Military Papers Found Unprotected Online

Chris Freeman shows a government FTP site at his home in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday, June 28, 2007. Freeman has spent several years looking for government and contractor-run FTP sites he thinks should be secure.
Photo/Lynn Hey
Detailed schematics of a military detainee holding facility in southern Iraq. Geographical surveys and aerial photographs of two military airfields outside Baghdad. Plans for a new fuel farm at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The military calls it "need-to-know" information that would pose a direct threat to U.S. troops if it fell into the hands of terrorists. It's material so sensitive that officials refused to release the documents when asked.

But it's already out there, posted carelessly to file servers by government agencies and contractors, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.

In a survey of servers run by agencies or companies involved with the military and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, The Associated Press found dozens of documents that officials refused to release when asked directly, citing troop security.

Such material goes online all the time, posted most often by mistake. It's not in plain sight — unlike the plans for the new American embassy in Baghdad that appeared recently on the Web site of an architectural firm — but is almost as easy to find.

And experts said foreign intelligence agencies and terrorists working with al Qaeda likely know where to look.

In one case, the Army Corps of Engineers asked the AP to promptly dispose of several documents found on a contractor's server that detailed a project to expand the fuel infrastructure at Bagram — including a map of the entry point to be used by fuel trucks and the location of pump houses and fuel tanks. The Corps of Engineers then changed its policies for storing material online following the AP's inquiry.

But a week later, the AP downloaded a new document directly from the agency's own server. The 61 pages of photos, graphics and charts map out the security features at Tallil Air Base, a compound outside of Nasiriyah in southeastern Iraq, and depict proposed upgrades to the facility's perimeter fencing.

"That security fence guards our lives," said Lisa Coghlan, a spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers in Iraq, who is based at Tallil. "Those drawings should not have been released. I hope to God this is the last document that will be released from us."

The Corps of Engineers and its contractor weren't alone. For example, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency — which provides the military with maps and charts — said it plans to review its policies after the AP found several sensitive documents, including aerial surveys of military airfields near Balad and Al Asad, Iraq, on its server.

The AP has destroyed the documents it downloaded, and all the material cited in this story is no longer available online on the sites surveyed.