Friday, April 14, 2006

'L.A. Times' Afghan Horror Story Confirmed by NBC | MediaChannel.org

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A story reported by the Los Angeles Times' Paul Watson on Monday was so mind-boggling that 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 further. Watson also produced a followup for his paper on Friday.

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."

Watson's Friday accounts opens: "Maps, charts and intelligence reports on computer drives smuggled out of a U.S. base and sold at a bazaar here appear to detail how Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have been using southwestern Pakistan as a key planning and training base for attacks in Afghanistan. ... Together, they outline how the U.S. military came to focus its search for members of Taliban, Al Qaeda and other militant groups on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border."

He also quotes Col. Tom Collins, speaking from the public affairs office at the Bagram base, saying, "We're obviously concerned that certain sources or assets have been compromised."

Lawrence Di Rita, a top aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told Watson it was "too early to say" whether any commander in Afghanistan would be held responsible for failing to secure the drives.

"The drives appear to contain the identities of Afghan sources spying for U.S. Special Forces that operate out of the Bagram base, which is the center of U.S. efforts to fight Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgents and includes a secretive detention and interrogation center for terrorism suspects flown in from around the world," Watson observes.



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