Sensitive Data On Afghan Allies Collected By The US Military Is Now In The Hands Of The Taliban

from the fuck-those-helpful-guys,-I-guess dept

The problem with harvesting reams of sensitive data is that it presents a very tempting target for malicious hackers, enemy governments, and other wrongdoers. That hasn’t prevented anyone from collecting and storing all of this data, secure only in the knowledge this security will ultimately be breached.

Hack after hack after hack after hack has shown entities seem to be far more interested in collecting data than protecting data. While steps are undoubtedly taken to protect the info gathered by government agencies and numerous super-snoopy private companies, sooner or later they’re never enough. It’s not that these data collections are always unnecessary. It’s that a breach is pretty much inevitable. And yet that inevitability almost always gets greeted as a surprise by those on the end of a malicious hacking.

What’s happening in Afghanistan isn’t exactly unprecedented. We saw the same thing happen when the United States military pulled out of Vietnam. The enemies that the US presence was supposed to deter were completely undeterred by local military (one we were supposed to be training to be self-reliant) left behind. We have exited one of our Forever Wars and the Taliban — proud supporters of Al-Qaeda — is taking over.

The Taliban is getting everything we left behind. It’s not just guns, gear, and aircraft. It’s the massive biometric collections we amassed while serving as armed ambassadors of goodwill. The stuff the US government compiled to track its allies are now handy repositories that will allow the Taliban to hunt down its enemies. Ken Klippenstein and Sara Sirota have more details for The Intercept.

The devices, known as HIIDE, for Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, were seized last week during the Taliban’s offensive, according to a Joint Special Operations Command official and three former U.S. military personnel, all of whom worried that sensitive data they contain could be used by the Taliban. HIIDE devices contain identifying biometric data such as iris scans and fingerprints, as well as biographical information, and are used to access large centralized databases. It’s unclear how much of the U.S. military’s biometric database on the Afghan population has been compromised.

At first, it might seem that this will only allow the Taliban to high-five each other for making the US government’s shit list. But it wasn’t just used to track terrorists. It was used to track allies.

While billed by the U.S. military as a means of tracking terrorists and other insurgents, biometric data on Afghans who assisted the U.S. was also widely collected and used in identification cards, sources said.

The Defense Intelligence Agency that oversaw these data collections understandably had no comment. I mean, what could it say? That this wasn’t an inevitability? That pulling out of a country means taking all your stuff with you, including tons of data that won’t even need to be exfiltrated to end up in enemy hands?

And even as the fall of Afghanistan appeared to be the inevitable outcome of leaving the country, the US government was trying to add to the pile of sensitive data now in the Taliban’s possession.

[A] recent job posting by a State Department contractor sought to recruit a biometric technician with experience using HIIDE and other similar equipment to help vet personnel and enroll local Afghans seeking employment at U.S. embassies and consulates.

To claim this couldn’t be foreseen is ridiculous. Decades of propping up the Afghanistan government didn’t make the area any more stable. The never-ending War on Terror ensured tons of sensitive data would be compiled, especially in countries where US-based constitutional rights don’t apply. Pulling out may have been the right thing to do, but abandoning devices containing data on local allies and supporters is insane. Our government has had more than 200 years of practice. The people who helped us during our many years of ineffective occupation can now be targeted with ease. That should never be considered acceptable. Operational security shouldn’t just protect the highest and mightiest in the US government. It should protect everyone the government relies on, including nationals abandoned by a government that had every opportunity to mitigate collateral damage.

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Comments on “Sensitive Data On Afghan Allies Collected By The US Military Is Now In The Hands Of The Taliban”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Locals

Whether they were or not there were still a number of people who were willing to help US forces out and who now face repercussions from the the totally-peaceful-and-not-at-all-vindictive taliban who now have access to the data on those people, a situation that’s likely to seriously impact the ability of US forces to have locals help them in the future in other deployments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Locals

I think you are judging from a westerner point of view. People always follow incentives and pick their fight for the most diverse reasons – ideals, power, money. Sometimes you win, sometimes you loose, but human nature and incentives stay the same. This is a fight that could cost their lives, but coming from a place that prouds itself to be "the graveyard of empires", they knew it from the start. This list, or the chaotic retreat, will not make any difference for the next war in Africa or wherever it will be.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Locals

