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thedrifter
04-04-06, 10:10 AM
Missing flash drive jeopardizes Marines
207,750 are susceptible to identity theft
By James W. Crawley
MEDIA GENERAL NEWS SERVICE
Tuesday, April 4, 2006

WASHINGTON

More than 200,000 Marines - including thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan - face a threat of identity theft if a missing computer flash drive falls into the wrong hands.

The Marine Corps issued a worldwide warning last month urging enlisted personnel to watch for suspicious activity on their bank accounts and credit reports.

The lost information includes names, Social Security numbers, marital status and other records of 207,750 enlisted, active-duty Marines for the past five years, said Lt. Col. Mike Perry, who oversees Marine Corps' manpower information technology branch. The information - from a Marine Corps database at Quantico Marine Corps Base, Va. - was stored on the thumb-size drive for use by a Marine Corps major studying at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

The officer, who has not been identified, was conducting research on re-enlistment bonuses.

He said he last saw the drive March 9.

Perry said that the risk that criminals will use the information is relatively low.

The small memory device that can plug into a personal computer was lost on a guarded military installation.

There have been no reports of identity theft, he said.

The data can be read only by proprietary software, but many corporations, universities and government agencies have the capacity to do so.

The program is used for statistical analysis and data mining.

It is the second time in eight months that personal information about military personnel has been lost or stolen. Last August, hackers stole data on 33,300 Air Force officers from a military computer.

A search of the computer lab and a Navy investigation has not turned up the missing flash drive, said Chief Petty Officer Michael Martin, a spokesman for the Navy.

The information could be used to open fraudulent bank accounts, obtain loans or for other illegal activities without an individual's knowledge, said Jay Foley, a co-executive director of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

With a name and Social Security number, "I could put you $100,000 in debt," Foley said.

A message was sent March 24 to all Marine units, telling commanding officers to pass on the bad news.

"This message has gotten down to the lowest level. It's reached around the globe," said Clay Dubberly, who oversees the Marine Corps response.

But, officials have not decided how to notify 16,000 Marines who have left the service, Perry said.

The Marines last week cut off access to the personnel database until manpower officials received training on safeguarding personal data, Perry said.

• James W. Crawley reports from Washington for Media General News Service. E-mail: jcrawley@mediageneral.com

Ellie