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U.S. Computer Files Remain on Market in Afghanistan

Many stolen flash drives were bought back by American soldiers, but dozens are still for sale.

April 15, 2006|From the Associated Press

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Shopkeepers outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan said Friday that American investigators had paid thousands of dollars to buy back stolen computer drives, but dozens were still for sale, some of them containing sensitive data.

Shopkeepers allowed a reporter to review about 40 of the flash memory drives on a laptop computer Friday. Most were blank or did not work, but three contained data, including a soldier's military discharge certificate, troop resumes and photographs of Air Force One during President Bush's visit to Afghanistan last month.

The emergence of the stolen computer devices, first reported Monday in the Los Angeles Times, has sparked an investigation of the security breach at the heavily guarded Bagram air base, which coordinates the fight against Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the region and includes one of the military's main detention facilities for suspected terrorists.

One shopkeeper, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said soldiers had gone around the market Thursday carrying a box full of afghanis, the Afghan currency, "buying all they could find."

He said he had sold about 50 for $2,000, roughly $40 each. A day earlier, he had been selling them for about half that price.

"They said they wanted them all and price wasn't important," the shopkeeper said.

Included on some memory drives seen earlier this week were the Social Security numbers of hundreds of soldiers, including four generals, and lists of troops who have completed nuclear, chemical and biological warfare training.

The Los Angeles Times reported that some drives apparently held classified military secrets, including maps, charts and intelligence reports that appeared to detail how Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have been using southwestern Pakistan as a planning and training base for attacks in Afghanistan.

Drives also appeared to contain the identities of Afghan sources spying for the United States.

The shopkeepers say they are not interested in the data and are selling the drives only for the value of the hardware.

They say the drives were stolen by some of the 2,000 Afghans employed as cleaners, office staff and laborers at the Bagram base. Workers are searched on entering and leaving the base, but the flash drives are the size of a finger and can easily be concealed.

The drives seen Friday contained files with several performance reviews of troops, which included their Social Security numbers. One review reprimanded a soldier for misplacing his weapon.

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