… the hell are you on about? Those on the list, and who are likely in the taliban’s crosshairs now because of it, are very much impacted by the grossly negligent move of leaving it for the taliban to scoop up and use against them, and while the taliban will have the majority of the blame for how it is used the US still screwed up by creating and then handing them the list.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Locals

You are so naive. If the choice is between letting the family die of hunger or work for the allied forces or their enemies, average people just make the call and pick a side. They have really no other choice in the poorest countries on earth. These people start helping the US, nato armies, the talibans, the Russians, the isis – whoever is giving them some food for their own kids. Do you imagine Afghanistan as a place where people apply for government jobs in LinkedIn and get selected based on multi layered psychological interviews? And for the ONGs as well? Don’t make me laugh. In places like Syria, Libya, Yemen the likelihood that people help the armed soldier that routinely kill, destroy and pillage their own country (be them local or foreigners, mind) because of ideological reason is really small. The proof is that so many contractors did not pick up their guns and did not set up any resistance. They knew all along about the overwhelming majority of the population supporting the talibans, they knew resisting would make no difference. They are trying to survive as they can, like the bottom 20% of poorest people in the world do. Thinking that they put some sort of "trust" in the Americans or into the coalition forces is exactly like thinking that they liked the western values so much that they were ready to fight for them. It’s just delusional.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Locals

… are you even reading your own comments? On the one hand you seem to be saying that people only signed up to work with US forces because it paid well and they didn’t want to risk… whatever, yet right after that you claim that the reason people aren’t engaging in mass protests against the taliban moving in is because they’re thrilled to see them and not because there’s no longer any military force to keep them in check and objecting might ‘go poorly’. You seem to go from ‘people only seemed to support the occupiers due to greed and fear’ to ‘people are showing support because they honestly do support the armed people who moved in’ real quick.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Locals

No. War is a complex task that requires soldiers and support. Soldiers manage most of the money and spend some if it to hire civilian helpers or contractors. Soldiers universally need to buy food, clean barracks, etc. If you think that afghans who worked helping the coalition forces, or helping the taliban, did not calculate the risks of getting involved in the fight albeit tangentially, you are hopelessly naive. When your employer is making a living by killing enemies, and provoking collateral damage all along, it is impossible that you do not understand that things can turn very bad very fast. And afghans are not stupid, they knew the risks of working for the coalition all along, as the afghans who worked helping the talibans to place IEDs knew as well. They just did not have any other choice. So list or no list (of which the leaking was a terrible mistake) – in all the wars, there is always people desperate enough not to have the choice but to help the soldiers that are destroying, defending or depredating their country. You can be sure that as long as wars are fought in countries that are poor enough, the US, as any other army, will find a new wave of desperate people helping them with the same attitude as in this one – not one minute more than it is necessary to ensure self-survival.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Locals

The collaborators were also banking on the US to help bail them out.

Here’s another grim reminder: Ukraine lost their nukes for US and eventually NATO support, and the US basically broke their peomise when it mattered, and sheepishly funded the Ukranians only AFTER Russia got what they wanted.

The US is also backing away from promises of defending Taiwan even though China is fucking cruising for a bruising. Yes, China wants to fight a war in Taiwan. They’ll probably do so, and win if they ditch their awfully conservative doctrine.

And then there’s El Orange Presidente pulling out of the TPP, which, while a terrible deal for everyone involved, was also fundamental in checking the rise of China. And guess what? The Orange Menance didn’t have an alternative economic deal in the wings, effectively leaving most of the cou tries involved to bend over and serve China, leaving the 7th Pacific Fleet as the only option for Southeast Asia, an option, that we’re increasingly seeing, as something that is less trustworthy as a regime in the region, and even less trustworthy than a warmongering ascendant superpower who openly cares for no one but itself.

It’s a very unfortunate state of affairs, but welcome to the dirty world of geopolitics. I would not wven be surprised if the leak was INTENTIONAL rather than accidental. But let’s appease the FBI/CIA/DHS agent(s) probably watching this page and say the leak was accidental.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Locals

Hold on, I think I’ve been giving your comments more weight than I should have, have you seriously been spending all that typing arguing that desperate people will take whatever chances are available? Because if so you might as well have been telling me that people need food and will do whatever they need to to get it or that air is kinda important.

