Thursday, April 13, 2006

A different kind of security problem

While the U.S. grapples with leaks, debates over use of intelligence and whether we should be eavesdropping on American citizens without warrants, actual secrets are waltzing out into the world through a more mundane method: theft.

Afghan cleaners, garbage collectors, and other workers from the Bagram base arrive each day offering purloined goods, including knives, watches, refrigerators, packets of Viagra, and flash memory drives taken from military laptops. The drives, smaller than a pack of chewing gum, are sold as used equipment.

Aside from the obvious question -- what are packets of Viagra doing lying around a U.S. military base? -- this petty pilferage represents a surprising security hole.

A reporter recently obtained several drives at the bazaar that contained documents marked ''Secret." The contents included documents that were potentially embarrassing to Pakistan, a US ally, presentations that named suspected militants targeted for ''kill or capture," and discussions of US efforts to ''remove" or ''marginalize" Afghan government officials whom the military considered ''problem makers."

The drives also included deployment rosters and other documents that identified nearly 700 US service members and their Social Security numbers.

How is this happening? Human failings.

Workers are supposed to be frisked as they leave the base, but they have various ways of deceiving guards, such as hiding computer drives behind photo IDs that they wear in holders around their necks, shop owners said. Others said that US soldiers sell military property and help move it off the base, saying they need the money to pay bills back home.

Yeep. It may be difficult to stop petty theft, but why are computer drives containing sensitive information left lying around to be stolen? Why are they not accounted for? Whatever happened to information security?

Detailed stuff like this is what poses real, operational threats to security, by providing actionable details for enemies to unravel. It seems a bit ludicrous to complain about things like revealing the existence of a CIA prison network or NSA spying program when stuff like this is going on.

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