A shopkeeper outside the US-led coalition headquarters in Afghanistan was selling computer memory drives containing seemingly sensitive military data stolen from inside the base -- including the Social Security numbers of four US generals.
This shopkeeper was apparently not the only merchant in local bazaars trying to get some cash in exchange for hardware and software containing such files.
The discovery of the stolen computer devices has sparked an urgent US military probe for the source of the embarrassing security breach, which has led to disks with the personal letters and biographies of soldiers and lists of troops who completed nuclear, chemical and biological warfare training going on sale for US$20 to US$50.
Five military investigators, who were surrounded by heavily armed plainclothes US soldiers, searched many of the two-dozen rundown shops outside the sprawling base.
Asked if any disks had been found, one soldier, who declined to give his name, said: "We are looking. That's all I can say."
The shopkeeper, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of feared he might be arrested, said that he was not interested in the data stored on the memory sticks and was selling them for the value of the hardware.
"They were all stolen from offices inside the base by the Afghans working there," he said on Wednesday. "I get them all the time."
Speaking by telephone yesterday, the shopkeeper said the military investigators hadn't returned, but he had removed some of the memory sticks in fear his shop may be raided.
About 2,000 Afghans are employed as cleaners, office staff and laborers at the Bagram base. Though they are searched coming in and out of the base, the flash drives are the size of a finger and can easily be concealed on a body.
The shopkeeper showed a reporter a bag of about 15 and allowed them to be reviewed on a laptop computer. Only four contained data. The rest did not work or were blank.
News of the breach was first reported by the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
The paper said its reporter saw files containing classified military assessments of enemy targets, names of corrupt Afghan officials and descriptions of US defenses.
US military spokesman Lieutenant Mike Cody said the military "has ordered an investigation into allegations that sensitive military items are being sold in local bazaars."
"Coalition officials regularly survey bazaars across Afghanistan for the presence of contraband materials, but thus far have not uncovered sensitive or classified items," he said.
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