WASHINGTON — 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.
“This isn't just a loss of sensitive information,” says Lt. Col. Rick Francona (ret.), an NBC News military analyst. “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, including:
With information like this, “You could cripple our U.S. intelligence collection capability in Afghanistan,” says Francona.
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.
“This is simply appalling,” says Col. Ken Allard (ret.), an NBC News military analyst. “You've got a situation in which the U.S. is going to be forced to change an awful lot of its operational techniques.”
Thursday, the base commander said he's ordered an investigation into activities at the bazaar and into procedures supposed to keep sensitive secrets secure.
Lisa Myers is NBC’s senior investigative correspondent.