Serious security breach found in Afghanistan

NBC News late last week said it has confirmed a report published earlier by the Los Angeles Times—very sensitive military information has turned up in unauthorized hands in Afghanistan.

Editor & Publisher magazine said NBC reported the story in the following manner: “Just outside the main gate of the huge U.S. military base in Bagram, Afghanistan, shopkeepers at a bazaar peddle a range of goods, including computer drives with sensitive—even secret information—stolen from the base.

“This week, an NBC News producer, using a hidden camera, visited the bazaar and bought a half dozen of the memory drives the size of a thumb, known as flash drives. On them, NBC News found highly sensitive military information, some of which NBC will not reveal.”

Earlier, the LA Times published what appeared to be very sensitive information. Lt. Col. Rick Francona (ret.), a military analyst for NBC, said: “This isn’t just a loss of sensitive information. This is putting U.S. troops at risk. This is a violation of operational security.”

NBC said some of the data would be valuable to the enemy, such as names and personal information on dozens of interrogators and interrogation methods, plus IDS and pictures of U.S. troops. Francona said: “With information like this, you could cripple our U.S. intelligence collection capability in Afghanistan.”

The network reported the photos of Americans included some of individuals who looked like they had been tortured and killed. The Pentagon had no comment on the photos.

NBC further reported the diminutive computer drives are believed to have been smuggled from the base by Afghan employees and then sold to merchants. Whoever buys one only has to plug it into a computer and very shortly view thousands of files.

The network said other reporters have bought drives at the bazaar that contained classified information, including names and pictures of Afghans who spy for the U.S. and maps showing locations of radar sites used to foil mortar attacks. The base commander announced he has ordered an investigation into activities at the bazaar and procedures used to safeguard secret data.

Last week, the LA Times reported a journalist had obtained several drives at the marketplace that contained other secret documents. The newspaper said the drives included documents that could be embarrassing to Pakistan, a U.S. ally, as well as presentations that named suspected militants marked for “kill or capture” and discussions of American efforts to get rid of or “marginalize” Afghan government officials that the military considered problems.

The computer drives also held deployment rosters and other documents, which identified almost 700 U.S. military members with their Social Security numbers. Identity thieves could use that information to open credit card accounts in the soldiers’ names.

The LA Times said files on the drives outline how Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders have been using southwestern Pakistan as a key planning and training base for attacks in Afghanistan. The files detail how the U.S. military came to focus on finding members of the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militants on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The newspaper quoted Col. Tom Collins of the public affairs office at the Bagram base: “We’re obviously concerned that certain sources of assets have been compromised.”

The Pentagon said it is too early to say if any U.S. commander in Afghanistan will be held accountable for the security breach.

According to the LA Times, the Bagram base is the center of American efforts to combat militants in Afghanistan and also includes a secret detention and interrogation center for terrorism suspects brought in from around the world.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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