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The data left behind: How the Taliban could mine Afghan data to target U.S. allies

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24.08.2021

U.S. officials racing to evacuate Afghan allies have limited time before another threat comes into play: vast digital data stores that will expose Afghans’ ties to American operations on a massive scale once in Taliban hands.

Telecom companies store reams of records on who Afghan users have called and where they’ve been. Government databases include records of foreign-funded projects and associated personnel records. And stashes of biometric data like fingerprints make people easy to identify.

“There’s almost no doubt that they’ve gotten their hands on an enormously valuable trove of information that they can exploit at their leisure,” said Thomas Warrick, a former Department of Homeland Security counterterrorism official.

American forces and diplomats rushed to destroy their own records on Afghan citizens as they departed, but the rapid takeover of Kabul left large stores of data open for exploitation inside Afghan businesses and government offices. That gives today’s technologically adept Taliban tools to target Afghans who worked with the U.S. or the deposed Afghan government with unprecedented precision, increasing the danger for those who don’t get out on evacuation flights.

Much of the attention has been on the race to scrub data off the internet: The U.S. government has taken down videos, stories and photos of Afghans from its sites, as have many Afghan businesses. Social media companies including Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are rolling out tools to help limit who sees Afghan users' profiles, posts and connections. But those efforts don’t touch the huge collections of data sitting in Kabul.

Take call logs. Telecommunications companies keep a record of nearly every phone call placed and to whom. U.S. State Department officials used the local cell networks to make calls to those who were working with the United States, including interpreters, drivers, cooks and more, said Walter Koenig, a former U.S. diplomat who worked with Afghan private sector businesses from 2011 to 2015.


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© Politico


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