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Military buying back drives from Afghans

Sat., April 15, 2006

BAGRAM, Afghanistan – American investigators armed with a “box full” of cash have paid thousands of dollars to buy back stolen computer drives – many of which contain sensitive military data, shopkeepers outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan said Friday.

But dozens are still on sale, including memory sticks with information ranging from U.S. troop résumés to photographs of Air Force One during President Bush’s visit last month.

The surfacing of the stolen computer devices has sparked an urgent probe to discover how security could have been breached at the heavily guarded Bagram base, which coordinates the fight against Taliban and al-Qaida militants and includes one of the military’s main detention facilities for suspected terrorists.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Mike Cody said he could not comment because an investigation was ongoing.

Shopkeepers let an Associated Press reporter review about 40 of the 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 résumés and photographs of Air Force One during Bush’s visit to Afghanistan last month.

One shopkeeper said soldiers went around the market outside the base Thursday carrying “a box full of afghanis (the Afghan currency), buying all they could find.”

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

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

The documents, which seemed to be based on conversations with Afghan informants and official briefings, outlined how the U.S. military came to focus its search for militants on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, according to the newspaper.


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