Leaks of Military Files Resume
Just ays after U.S. troops were ordered to plug a security breach at their base here, the black market trade in computer memory drives containing military documents was thriving again Monday.
Documents on flash drives for sale at a bazaar across from the American military base over the weekend contained U.S. officers’ names and cellphone numbers and instructions on using pain to control prisoners who put up resistance. A study guide on one of the drives describes tactics for interrogating and controlling detainees by pinching or striking nerve and pressure points on their face, neck, arms and legs.
Traders at the bazaar near Bagram’s main gate were openly displaying pilfered U.S. military memory drives in their shops Monday, two weeks after the Los Angeles Times reported on the black market in computer equipment, some of which contained American military documents marked “Secret.”
U.S. soldiers spent thousands of dollars later that week buying scores of flash memory drives from the bazaar. The soldiers walked through the black market with a box of money, purchasing all the computer equipment they could find.
For several days afterward, no more memory drives were available.
But an 18-year-old Afghan man who works on the base said that by Friday, memory drives were being smuggled off the base again. The devices are smaller than disposable lighters.
Several shopkeepers have said in recent days that they are eager for the military to return to the market so they can sell their new stock for premium prices.
Some of the memory drives for sale earlier this month listed the names, addresses and photographs of Afghan spies providing information to U.S. Special Forces. Others that were also marked “Secret” included American military officials’ view that the Taliban and their allies were using bases in Pakistan to launch attacks in Afghanistan. One had maps dated Dec. 1, 2001, the day after U.S. and Afghan militia forces began their offensive at Tora Bora, that described possible escape routes of Osama bin Laden. The routes in the maps start not at Tora Bora, where many had thought Bin Laden was at the time, but in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.
Some of the drives contained sensitive documents that had been deleted but could be retrieved with software available on the Internet.
Files on some of the drives for sale at the bazaar Sunday had been deleted too. It was not known if any of those drives contained classified information.
Lt. Mike Cody, a spokesman for the U.S. military here, did not respond Monday to a request for comment on the renewed sales of flash drives.
At the Pentagon, Air Force Lt. Col. Todd Vician said Monday that U.S. forces in Afghanistan were continuing to investigate the theft of the equipment and how to prevent further security breaches at Bagram.
“It is important for the investigation to continue, to determine what the problem is,” Vician said. “The command in Afghanistan is taking this very seriously. We are treating this as seriously as any release of classified, sensitive information.”
On April 13, the Army launched a criminal investigation and Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, overall commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, ordered a review of policies and procedures concerning the way computer hardware and software are accounted for.
At the bazaar, the Bagram worker said guards carefully searched people leaving the base until Wednesday, less than a week after U.S. soldiers bought up the military computer equipment from the marketplace.
The teen, who described his job as collecting U.S. soldiers’ laundry, said he had smuggled out four flash memory drives to a local shopkeeper after shift change Sunday afternoon.
“They were checking us with metal detectors and they were checking every part of our body,” he said.
“Still the checking is a little serious, but not as much as it was for the last four or five days. I tried to bring a box of playing cards out but it was really difficult and they said it was not allowed.”
Several more U.S. military drives were on sale at other shops in the bazaar Monday. One shopkeeper said he had been selling pilfered American military flash drives for four years, mostly to young Afghan computer users looking for cheap equipment, but also to some foreigners.
“I may have sold thousands of these flashes since I have come and opened this shop,” the shopkeeper said. He asked not to be named because he feared retribution.
A drive for sale Sunday contained numerous U.S. military documents, such as one that listed at least 21 names and cellphone numbers of officers, including the colonel in charge, of a communications unit identified as “CJ6.”
On another drive, in a folder titled “Police Study Guides,” a document described methods of controlling suspects, such as techniques that “utilize reasonable tactics that do not increase the risk of injury beyond an acceptable level.”
Called Pressure Point Control Tactics, they are ones that appear to be taught at many U.S. police academies. It is unclear from the documents on the drive whether they are approved for use by the U.S. military at its main Afghan base in Bagram, which includes a detention center for Al Qaeda and other terror suspects flown in from around the world for interrogation.
The control tactics’ five principles include “pain compliance -- the use of stimulus pain to control resistance behavior; mental stunning techniques -- stimulation of overwhelming sensory input that is sudden, intense and unexpected” and “motor dysfunction -- a controlled striking technique which overstimulates motor nerves, resulting in a temporary impairment,” the document says.
Internet pages were copied to the same drive, including news reports on a February prison riot at Pul-i-Charki prison, near Kabul, the Afghan capital, that left at least seven inmates dead.
Other Web pages on the drive explained how to buy anabolic steroids, such as Liquid Anodrol, to quickly build up muscles. “The Ultimate Stack for Hard-Core Bodybuilding Warriors Who’ll Use ‘Any Means Necessary’ to Pack Up to 25 Pounds of Raw Brutal Muscle in Just 8 Weeks!” declares one of the Web pages.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice, the U.S. military’s criminal law, prohibits service members from using steroids unless they are prescribed for medical reasons.
Afghan shopkeepers selling the military flash drives say they don’t know what is on them and are offering them only as used equipment. The trader who first put them on his shelves four years ago said that back then he thought the drives’ colors, rather than their capacity or content, mattered most. He sold blue ones for the highest price: around $4.
Two weeks ago, the smallest 250-kilobyte drives sold for $20 each. Prices have more than doubled since U.S. soldiers walked through the bazaar.
“Nobody investigated the shopkeepers,” the trader said. “They just came and bought as much as they could. The Americans were buying the disks with documents on them for a higher price. Even now if Americans come I will sell one [drive] to them for $200.”
Shopkeepers say the soldiers who visited the bazaar April 14 seemed especially interested in laptops, so black marketeers are keeping their eyes peeled for what they think is sensitive information that will make them rich.
“An American gave me his phone number and said, ‘If you find a computer which is from the base, just give me a call,’ ” said one.
Even if security is tightened again, smugglers will find another way to get flash drives off the base, the shopkeeper predicted.
“If the Americans look under our hats, we will hide things in our shoes, and if they look in our shoes, we will hide them under our hats,” he said.
“We are poor people, we have to make money.”
Times staff writer Julian E. Barnes at the Pentagon contributed to this report.
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