Sunday, July 06, 2008

Biometric ID Data Bases Lead To Terror Connections

FBI agent Paul Shannon led a team sent to Afghanistan in 2001 to fingerprint and interview foreign fighters for a database of known or suspected terrorists. Here, he takes Saddam Hussein's prints after his capture in 2003. Image Credit: FBI

Biometric ID Data Bases Lead To Terror Connections

Since September 11, 2001, the increase in the attention to detail of fingerprint ID procedures combined with the connection of data base information has lead to some surprising information results.

It turns out that more times than not, terror suspects that are fingerprinted in faraway hazardous territories, have been arrested in the United States and sport provable criminal records.

If our military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other areas of the world where Islamic bred terrorism were to cease, this information and its depth of connection would be sorely missed and our freedoms would be hampered in this, and other countries that are potential targets of this brand of terrorism.

This excerpted from the Washington Post –

Post-9/11 Dragnet Turns Up Surprises
Biometrics Link Foreign Detainees To Arrests in U.S.
By Ellen Nakashima - Washington Post Staff Writer (with contributions from Staff researcher, Richard Drezen) - Sunday, July 6, 2008; Page A01

In the six-and-a-half years that the U.S. government has been fingerprinting insurgents, detainees and ordinary people in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, hundreds have turned out to share an unexpected background, FBI and military officials said. They have criminal arrest records in the United States.

There was the suspected militant fleeing Somalia who had been arrested on a drug charge in New Jersey. And the man stopped at a checkpoint in Tikrit who claimed to be a dirt farmer but had 11 felony charges in the United States, including assault with a deadly weapon.

The records suggest that potential enemies abroad know a great deal about the United States because many of them have lived here, officials said. The matches also reflect the power of sharing data across agencies and even countries, data that links an identity to a distinguishing human characteristic such as a fingerprint.

"I found the number stunning," said Frances Fragos Townsend, a security consultant and former assistant to the president for homeland security. "It suggested to me that this was going to give us far greater insight into the relationships between individuals fighting against U.S. forces in the theater and potential U.S. cells or support networks here in the United States."
The effort is being boosted by a presidential directive signed June 5, which gave the U.S. attorney general and other cabinet officials 90 days to come up with a plan to expand the use of biometrics by, among other things, recommending categories of people to be screened beyond "known or suspected" terrorists.
Civil libertarians have raised concerns about whether people on the watch lists have been appropriately determined to be terrorists, a process that senior government officials acknowledge is an art, not a science.

Large-scale identity systems "can raise serious privacy concerns, if not singly, then jointly and severally," said a 2007 study by the Defense Science Board Task Force on Defense Biometrics. The ability "to cross reference and draw new, previously unimagined, inferences," is a boon for the government and the bane of privacy advocates, it said.
An FBI Mission
"The bottom line is we're locking people up," said Thomas E. Bush III, FBI assistant director of the Criminal Justice Information Services division. "Stopping people coming into this country. Identifying IED-makers in a way never done before. That's the beauty of this whole data-sharing effort. We're pushing our borders back."
As they analyzed the results, they were surprised to learn that one out of every 100 detainees was already in the FBI's database for arrests. Many arrests were for drunken driving, passing bad checks and traffic violations, FBI officials said.

"Frankly I was surprised that we were getting those kind of hits at all," recalled Townsend, who left government in January. They identified "a potential vulnerability" to national security the government had not fully appreciated, she said.
One of the first men fingerprinted by the FBI team was a fighter who claimed he was in Afghanistan to learn the ancient art of falconry. But a fingerprint check showed that in August 2001 he had been turned away from Orlando International Airport by an immigration official who thought he might overstay his visa. Mohamed al Kahtani would later be named by the Sept. 11 Commission as someone who allegedly had sought to participate in hijackings. He currently is in custody at Guantanamo Bay.

Similarly, in 2004, an FBI team choppered to a remote desert camp on the Iraq-Iran border, home to the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), whose aim is to overthrow the Iranian government. The MEK lead an austere lifestyle in which men are segregated from women and material goods are renounced. The U.S. State Department considers the organization to be a terrorist group.

The FBI team fingerprinted 3,800 fighters. More than 40, Shannon said, had previous criminal records in the agency's database.
Errors in matching, though rare, have occurred. In a noted 2004 case, Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield was erroneously named as a suspect in the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people. FBI lab analysts matched a print lifted from a plastic bag at the crime scene to his fingerprints that were stored in the FBI's criminal database because of a 1985 arrest for auto burglary when he was a teenager. The charge had been dismissed. After a critical Justice Department Inspector General audit, the FBI made fixes in its system. A recent inspector general report found the FBI fingerprint matching to be generally accurate.
Civil libertarians, however, worry that the systems are not transparent enough for outsiders to tell how the government decides who belongs on a watch list and how that information is handled.

"The day when the federal government can tell people the basis they've been put on the watch list is the day we can have more confidence in biometric identification," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Vetting the data is the job of analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center, an office park-like complex in McLean run by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Analysts there scour intelligence reports to create the master international terrorist watch list.
For example, a roadside bomb may explode and a patrol may fingerprint bystanders because insurgents have been known to remain at the scene to observe the results of their work. Prints also can be lifted off tiny fragments of exploded bombs, said military officials and contractors involved in the work.

Analysts are not just trying to identify the prints on the bomb. They want to find out who the bomb-carrier associates with. Who he calls. Who calls him. That could lead to the higher-level operatives who planned and financed attacks.

Already, fingerprints lifted off a bomb fragment have been linked to people trying to enter the United States, they said.

In a separate data-sharing program, 365 Iraqis who have applied to the Department of Homeland Security for refugee status have been denied because their fingerprints turned up in the Defense Department's database of known or suspected terrorists, Richardson said.

If Iraq and Afghanistan were a proving ground of sorts for biometric watch-listing, the U.S. government is moving quickly to try to build a domestic version.
Steve Nixon, a director at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the effort is key to national security.

"When we look at the road and the challenges, globalization and the spread of technology has empowered small groups of individuals, bad guys, to be more powerful than at any other time in history," he said. "We have to know who these people are when we encounter them. A lot of what we're doing in intelligence now is trying to identify a person. Biometrics is a key element of that."

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