[Marxism] To Track Militants, U.S. Has System That Never Forgets a Face

Bonnie Weinstein giobon at comcast.net
Thu Jul 14 09:51:19 MDT 2011


To Track Militants, U.S. Has System That Never Forgets a Face
"With little notice and only occasional complaints, the American  
military and local authorities have been engaged in an ambitious  
effort to record biometric identifying information on a remarkable  
number of people in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly men of  
fighting age. Information about more than 1.5 million Afghans has  
been put in databases operated by American, NATO and local forces.  
While that is one of every 20 Afghan residents, it is the equivalent  
of roughly one of every six males of fighting age, ages 15 to 64. In  
Iraq, an even larger number of people, and a larger percentage of the  
population, have been registered. Data have been gathered on roughly  
2.2 million Iraqis, or one in every 14 citizens — and the equivalent  
of one in four males of fighting age. ...While the systems are  
attractive to American law enforcement agencies, there is serious  
legal and political opposition to imposing routine collection on  
American citizens. ...Defense Department spending on biometrics  
programs is enormous, set at $3.5 billion for the 2007 through 2015  
fiscal years, according to the Government Accountability Office."
By THOM SHANKER
July 13, 2011
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/14/world/asia/14identity.html?ref=world

WASHINGTON — When the Taliban dug an elaborate tunnel system beneath  
the largest prison in southern Afghanistan this spring, they set off  
a scramble to catch the 475 inmates who escaped.

One thing made it easier. Just a month before the April jailbreak,  
Afghan officials, using technology provided by the United States,  
recorded eye scans, fingerprints and facial images of each militant  
and criminal detainee in the giant Sarposa Prison.

Within days of the breakout, about 35 escapees were recaptured at  
internal checkpoints and border crossings; they were returned to  
prison after their identities were confirmed by biometric files.

One escapee was seized during a routine traffic stop less than two  
miles from his home village. Another was recaptured at a local  
recruiting station where he was trying to infiltrate Afghan security  
forces.

With little notice and only occasional complaints, the American  
military and local authorities have been engaged in an ambitious  
effort to record biometric identifying information on a remarkable  
number of people in Afghanistan and Iraq, particularly men of  
fighting age.

Information about more than 1.5 million Afghans has been put in  
databases operated by American, NATO and local forces. While that is  
one of every 20 Afghan residents, it is the equivalent of roughly one  
of every six males of fighting age, ages 15 to 64.

In Iraq, an even larger number of people, and a larger percentage of  
the population, have been registered. Data have been gathered on  
roughly 2.2 million Iraqis, or one in every 14 citizens — and the  
equivalent of one in four males of fighting age.

To get the information, soldiers and police officers take digital  
scans of eyes, photographs of the face, and fingerprints. In Iraq and  
Afghanistan, all detainees and prisoners must submit to such  
scrutiny. But so do local residents who apply for a government job,  
in particular those with the security forces and the police and at  
American installations. A citizen in Afghanistan or Iraq would almost  
have to spend every minute in a home village and never seek  
government services to avoid ever crossing paths with a biometric  
system.

What is different from traditional fingerprinting is that the  
government can scan through millions of digital files in a matter of  
seconds, even at remote checkpoints, using hand-held devices  
distributed widely across the security forces.

While the systems are attractive to American law enforcement  
agencies, there is serious legal and political opposition to imposing  
routine collection on American citizens.

Various federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have  
discussed biometric scanning, and many have even spent money on hand- 
held devices. But the proposed uses are much more limited, with  
questions being raised about constitutional rights of privacy and  
protection from warrantless searches.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, there are some complaints — but rarely on  
grounds recognizable to Americans as civil liberties issues.

Afghanistan, in particular, is a nation with no legacy of birth  
certificates, driver’s licenses or social security numbers, and where  
there is a thriving black market in forged national identity papers.  
Some Afghans are concerned that in the future the growing biometric  
database could be abused as a weapon of ethnic, tribal or political  
retaliation — a census of any particular group’s adversaries. Even  
Afghan officials who support the program want to take it over  
themselves, and not have the Americans do it.

“To be sure, there must be sound and responsible policies and  
oversight regarding enrollment and the storage, use and sharing of  
private individual data,” said Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, commander  
of the military’s new Rule of Law Field Force in Afghanistan.

But he stressed that biometric systems “can combat fraud and  
corruption, place law enforcement on a sounder evidentiary footing,  
and greatly improve security.”

Instant, computerized iris scans as a tool of population control used  
to be the monopoly of science fiction films. Even real-world use of  
biometric identification technologies overseas was for years reserved  
for the intelligence agencies and the military’s elite hunter-killer  
commando units.

But a new generation of hand-held biometric systems has spread across  
the military.

“You can present a fake identification card,” said Sgt. Maj. Robert  
Haemmerle of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force 435. “You can  
shave your beard off. But you can’t change your biometrics.” The task  
force conducts detention, judicial and biometrics operations —  
responsibilities that will be turned over to the Afghan government.

Defense Department spending on biometrics programs is enormous, set  
at $3.5 billion for the 2007 through 2015 fiscal years, according to  
the Government Accountability Office.

The concept of expanding biometrics for wholesale application on the  
battlefield was first tested in 2004 by Marine Corps units in  
Falluja, a militant stronghold in Anbar Province, Iraq. The insurgent  
safe haven was walled off, and only those who submitted to biometrics  
were allowed in and out.

In late 2004, when an Iraqi militant was allowed on to an American  
base in Mosul, where he detonated a suicide vest and killed 22 in a  
dining tent, commanders ordered a stringent identification program  
for Iraqi and third-country citizens entering American facilities.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, reviewing these efforts when he took command  
in Iraq in 2007, ordered a surge of biometric scans across the war  
zone to match the increase in American troops.

General Petraeus lauds the technology, not only for separating  
insurgents from the population in which they seek to hide, but also  
for cracking cells that build and plant roadside bombs, the greatest  
killer of American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fingerprints and  
other forensic tidbits can be lifted from a defused bomb or from  
remnants after a blast, and compared with the biometric files on  
former detainees and suspected or known militants.

“This data is virtually irrefutable and generally is very helpful in  
identifying who was responsible for a particular device in a  
particular attack, enabling subsequent targeting,” said General  
Petraeus, who will soon retire as commander in Afghanistan to become  
director of central intelligence. “Based on our experience in Iraq, I  
pushed this hard here in Afghanistan, too, and the Afghan authorities  
have recognized the value and embraced the systems.”

Military officials acknowledge that the new systems fielded by  
American, coalition and Afghan units do not all speak to one another.  
The hand-held devices fail in the awesome heat of the Afghan summer.  
Screens break when dropped. But a significant challenge in spreading  
biometric devices among an illiterate Afghan security force was  
resolved when the operating system was changed from English to an  
easy-to-teach system of color-coded commands.



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