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At Afghan Bazaar, Military Offers Dollars for Stolen Data




At Afghan Bazaar, Military Offers Dollars for Stolen Data
At Afghan Bazaar, Military Offers Dollars for Stolen Data



Forwarded from: William Knowles  

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/15/world/asia/15afghanistan.html 

By CARLOTTA GALL
April 15, 2006

BAGRAM, Afghanistan, April 14 - An American military officer, flanked
by six powerfully built bodyguards, stood in the muddy streets of the
bazaar here on Friday buying up all the computer flash drives he could
find, handing out cash for the finger-thin components that have been
disappearing by the score - some of them with copies of secret
military files - from the air base nearby.

This was clearly the United States military's way of dealing with the
news, reported by The Los Angeles Times on Monday, that sensitive
military information stored on portable computer drives could be found
on sale in the bazaar outside the base at Bagram. The military has
ordered an investigation into the allegations and a review of security
policy regarding computer hardware and software. But to retrieve the
lost material, the military decided to rely on the almighty dollar.

Pulling a clump of cash out of his pocket, the officer, who wore a
bulletproof vest and a pistol at his side, but no name tag, joked and
gently haggled with Afghans proffering the drives. He ended up paying
what is, for here, a considerable sum: $35 apiece for most of them.  
Afghan boys, clearly acting for others, held out handfuls of flash
drives, some looking brand new and others with marks of use.

"Slow down," the officer said every so often to his translator as the
clamor rose around him. "I'll pay, I'll pay, there's no problem." A
burly Special Forces soldier guarded the officer's back and moved away
youths who kept swarming around to see what was going on.

The officer declined to comment about his activity, but when asked if
this was the best way the military could retrieve stolen computer
material, he nodded. "They're not bad people," he said.

Shopkeepers said the military had considered raiding the ramshackle
bazaar, which stretches on both sides of the road for a few hundred
yards leading to the entrance of the base. But the shop owners refused
to comply, and the local government administrator convinced the
military that paying for the goods would be a more successful ploy,
one shopkeeper said.

The tiny shops in the bazaar are crammed with electronic goods,
military gear and Western foodstuffs, most of which appeared to have
come from the air base. Military cots stand out in front of the
stores, and sleeping bags, military boots and camouflage uniforms are
stacked at the entrances, some of them clearly used and perhaps
discarded.

Inside, every shop has a glass counter of military watches,
sunglasses, knives and flashlights. Boxes of energy bars,
muscle-building supplements and Tabasco sauce line the shelves. Some
goods are still in plastic cases and have clearly come from the store
on the base, but the low prices - T-shirts carrying price tags of
$24.99 sell for just $4 in the Afghan shops - suggest that they did
not arrive legally.

One shopkeeper had dusty laptop computers piled in a corner and a
half-dozen battered DVD players on his counter. Two of the computers
had broken screens, but a third seemed to be in working order. They
were selling for $100 each.

"They collect a lot of the stuff from the rubbish," one teenager said.

But another shopkeeper, who declined to give his name, said, "We know
most of it is stolen."

The small group of American soldiers ignored most of the contraband on
Friday, but after a couple of hours trawling through the shops they
carried off some camouflage clothing in large plastic bags, and a
cloth bag full of a few hundred flash drives. They had bought up
virtually every flash drive in the bazaar and must have spent
thousands of dollars.

"Sold out - they bought them all," said one shopkeeper. "But come
tomorrow, we'll have more."

[...]



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