Of course people in dire straights will ignore long-term risks if that’s what it takes for them to survive now but that’s not the entirety of those that helped(or might have helped) US forces so it’s useless to point out, my point was that those that are on he fence, who might have helped US forces but who don’t need to will be much less likely to do so in the future if they know that they’ll be abandoned as soon as US forces no longer need them and data will be created that will screw them over should whoever move in not be fans of the US or anyone who worked with them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Locals

As to the first point, yes. Poor people take two jobs to pay the bills. Afghanis with valuable skills and a dire situation will take American money and the then-implicit promise of safety to feed their families.

And the people on the fence, ie, MOST OF THE REST OF THE WORLD, are already familiar with how little any American promise of help, be it trade or defense, actually means.

Europe has seen Russia STEAL Ukranian land from Ukraine once Ukraine agreed to hand over their nukes for the now-worthless promise of defense. Southeast Asia has decided to march in lockstep with Xi, the warmongering bully, because Trump pulled out of the TPP and apparently thought the US 7th Pacific Fleet would be enough deterrence. Turns out China has been doing more than just the usual military nonsense and has been engaging in debt entrapment, subterfuge, alledegly funding Duterte and doing EVERYTHING the US has been doing during the Cold War in order to control the region fully.

And now with Afghanistan, congrats, the rest of the world is now gonna side with the bullies and opponents to American hedgemony.

And no, I’m not that other Anonymous Coward. I doubt anyone would actually bring in Southeast Asia as a talking point. Or flat out say America has turned its back on promises or left regions to their fates.

Abbt says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Locals

yup, Afghanistan is a very poor country with a large population of poor people — the Pentagon and State Dept were paying very high wages to Afghans who had no hope of ever finding comparable income options.
Incentives Matter.

The recent Afghan ex-president now lives in luxury in U.A.E. — his children live in luxury in Washingto DC and New York.

American taxpayers cheerfully donated 2 Trillion to help things end so wonerfully in Afghanistan.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bobvious says:

It's not like the hasty withdrawal

was negotiated much earlier by a "stable genius" or anything.

And with the outcomes of this War on Terror being largely performative, there is a reason it’s called the "theatre" of war. The enemy is not playing by the rules of chivalry.

I wonder if that large Asian country to the east of them will be happy to show them how to use it?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Smarter shit, and without lying while doing it, over-blowing the threat, and doing more collateral damage and making new recruits with anti-US sentiment than you managed to kill or capture, while breeding ultra-expensive fuckwit private contractors, screwing your own soldiers, and enlarging the cult of the military.

That’s what.

Specifically in this instance, fuckstick Bush et al could have just provided the evidence requested to have the specific people they were after extradited in the first damn place. That would have been a start.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What do you do when a country becomes a training ground for terrorists attacking your country?

I cannot say that I have an ideal solution. But when I compare a great huge boxcar-full of bugger all to what we actually did, the great huge empty boxcar load of nothing looks pretty darn attractive.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Do nothing, then conduct a sweep, ineptly guard one of the ringleaders, then let him escape and let the neighbour find him.

Hey, that actually happened in Singapore.

Oh, I got a better one. Let them elect one of the worst presidents in recent history, then let them perform an armed insurrection that would eventually fail because they were dumb.

Oh wait…

Here’s another fun one. Arrest an entire ethnic group instead of actually trying to improve living conditions and MAYBE pretending to listen to the people you "serve" onve in a while.

That sounds like the action plan of at least TWO major global powers I know of…

Ninja (profile) says:

USA tricks USSR into attacking country, funds terrorists to fight Communism, terrorists take over and turn a country that was evolving and implementing very progressive and ~freedom inducing~ policies into dangerous theocracy.
USA invades country to get rid of terrorists and spends 20 years and shitloads of money in a useless war.
USA decides it’s too expensive and not worth and leaves country letting terrorists regain control AND leaving allies to die.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The US didn’t abandon Afghanistan. It trained, equiped, and funded an army of tens of thousands of troops to maintain the security of their own homeland. And then that entire army deserted and ran away once the Taliban arrived. If you want to blame someone for the current situation, ask, where’s the Afghan army during all this? Maintaining security was their job, not the US’s.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

…and the US trained, equipped and funded the Taliban to fight the USSR occupation of Afghanistan.

Overall, those primitive Taliban guys defeated the two greatest military forces in the history of the world.

