A U.S. military device used to record and store information on military personnel, Afghanis who worked with the U.S. military, terrorists, and others reportedly turned up on an online auction platform and was sold for $68.
The purchaser is German security researcher Matthias Marx. Marx and his team purchased the device, known as a Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit, or SEEK II, from eBay in August, according to The New York Times.
The researchers had read reports of biometric devices falling into the hands of the Taliban after the U.S. military pulled out of Afghanistan last year. The researchers wanted to study the machines to assess what amount of risk thousands of Afghanis who worked with the U.S. military during its 20-year occupation may face.
In addition to the SEEK II, Marx and his team purchased five other biometric devices from eBay. On one other, they said they found sensitive, identifying information of U.S. servicemen. That device was last used in Jordan in 2013.
“The irresponsible handling of this high-risk technology is unbelievable,” Marx told Times. “It is incomprehensible to us that the manufacturer and former military users do not care that used devices with sensitive data are being hawked online.”
Marx allowed the Times to review the information found stored on the SEEK II. It contained unencrypted, identifying information, including retinal scans and fingerprints, of about 2,632 people. The device was last used in Afghanistan a decade ago, according to the Times.
“It was disturbing that they didn’t even try to protect the data,” Marx said. “They didn’t care about the risk, or they ignored the risk.”
The U.S. military could not verify the information reported to be contained on the biometric scanner.
“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,” Defense Department press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder said in a statement. “The department requests that any devices thought to contain personally identifiable information be returned for further analysis.”
The U.S. withdrew its last troops from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, ending a 20-year occupation of the country. The withdrawal was chaotic, bloody, and marred the reputation of the U.S. military and intelligence apparatus. Hundreds of Americans, thousands of the U.S. military’s Afghan allies, and millions of dollars-worth of U.S. military equipment was left behind.
The U.S. also lost 13 servicemen in a terror attack on Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, the final headquarters of the U.S. withdrawal as the Taliban blitzed and conquered the country behind the departing Americans. In an attempted counterstrike against a suspected terrorist, the U.S. mistakenly bombed an Afghan aid worker, killing 10 civilians, including seven children.
“This strike was taken in the earnest belief that it would prevent an imminent threat to forces at the airport,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said afterward. “Our investigation now concludes that the strike was a tragic mistake.”
Some of the equipment left behind in Afghanistan was reported to be biometric scanners and devices that contained sensitive information on U.S. soldiers and Afghan allies. The devices could allow the Taliban to easily track and identify potentially thousands of Afghanis who provided assistance to the U.S. military and who were left behind in the withdrawal.
“We processed thousands of locals a day, had to ID, sweep for suicide vests, weapons, intel gathering, etc.” a U.S. military contractor told The Intercept in August 2021. Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, or HIIDE, “was used as a biometric ID tool to help ID locals working for the coalition.”