Defense Dept. ‘Institutionalizing’ Use of Biometrics

The organization in charge of this effort, the Defense Department’s biometrics task force, conducts biweekly secure video teleconferences with war commanders who oversee operations Iraq and Afghanistan. “We enable our partners in the biometrics field to offer much-needed training,” notes Lt. Col. Brian Hunt, chief of the military operations branch at the biometrics task force, or BTF, which is based in Arlington, Va.

Biometrics use crosses all services. The Army is using biometrics to assist in identifying detainees in war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan and in differentiating friendly individuals from insurgents and terrorists.  

In Afghanistan, the Marines are using fingerprint devices, iris scanners, and electronic databases to screen local residents applying for jobs requiring security clearances.

 In 2007, some Iraqi personnel applying for selection into the Iraqi Police Academy were found to have biometrics that matched those of previously-identified terrorists and insurgents. Others were found to match felony records in the United States. The use of biometrics has thwarted security breaches.

“Interagency communication and compatibility greatly increases the use and feasibility of biometrics,” said Lisa Swan, deputy director for integration at BTF. “As a result, there’s been visible and measurable movement in the advancement of biometric technology in recent years.”

The Navy is developing equipment and policies to implement biometric technologies for foreign ship boarding — by scanning the biometric data of the crew and searching the data against the Defense Department’s automated biometric identification system (ABIS) database.

The Air Force also uses biometrics for authentication and verification purposes, and to grant access to a select number of Air Force bases around the world. Handheld biometric devices can verify an individual’s identity in less than one second, thus not only controlling access and attendance, but freeing up personnel and minimizing the time spent in this process.

Collection devices are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and visible in operations. Take for example, the biometric automated toolset (BAT) and the handheld interagency identity detection equipment (HIIDE).   

The BAT is a laptop-based computer system deployed to collect biometric data and store it on a central server in a secure network. Currently, there are more than 1,000 active BATs in Iraq.

HIIDE, similar in size to a large camera, connects directly to the BAT and matches inputs against a biometric watchlist of up to 10,000 individuals. HIIDE is a rugged, shock-resistant collection and identification handheld device. It was put to use in an Iraqi village near Baghdad International Airport, and contributed to a decrease in violence in and around the village. By using HIIDE to verify credentials, not only did the residents benefit from increased security, but the police boosted its influence and authority with village residents. Almost 7,000 of these devices have been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The biometrics task force will soon open a demonstration room at the Arlington offices, along with the one that currently exists at BTF offices in Clarksburg, W.Va. These displays will allow visitors to see the systems that are used for physical access, logical access, and the identification of known or suspected terrorists and enemy combatants. Some systems to be displayed are currently in use, while others will be examples of how biometrics may be applied in the future.

During several exercises this past year, the BTF tested nearly 50 new and emerging biometric technologies.

The task force, along with the Naval Surface Warfare Center, is developing identification-based decision processes to enable confident transactions. It is a prototype repository and matching service for friendly personnel.

Biometric technologies that are used to verify identities employ such modalities as iris scans, fingerprints and facial recognition.  They are being integrated into defense and security measures both at home and overseas.

Developing biometrics standards is now taking center stage. Interoperability of systems within the Defense Department is of critical importance, as is data sharing amongst other U.S. government agencies and multi-national organizations.

In 2004, the Defense Department created the ABIS centralized biometric database. This growing repository is compatible with the integrated automated fingerprint identification system used by the FBI so that matches can be made between the two databases. When biometric matches are flagged by the system, further action and analysis is undertaken by experienced examiners.

“By creating and sustaining a biometric database, the Defense Department not only has records of known threats, but can help identify those threats in active operations,” said David Lohman, BTF deputy director for support. So far, 358 “high-value” individuals were identified in fiscal year 2008.          

Myra S. Gray is the director of the Defense Department’s biometrics task force.

Topics: Homeland Security, Defense Department

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