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Data Still Leaking from U.S. Base in Afghanistan

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. In Afghanistan, the market for used, U.S. military computer drives is open again. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick. The Los Angeles Times has been reporting that small, portable memory storage devices called flash drives are smuggled off the U.S. Military's Bagram Air Base outside Kabul and then sold at nearby markets.

BRAND: These flash drives are about the size of your thumb. Afghan computer users buy them because they're cheap and useful for transferring files, but some of these flash drives still contain sensitive U.S. military data and intelligence.

CHADWICK: After the L.A. Times broke the story, officials at Bagram started an investigation and tried to buy up all the drives at the market. But this week, the paper found more drives for sale with more information. DAY TO DAY called a former soldier at Bagram, Corporal Keith Kluwe, now out of the military and living in Daytona Beach, Florida. Corporal Kluwe, how common were flash drives at the Bagram Air Base when you were there?

CORPORAL KEITH KLUWE: They were very, very common. A lot of people have to transfer data. Myself, I was a journalist, so I was always taking files that were new stories or photos and transferring them over to other computers for people. And then some people also were required for their job to have ones that were for only use on the classified network, and others that were only used on the unclassified network.

CHADWICK: According to the reports from the L.A. Times, these devices are smuggled off base by Afghans who are working there. What kinds of things do they do?

KLUWE: Gardening and sweeping and raking. Collecting trash, going through the trash to make sure there's not any unexploded ordinance in there. Mostly, it's menial tasks that the U.S. is willing to pay someone else to do.

CHADWICK: How big is Bagram Air Base? I wonder how difficult it is to smuggle things off of there.

KLUWE: I don't think it's a matter of how big the base is, it's just a matter of how small the thumb drives are. You can pretty much secret those anywhere that you would like to, and the searches that are conducted coming in and out would probably not be able to find them unless they were strip searches.

CHADWICK: The Los Angeles Times reports that one Afghan there in the market told their reporter thousands of these flash drives may have been stolen over the last four years. Would that sound right to you?

KLUWE: I would find it really believable. There's more than 18,000 troops in Afghanistan who are U.S. troops. If only one in 18 had them stolen, that would still would be more than 1,000 in the last year.

CHADWICK: You say that many people there would carry two flash drives: one for secret files, and the other for files that you could pass around to anyone. The reporter for the L.A. Times did tell us that he'd recovered secret documents from a flash drive in the market place there. So it doesn't sound as though the security for keeping the, the secret flash drives is, well, certainly not completely tight.

KLUWE: No, I don't think that any of the security is completely tight. My father was in Korea in 1960, and they had Koreans doing menial tasks for the U.S. Army, and things went missing then. I'm sure it happened in Vietnam, and I know that it happened in Bosnia while I was there, and I know that it's happened in Afghanistan while I was there.

CHADWICK: Former Corporal Keith Kluwe, who served at Bagram as a Public Affairs Officer, speaking to us from his home in Daytona Beach, Florida. Keith, thank you.

KLUWE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.