Secret U.S. data found on cast-off hard drive


Senior Member
May 6, 2009
Country flag | Canada | Secret U.S. data found on cast-off hard drive

UBC students probing global trade in e-waste uncover files in Ghana
Jun 23, 2009 04:30 AM

Petti Fong

VANCOUVER – Journalism students from the University of British Columbia say they paid $40 in Ghana for a second-hand hard drive that contained information about multi-million-dollar defence contracts between the Pentagon, U.S. Department of Homeland Security and one of the largest military contractors in the United States.

The students were part of a team sent to three countries to investigate the problems caused by the global trade in electronic waste. Their documentary Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground airs tonight on PBS's Frontline/World season finale.

Blake Sifton, one of the students, said yesterday the hard drive was purchased in an open-air market in the coastal town of Tema from a local dealer who bought second-hand hard drives by the cargo load.

The students purchased five drives. Four were empty, but one contained information about hiring and personnel contracts and plans for U.S. defence agencies and the private military contractor Northrop Grumman, they say.

"As soon as we saw it and realized what was on this hard drive, we knew it was important," said Sifton, who was one of a team of three who went to Ghana. Students also travelled to India and China.

Sifton said the data on the hard drive included sensitive information about hiring practices, which could help people learn how to get into secured positions at places such as airports.

The hard drive also contained information such as credit card numbers and family photos.

The hard drives and other electronic waste brought into port towns such as Tema are second-hand goods. An estimated 80 to 90 per cent of the electronic goods shipped in don't work, Sifton said.

The students tried to talk to Northrop Grumman and the Pentagon but had little luck getting interviews, according to Sifton.

Northrop Grumman has acknowledged it is looking into how its hardware and data ended up in Ghana, Sifton said.

"Northrop Grumman is definitely concerned. They refused a request for an interview and they asked for the drives back," said Sifton. "There is concern of how this information fell into the wrong hands."

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