attributed his team's success to the large and swift influx of OSI agents. Just days after the laptops were reported missing, 46 agents joined forces with five agents permanently assigned to OSI Detachment 323 at MacDill. Vent, who commands that detachment, knew immediately the case called for more manpower than his staff could have provided.

"We needed to interview everybody who had access to the area the computers had been taken from, and that was a very, very long list of people," Vent said.

Accordingly, OSI senior leadership decided to immediately deploy as many agents as possible to tackle the interviews expeditiously.

"The longer it was going to take to talk to everybody, the more likely it was going to be that the trail would go cold," Vent said. "Speed was of the essence, and we achieved speed with overwhelming manpower."

The agents set up shop in a recently vacated building. The team fashioned interview rooms and administrative areas out of vacant rooms and began working their way through the long list of people to be interviewed.

The team had interviewed about half the people on the list when the suspect was brought in for an interview, Vent said. Unknown to the suspect at the time, he had already made the agents' list of "persons of interest," based on information gleaned from interviews and other investigative work. During the course of his interview, the suspect confessed to taking the laptops, provided a motive and told agents where the laptops could be found.

Officials are withholding the suspect's name, rank, and branch of service in accordance with Uniform Code of Military Justice rules that prohibit identifying a person suspected of a crime prior to the preferral of charges. Similarly, the suspect's expressed motive is not releasable until and unless it is revealed in court proceedings.

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