Secure sensitive material

Technology used for military planning can make us more secure -- or, in the hands of careless people, less so.

A recent survey by the Associated Press of file servers run by agencies or companies involved with the military and the wars in Iraq and Afghan-istan found scores of sensitive documents posted where they were accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. And al-Qaida operatives probably know where to look.

AP investigators scanning the 'Net found aerial photographs of two military airfields near Baghdad, a map of the fuel tanks and pump houses at Bagram, and plans for the new American embassy in Baghdad. The AP also downloaded 61 pages of photos, graphics and charts mapping the security features at Tallil Air Base, including proposed upgrades to the facility's perimeter fencing.

AP investigators have destroyed all the materials they got off the Internet, and the sites were shut down once military officials were notified. But insurgents had ample opportunity to collect the data and, worse, the military can't be sure that more postings of sensitive material won't show up in the future.

To some extent, the lack security regarding these documents is understandable, if not forgivable. Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan generate thousands of such documents, which are distributed among a huge number of military personnel, members of the Corps of Engineers, private contractors and a variety of other people, many of whom may not be tech savvy enough to understand the danger of posting materials on the Internet.

Nonetheless, these security breaches endanger the lives of those on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. They make military facilities more vulnerable to attack. And they compromise the safety of the workers who must try to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.

It's unfortunate that an investigation by a news agency was required to awaken government officials to the threat. But at least now they know about the problem.

Let us hope they act quickly to secure the documents and stop the posting of sensitive material online.