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FBI computer systems allegedly hacked by consultant

A government consultant assigned to a massive overhaul of the FBI's computer systems in 2004 broke into classified components on four separate occasions and nabbed the passwords of 38,000 employees, including agency director Robert Mueller III, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Joseph Colon, 28, then an employee of BAE Systems, was able to crack the log-ins using two free pieces of software that are readily downloadable on the Internet, according to court documents cited in the story.

The information granted him access to Witness Protection Program records and other details on secret FBI activities. After learning of the intrusions, the agency temporarily shut down its network and devoted millions of dollars and thousands of hours to ensuring no "sensitive" information had been endangered.

The consultant's lawyer said in court filings that his client used the stolen names and passwords only to speed his access to the computer systems, as he was fed up with having to gain written permission for "routine" tasks like adding a printer to the network.

Colon pleaded guilty earlier this year to four counts of intentionally accessing a computer while exceeding authorized access and obtaining information from any department of the United States. Facing up to 18 months in prison, he has since lost his job and top-secret security clearances. The government did not accuse him of attempting to harm national security, the Post said.

The episode marks only one of several blemishes on the FBI's attempts at completing a multiyear, multimillion-dollar computer modernization project.

Last summer, after squandering at least $104.5 million on a case-management system that turned out to be a flop, the agency said it would start the process again. Government auditors have already faulted earlier efforts for allegedly misplacing millions of dollars worth of computer equipment and for mismanaging funds.