Abandoned U.S. military equipment now turning up on eBay

Amazing what you can buy on eBay these days.

Sure, you can buy a crockpot, a designer bag, a wristwatch, a car part, or some dried guascas for some cold-weather Colombian ajiaco, which I was looking up the other day.

But you can also buy a HIIDE or SEEK II military scanner which comes with complimentary database full of thousands of iris scans and fingerprints of U.S. service members, U.S. collaborators, and al-Qaida and Taliban terrorists dating from the Afghanistan War. Apparently, such devices were among the $7.1 billion's worth of abandoned equipment in Afghanistan in Joe Biden's disastrous military pullout last year. And now they're turning up for sale on eBay.

According to the New York Times:

The shoebox-shaped device, designed to capture fingerprints and perform iris scans, was listed on eBay for $149.95. A German security researcher, Matthias Marx, successfully offered $68, and when it arrived at his home in Hamburg in August, the rugged, hand-held machine contained more than what was promised in the listing.

The device’s memory card held the names, nationalities, photographs, fingerprints and iris scans of 2,632 people.

Most people in the database, which was reviewed by The New York Times, were from Afghanistan and Iraq. Many were known terrorists and wanted individuals, but others appeared to be people who had worked with the U.S. government or simply been stopped at checkpoints. Metadata on the device, called a Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit, or SEEK II, revealed that it had last been used in the summer of 2012 near Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The device — a relic of the vast biometric collection system the Pentagon built in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — is a physical reminder that although the United States has moved on from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the tools built to fight them and the information they held live on in ways unintended by their creators.

The device described by the Times has all the appearances of being part of the vast trove of military equipment that was abandoned by the Biden administration in Afghanistan as it made its hasty pullout.

Daniel Greenberg, writing at Front Page, summed it up this way: Our national security is in the best of hands. Not Biden. Maybe whoever in Afghanistan has an eBay account.

Greenberg notes the skeevy, unknown origins of the devices purchased, with the seller not saying where he got them from.

What's vivid to me is the Milley Pentagon's not-my-circus-not-my-monkey blase reaction to the discovery of the U.S. soldiers' and their allies' data on military surplus sold to anyone at all with a PayPal account now on eBay:

“Because we have not reviewed the information contained on the devices, the department is not able to confirm the authenticity of the alleged data or otherwise comment on it,” Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the Defense Department’s press secretary, said in a statement. “The department requests that any devices thought to contain personally identifiable information be returned for further analysis.”

He provided an address for the military’s biometrics program manager at Fort Belvoir in Virginia where the devices could be sent.

It sounds like they're viewing this as an inconvenience. The DoD press secretary, or his bosses, ought to be sending top officials in uniform to the German hacker buyers and offer them top dollar for those data cards to get them out of circulation.

What happens if the Germans don't want to send it back? Who pays the return postage? What happens if the information is sold instead for even toppier dollar to a guy like Viktor Bout? Well, the Pentagon guy did try to get them to send it back so they could inconvenience themselves to look at it and see. 

The treasure trove of U.S. military goods left behind in Afghanistan is sorry stuff, given that U.S. officials still have no idea how much they left back in that hellhole.

According to Jared Keller, writing in Task & Purpose, which appears to be a high-grade military blog:

While a previous Pentagon inspector general report in August estimated that roughly $7.12 billion in U.S.-funded military equipment was still in the inventory of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) when the central government in Kabul collapsed, a new assessment from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) revealed last week that the Pentagon “has struggled for years with accurately accounting for the equipment it provided to the ANDSF.”

The lack of accurate accounting stemmed from using the Core Inventory Management System (Core IMS) despite “limitations with the utility and accuracy of that system” reported by SIGAR since at least 2008. Indeed, a 2020 DoD IG audit revealed that Core IMS was never utilized at more than half of the Afghan-maintained weapons storage sites across the country simply because they lacked consistent access to electricity or the internet. 

In addition, U.S. military officials concluded since at least 2014 that ANDSF personnel were “not entering information correctly into the system,” and maintained inventory records using  “hard copy documents, handwritten records, and some Microsoft Excel spreadsheets,” according to the SIGAR report — the same system that created the conditions for ‘ghost soldiers,” or nonexistent personnel created solely to funnel money and equipment to (often-illicit) sources.

“As a result of the issues with the Core Inventory Management System and the regularly documented issues with DoD’s ability to account for equipment provided to the Afghan government, it remains unclear whether the $7.1 billion figure reported to Congress is accurate,” according to the SIGAR assessment.

So Milley and company not only abandoned a lot of military equipment to our enemies, it has no idea what it left behind.

To hear of abandoned equipment going for a hundred-plus bucks on eBay is a scandal to us, and a gold mine to America's adversaries, such as Russia, Iran, and China. Wouldn't Viktor Bout have a grand old time now that he knows he can get what he wants for his master, Putin, just for a trip to eBay. No dangerous plane travel through fourth-world savannas required.

The Pentagon's blase attitude is an even bigger scandal. They don't seem to care if U.S. service members' data is stolen and sold around by terrorists any more than they care about abandoned military equipment.

Now we have this sorry specter in front of us. Gen. Milley should take a bow and issue himself another service ribbon for it.

Image: Fabián Alexis, via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

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