WASHINGTON (AP) _ A former Drug Enforcement Administration budget analyst charged with stealing $6 million from the agency dodged questions about the money by saying it was for a ``sensitive and confidential foreign program,'' a federal indictment says.

``It's the largest internal theft in Justice Department history,'' Justice Department spokesman John Russell said Thursday concerning the 74-count indictment against David S. Bowman, 57.

Bowman, who worked 22 years for the DEA and earned about $85,900 a year when he retired in April 1997, was alleged to have conducted the scam from 1990 to 1997.

The indictment accused the Arlington, Va., man of submitting hundreds of false payment vouchers in the name of a sham company, prompting the DEA to send checks to a post office box he controlled.

He then laundered the proceeds through local banks and used them on personal expenditures for himself and his family, the indictment said: a 1996 Lincoln Mark VIII, six other late-model vehicles, jewelry, artwork, travel.

``The callous and calculated actions described in the indictment are a terrible insult to all of the men and women of DEA,'' said William Simpkins, acting chief inspector of DEA's Office of Professional Responsibility. That office started investigating the matter last March.

Bowman's attorney, Harvey Volzer, would not comment on the charges but said Bowman is bedridden with multiple sclerosis.

A DEA accounting employee drew officials' attention to the problem.

The employee, ``picking random documents to make sure we were paying our bills on time, noticed what she thought were unusual documents, billings. They lacked control numbers, and in the block where there was supposed to be a signature there were just initials,'' said a law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Bowman's responses to her requests for supporting documents raised more questions, so she brought the matter to her supervisor, who brought it to DEA investigators, he said.

To cover up the alleged scheme, ``Bowman made false and misleading statements'' to DEA personnel, pretending the ``payment vouchers related to a sensitive and confidential foreign program that prevented him from supply normal supporting documentation,'' the indictment says.

``We're deeply troubled by this alleged theft,'' said DEA Administrator Thomas Constantine. ``If it hadn't been for the actions of an alert employee, the theft of taxpayers' money might still be occurring.''

Russell said Bowman would not be arrested but summoned to appear for arraignment March 23 in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.

``There's no reason to arrest him,'' Bowman attorney Volzer said. Considering his illness, Volzer said, ``he's absolutely no flight risk.''

Bowman faces 53 counts of money laundering, 15 of concealment of money laundering, five of mail fraud and one of theft and conversion of government property and money.

The indictment seeks return of all property and money from the money-laundering violations.