Must be something that U.S. and Soviet generals really don’t understand about warfighting.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The Taliban didn’t exist when the USSR was occupying Afghanistan, the Taliban came about because of that occupation. You are probably thinking of the Mujahideen.

The word taliban means student/graduate, and they where the kids that was put in Islamic schools after being rescued from an occupied Afghanistan.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

We didn’t technically fund the army, most soldiers had been months without pay. We did try to train 10s of thousands, but 80% of their population is illiterate (which I’m not saying as an insult, survival outranks education). This means they do not have enough pilots, mechanics, air support, logistics and analyst teams, they are almost strictly ground force fighters. Even al-Qaeda sent the hijackers to the US to learn how to fly. And the country is too poor to maintain facilities and equipment we built for them, including civilian projects like power plants and hospitals. We designed everything the American way, bigger, shinier, with lots of gadgets and gizmos, instead of to meet the needs of the Afghanis.
The US provided the air support crucial for their missions, and without it they are just lambs to the slaughter.
The Pentagon kept pushing this idea that they were almost there, just a little more time, a little more money. They touted the high priced programs they bought like they were obviously a success, when there was little to no proof that anything at all was accomplished.
We should have been working on our soft power coalitions, our diplomacy, aid that wasn’t contingent on politics or military goals.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is a problem in big corporations over collection of data over retention of data then data gets hacked. Info security 101 when you are leaving a country taken over by terrorists arrange for All data on usa allies to be deleted before it is used by the enemy
I understand its not easy as the us needs data in order to decide who gets to be rescued from that country

Anonymous Coward says:

As sad and terrible this is, judging from the speed of the takeover, it is possible that the hit list of who is in power now is smaller, not larger, than what it was under the previous government. Until not long ago coalition forces, together with the previous afghan government were droning terrorist members of the list (and whoever happened to be close to them, including children, as the court evidence shows) for a total body count of a hundred thousand deaths, or maybe more. Only time will tell if the talibans will kill less, or more, than the government they just replaced. However based on the loyalty of the rank and file soldiers, it is hard to assume that this list will do anything except perhaps speeding up a little the identification of who worked against the taliban – it is clear that the afghan people made a choice, and it is to support the taliban, not to fight them. Difficult to believe that the average citizens will not inform on whoever was helping the coalition, list or no list, after they deposed the arms en masse and welcomed the talibans as the new government. We will see what the taliban do with this information and how they will run the country from now on.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

that sociopathic glint in his eye
Well if those who helped us are dead, we don’t have to get them out & take care of them.

In before anyone says no no no or I went to far…
They killed 600K+ Americans to make masks a culture war & the base doesn’t care because they are winning.
Do you honestly think they give a damn about people on shithole countries who risked their lives for us?
More of them will turn out for a maskless event to kill themselves to stick it to the libs than would send even 1 email expressing disgust for how badly they screwed this up & demand people be saved.

We got what we wanted, why hold up our end of the deal now?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ukraine would also like to remind you that direct US protection is not worth the paper its printed on.

Southeast Asia would also like to remind you that American economic deals are also not worth the paper they’re printed on, either, after pulling out of the TPP (already a bad deal) without offering to renegotiate the current FTAs in place.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Lisboeta says:

The former president negotiated the deal with the Taliban (the Afghan government wasn’t included in those talks). The withdrawal was scheduled to take place on 1 May 2021. It wouldn’t in the least surprise me if neither Trump nor the intelligence services were aware of what sensitive information existed, and should’ve been destroyed before walking away.

Anonymous Coward says:

There are several parts to this that I can’t quite wrap my head around. Ignoring for the fact that these databases were built, most likely, on the predication of "nothing to hide, nothing to fear"

a) why do these devices not require authentication to log into/decrypt and use?

b) they’re handheld, when you’re leaving behind collaborators, why could they not be picked up/smashed as you leave?

That seems like a pretty epic fuckup from a secops point of view… I wouldn’t be surprised if the nuclear football just had a post-it note with "guest" written in it.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Another garbage article by Tim Cushing.

Tim Cushing’s isn’t a journalist. He isn’t a war corespondant. He has never been to Afghanistan. His articles are BIAS and are not due to real journalism with factual investigations and interviews he himself has conducted. And they never will be. Because he sits in a comfy chair and thinks of garbage articles to write that are not from real journalism.

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