Another View: Who goes there? Biometrics can make positive ID

John Woodward, director of the Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office

DOD's highest-priority biometric focus should be on collecting and sharing facial photographs and 10 rolled fingerprints, taken to the mandated standard.

(REVISED) In the global war on terrorism, the military faces a highly mobile terrorist foe that deliberately conceals its true allegiance.

That means the military must strive for identity dominance by linking a so-called Red Force member'a detainee or similar national security threat'to previously used identities and past activities.

To tell friend from foe, we must have answers to these questions:
  • Has the person been previously arrested in the United States or other countries?

  • Has the person used aliases or fraudulent documents?

  • Has the person previously been refused entry into the United States?

  • Has the person been linked to terrorism by, for example, fingerprints found on the remnants of an improvised explosive device or being seen in a crowd committing terrorist acts?

To the extent the military is forced to rely solely on purported names or official-looking documents, we will never get reliable answers to these questions.

To get reliable answers, the military, working with other agencies such as the Homeland Security Department, must fully use the power of biometric traits. Reliable answers to these questions will help us identify people who are national security threats.

Reliable answers will keep our personnel safer. We will gain information to detect and deter terrorists, and we will have legally admissible evidence to prosecute them.

The military, working with other agencies, must begin to collect, transmit, store and share biometric data to achieve fundamental identity dominance. DHS also is working to achieve this goal with its U.S. Visit virtual border program.

We must be able to compare biometric data against all relevant U.S. and international databases for matches with previously used names and past activities.

We must process the data using an interoperable enterprise approach that spans military theaters and services, offers numerous functions and uses several biometric identifiers.

The Defense Department took a significant step in February when it began requiring that all military units taking electronic fingerprints from Red Force members must comply with an internationally accepted standard.


By taking 10 rolled fingerprints, or tenprints, that meet the standard, the military can search fingerprint data against relevant databases, including the FBI's Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System. IAFIS contains the full tenprints of 47 million individuals arrested for felony offenses.

All viable automated fingerprint identification systems used by law enforcement agencies worldwide are based on 10 rolled fingerprints taken to the standard. This interoperability means that prints collected from detainees can be searched against databases of prints from tens of millions of individuals.

Fingerprint data is forever valuable for counterterrorism work. Collect once, search forever.

[IMGCAP(2)]To ensure identity dominance, DOD should immediately build a biometric enterprise system.

Such a system would bring immediate advantages, including more rapid and more extensive searches. It also would give DOD a fully interoperable central database. Any DOD organization that submits data should be notified of a match.

The system should be able to search against unsolved, latent fingerprint records as well as tenprints. Latent fingerprints are collected by special techniques from explosives, weapons and other objects touched by terrorists.

The system should be usable by all combatant commands and land-based detainee operations, as well as maritime interdiction operations.

We must develop an approach that uses numerous biometric identifiers. The more data we get about a potential threat, the more likely we can identify that threat in the future, when a terrorist seeks entry under an alias or with fraudulent travel documents.

DOD's highest-priority biometric focus should be on collecting and sharing facial photographs and 10 rolled fingerprints.

In the future, we should capture DNA, voice recordings, iris patterns, and complete hand or palm prints.

DOD must push its capability to collect and process biometric data from Red Force members out to America's front-line defenders--soldiers manning a checkpoint, sailors conducting maritime interdiction operations and immigration inspectors at ports of entry.

Although it will be challenging and not without cost, DOD can implement in the near term a Red Force biometric data enterprise system, the necessary foundation for identity dominance.

Such a system will serve force protection, actionable intelligence and law enforcement. Such a system will let the military identify friend or foe. Such a system will keep America safer.

John D. Woodward Jr. is director of the Defense Department's Biometrics Management Office. These views are his and not necessarily those of DOD.

(Revised July 19, 2004, 10:31 a.m.)


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