U.S. Spy Data Possibly Sold in Afghan Markets
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Startling developments in a story we talked about yesterday. U.S. military secrets are for sale in Afghanistan. At a market bazaar near the U.S. Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, you can buy stolen military computer drives with secrets on them. Paul Watson of the Los Angeles Times broke the story earlier this week. He spoke with us earlier today from Kabul.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Paul Watson, when we first spoke with you yesterday, you told us you just bought another flash drive with secrets on it, very troubling. That's the lead in the paper today. Details, please.
Mr. PAUL WATSON (Los Angeles Times): This flash drive is a one gigabyte drive. It's almost full and it is full of secret documents that include the names, phone numbers, photographs and other identifying details of Afghan spies who are working for the U.S. Special Forces.
Not only that, but their children's names and their children's dates of birth, their addresses. In some cases, phone numbers. So that if anyone got a hold of this...and the Taliban has proven its ability and willingness to execute the suspected spies many times in the past, certainly these people will be targeted.
CHADWICK: And you bought this in the marketplace yesterday for what, 40 dollars?
Mr. WATSON: That's right, from a shop that we hadn't visited a couple days earlier. And this one was attended by a 16-year-old boy.
CHADWICK: Now, we should be clear that they're not selling secrets in this marketplace. They're just selling these little flash drives, portable memory devices about the size of your little finger or something. They don't know what's on the drives, and they don't really care. But these are drives that are stolen by Afghans who are working on the Bagram Air Base: janitors, cleaners that sort of thing. And taken out and put in the marketplace, and people just buy them.
Mr. WATSON: That's exactly right. It's mostly people looking for cheap computer equipment. The people selling them, for the most part, either are illiterate or don't speak English or read it. So they have no clue, and as you said, they don't care what's on it.
CHADWICK: We called the Department of Defense asking for a response today after the conversation and articles earlier this week. We're told this is being handled in Afghanistan. But you bought this latest device after the base had already been alerted. What is going on at Bagram Air Base and what are people saying to you about this?
Mr. WATSON: They're saying very little other than the fact that they've launched a criminal investigation. And the overall commander that's here, General Eichenberry, has ordered a review across the country of the way computer equipment and sensitive information is being handled.
CHADWICK: What about the device that you bought? I mean one could hardly imagine a more troubling document to be floating around there than the names and photographs of the Afghans who we are paying to try to root out al-Qaida and Taliban figures. Where is that document now? What happened to that drive and has the military tried to confiscate it from you?
Mr. WATSON: All of those are in my possession now. And as far as I know, I have not personally been contacted. It's possible that they've made contact with our office in Los Angeles, but I don't know if they have.
CHADWICK: It's a damning story. I mean it's a very troubling story, isn't it?
Mr. WATSON: Well, indeed it is. I think anyone reading it would see that this is an amateurish operation and this is not a light problem that we're dealing with. This is a war against a very disciplined, very adaptive terrorist force of which we're constantly being reminded of by the president and the secretary of defense.
These people take what they're doing extraordinarily seriously. And any breach of security, even a small one, is a serious problem. I would say this is an extraordinarily big breach.
CHADWICK: Paul Watson reports from Afghanistan for the Los Angeles Times. His piece on the latest security breach and the documents he found is the lead story in the Times today. Paul Watson, thank you.
Mr. WATSON: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.