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msnbc.com

Computer intruders have allegedly broken into the online files of a Florida company that provides surveillance technology to the U.S. military, federal agencies and local police forces, and posted confidential information, including the names and e-mail addresses of undercover police officers on a public Web site, MSNBC.com has learned.

INFORMATION ABOUT UNDERCOVER narcotics officers, U.S. Secret Service employees, Department of Defense special agents and hundreds of other local and federal law enforcement workers was revealed when the data from Audio Intelligence Devices Inc.’s files were posted on the Internet.

The Florida-based private company sells highly specialized video surveillance equipment and teaches spy courses to federal agencies and local police forces in the United States, and to some foreign governments.

Lon D. Guarino, Vice President, Sales & Marketing for Audio Intelligence Devices did not answer questions about the incident, but in an e-mail to MSNBC.com defended the company’s security practices.

“Contrary to any recent reports, Audio Intelligence Devices is confident in its current security practices and treats its customer information with complete confidentiality,” Guarino wrote. “We are actively investigating the origin of the information in question at this time.”

MSNBC.com contacted each law enforcement official whose e-mail address was taken from the AID files and listed on an Internet page — 349 in all. Of those who replied, none said they knew their information had been made public until they were contacted by MSNBC.com.

AID only sells to law enforcement workers, according to the company’s Web site. The list viewed by MSNBC.com was a Who’s Who of domestic and international law enforcement agencies, including the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, Sandia National Laboratories, Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations in Uzbekistan, and the Montreal Police Department.

Until recently, the site offered a Web form that allowed agents to request equipment catalogs or information on spy classes. It appears that a computer criminal managed to access the data entered on the form by AID’s customers. The form on AID’s site is currently disabled. A message on the site says: “The online catalog request is temporarily unavailable.”

UNDERCOVER DRUG COPS LISTEDThe stolen data lists hundreds of names, addresses, job titles, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of investigators, and in some cases, details on the kind of equipment they were seeking to buy. The data appeared on a Web site, Cryptome.org, earlier this month. Site operator John Young says Cryptome.org is devoted to publicizing various government efforts to monitor U.S. citizens. He said an anonymous contributor sent him the data.

Young is a well-known First Amendment advocate and a popular critic of government surveillance efforts. Young speculated that the data may have been stolen and leaked by a competitor or former employer, citing the often cutthroat nature of the spying business.

But it’s not clear how the computer thieves got their hands on AID’s data. Young says that the anonymous contributor who tipped him off about the file told him it was left up for grabs by AID, available for download to anyone using simple File Transfer Protocol software. The file is no longer available at AID’s site, Young said.

The data doesn’t include financially sensitive information like credit card numbers.

But in some cases it includes names of undercover narcotics detectives who rely on their anonymity in their everyday work.

“I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to know I was working narcotics,” said one police officer, whose name was on the list. The officer, who said he has since moved out of drug enforcement work, was concerned that criminals might now know what kind of video surveillance technologies law enforcement agents are using, and be able to prepare counter-measures. “We certainly don’t want the frequencies to be out there. If they know how widespread it is, they will probably start checking the frequencies.”

Another narcotics detective, whose name was also on the list, echoed those comments.

“This is a problem. Most people contacting AID are in narcotics task force groups, or money laundering, where confidentiality and undercover work go hand in hand,” he said.

Most of the information in the file is available from public sources such as main police phone numbers or street addresses.

A spokesman for the U.S. Secret Service said that agency’s employees who ended up on the list were technical staff, not investigators. “There’s nothing operationally sensitive there,” he said.

But some of the e-mail addresses, agents contacted by MSNBC.com said, were designed for obscurity, and some may double as network login names for government computer systems.

“This is very important as AID is a company that sells intelligence equipment for law enforcement purposes,” said one officer who was named. “I would of hoped that a company such as AID was working with a secure severer. I guess not.”

Interviews with AID customers suggest that the data was stolen within the past month or so — one customer whose information was stolen indicated he’d only used the site a month ago. But other customers who hadn’t visited AID’s Web page in nearly a year were also listed in the stolen data, suggesting the text file represents nearly a year’s worth of AID Web site visitors.

PEEK AT SURVEILLANCE WORK

Young said he published the data in an effort to provide a peek at the kind of surveillance operations U.S. government agencies regularly perform. The data does provide an interesting snapshot. Among the entries:

“Interested in up-dating our system. The Drug Task Force is looking for a long range video surveillance camera. Similar to a spotting scope with a video camera mounted to it, also with the ability to record.”

“I run a majors drug unit and have some money to spend on a variety of equipment. We need a new wire, GPS tracking, Video recorders, and even a new surveillance van. I worked with you guys when I last worked dope. I need catalog etc.”

“I plan on attending your courses relating to lock picking because I use that in my present job on many occasions. I am also interested in the audio courses and would like to get news and updates on those areas as well. I need product support for a body bug manufactured by you, is it possible to get service schematics, parts etc.”

“I am member of 3-town drug task force. We’re looking to upgrade/purchase new body wire to be used by undercover officers for safety purposes only (can’t record in MA without warrant). Looking for compact, wireless system for street level buys. Currently have 10-year old body wire with large suitcase receiver. Looking to reduce size and increase efficiency of receiver and come up with compact (easy conceal) transmitter, preferably wireless one.”

“We need to install some audio intelligence systems in Saudi Arabia. Please send me the catalog. If SGT {removed} is not available direct calls to SFC {removed}. I am well pleased with the products from your company so far. Keep up the good work.” ”

“We have a persistent theft problem in our mill. We are looking for covert cameras that are either capable of withstanding a severe industrial environment or are cheap enough to be ‘disposable.’ We have significant RF to overcome yet hard wiring is difficult or impossible in some situations. If you have any products to recommend we would appreciate your feed back.”

Other U.S. agencies requesting information from AID included the U. S. Postal Inspection Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Border Patrol, the U.S. Customs Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Drug Enforcement Administration

Internationally, catalog requesters included the Guam Police Department, the British Consulate, the National Bureau of Investigation of the Philippines, and Sao Paulo police department in Brazil.

Inclusion in the stolen data means only a government worker from the agency was interested in pricing surveillance equipment; it does not necessarily mean the agency actually uses hidden cameras or other spy-like devices.

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