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'L.A. Times' Afghan Horror Story Confirmed by NBC

Editor & Publisher | April 14 2006

NEW YORK A story reported by the Los Angeles Times' Paul Watson on Monday was so mind-boggling it took a few days for other media outlets and Web sites to react. Just about the time that story started circulating widely, NBC News on Thursday night confirmed it, and took it a step beyond.

This is how the NBC investigative team reported it:

"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 which NBC will not reveal." Earlier, the Los Angeles Times had published what indeed appeared to be sensitive material.

“This isn't just a loss of sensitive information,” Lt. Col. Rick Francona (ret.), an NBC News military analyst, said. “This is putting U.S. troops at risk. This is a violation of operational security.”

Some of the data would be valuable to the enemy, NBC related, including names and personal information for dozens of interrogatorsm and interrogation methods; and IDs and photos of U.S. troops. With information like this, “You could cripple our U.S. intelligence collection capability in Afghanistan,” said Francona.

NBC added: "Among the photos of Americans are pictures of individuals who appear to have been tortured and killed, most too graphic to show. NBC News does not know who caused their injuries. The Pentagon would not comment on the photos.

"The tiny computer memories are believed to have been smuggled off base by Afghan employees and sold to shopkeepers. Whoever buys one can simply plug it into another computer, and in a couple of minutes, see thousands of files.

"Other reporters have bought drives at the bazaar containing classified information, including names and photos of Afghans spying for the U.S. and maps revealing locations of radar used to foil mortar attacks....

"Thursday, the base commander said he's ordered an investigation into activities at the bazaar and into procedures supposed to keep sensitive secrets secure."

On Monday, the Times had revealed, among much else, "A reporter recently obtained several drives at the bazaar that contained documents marked 'Secret.' The contents included documents that were potentially embarrassing to Pakistan, a U.S. ally, presentations that named suspected militants targeted for 'kill or capture' and discussions of U.S. efforts to 'remove' or 'marginalize' Afghan government officials whom the military considered problem makers.'

"The drives also included deployment rosters and other documents that identified nearly 700 U.S. service members and their Social Security numbers, information that identity thieves could use to open credit card accounts in soldiers' names."

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