A New Zealand man who purchased a used MP3 player from a thrift store in Oklahoma was startled when he found names, Social Security numbers, cell phone numbers, and other personal information of U.S. military members on the device.
Chris Ogle reportedly paid $9 for the MP3 player in February or March of 2008, and found the files when he connected the device to his computer. Ogle also found troop deployments in Afghanistan, equipment deployments, private information on some soldiers, including which female soldiers were pregnant. The information was reportedly from 2005, and also included mission briefings for both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I was very surprised," he said. "I was curious enough to keep looking and I guess the more I looked the more intense it seemed to me. Each time I looked at it I became more convinced... it was possibly something bigger."
After the story first broke in Ogle's home country, a New Zealand journalist contacted at least one soldier using the information found in the files. Even though most of the information is outdated and wouldn't have hurt future missions, it opened up U.S. soldiers to possible identity theft and personal harm assuming the information fell into the wrong hands.
The U.S. Embassy has given Ogle a replacement MP3 player in exchange for the old device, while the U.S. government will now send the device to Washington to try and figure out how the information ended up on the device.
The U.S. government has previously lost personal information of soldiers and veterans before, when the Department of Veterans Affairs lost a laptop containing the personal information of millions of soldiers. Computer hard drives and USB keys with military information have also been sold and traded during Afghani street markets, government officials said last year.
It's becoming more common place for laptops, USB keys and HDDs with personal information to end up stolen or lost, with very little accountability from the government to prevent such incidents from taking place.