MOST PEOPLE THINK OF military procurement in terms of $640 toilet seats and $436 hammers, but the phrase "military grade" actually implies something else: a product that meets the most demanding specifications in the market. "Military-grade security," for example, typically means the best available technology to protect data from being stolen.
The news from Bagram air base in Afghanistan, however, is giving military-grade security a bad name. Times staff writer Paul Watson reported this week that shopkeepers at local bazaars have been selling portable storage devices containing sensitive military files. The pen-shaped devices, also known as USB flash drives, have apparently been stolen by workers at the base and spirited past guards.
Among the files contained on some drives were documents that named militants targeted for attack, identified Afghan officials suspected of corruption and revealed the Social Security numbers of nearly 700 members of the armed services. Officials have launched a criminal probe into the stolen drives, and the investigation could result in the arrests of a few light-fingered workers.
But that won't stop the problem. No matter how secure, the base will always be vulnerable to the theft of information, no matter how it's stored. But the importance and sensitivity of this information, as well as its easy portability, demand that the military take some basic steps to protect it.