U.S. Military Buys Back Stolen Flash Drives With Sensitive Data in Afghan Shops

Shopkeepers outside U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan said Friday that American investigators have paid them thousands of dollars to return stolen computer drives, many of which contained sensitive military data.

But dozens of the memory sticks were still on sale in shops outside the base and the shopkeepers let an Associated Press reporter review about 40 of them on a laptop computer.

Most were blank or did not work, but three contained data that appeared to have come from inside the base, including a soldier's military discharge certificate, troop resumes and photographs of Air Force One during a visit to Afghanistan by President Bush last month.

The surfacing of the stolen computer devices has sparked an urgent American military investigation to discover how security was breached at the base.

Military spokesman Lt. Mike Cody said he could not comment about the military's methods to recover the flash drives because an investigation was ongoing.

One shopkeeper, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, said soldiers went around the market outside the base Thursday carrying "a box full of afghanis (the Afghan currency), buying all they could find."

He said he sold about 50 for $2,000, roughly about $40 each. A day earlier, he was selling them for about half that price.

"They said they wanted them all and price wasn't important," the shopkeeper said.

The troops hadn't returned to the market by Friday afternoon despite dozens of the flash drives still being available.

Included on some memory drives seen by the AP earlier this week were the Social Security numbers of hundreds of soldiers, including four U.S. generals and lists of troops who completed nuclear, chemical and biological warfare training.

None, though, had classified military secrets as reportedly seen by a Los Angeles Times journalist, who in an article Thursday said he saw maps, charts and intelligence reports that appeared to detail how Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders have been using southwestern Pakistan as a key planning and training base for attacks in Afghanistan.