Magazine article National Defense

Friend or Foe?

Magazine article National Defense

Friend or Foe?

Article excerpt

Defense Department under pressure to share biometric data

TAMPA, Fla. - Within minutes of knocking down the door of a suspected bomb maker in Iraq, U.S. troops can fingerprint everyone they find inside, send the scans across a satellite link, and find out if the subjects are suspected terrorists.

Military police in the Middle East who are manning checkpoints or sifting through job applicants for local hires can use the same technology.

Biometrics - the science of identifying a person through his unique body measurements such as fingerprints, iris scans, voice prints or even DNA - has come into its own. Operations in urban areas against enemies who don't wear uniforms make identifying friends and foes more important than ever.

Technologies that allow investigators to identify suspected terrorists have been sped into the field, but these efforts are not being well coordinated, and that can lead to critical information gaps, and so-called stovepipes, the common term for information and communication systems that cannot link to each other, experts at the Biometrics Consortium conference said.

There are signs that progress is being made, government officials said. A presidential directive that was signed last year will help federal agencies sort out who does what in terms of identity management. The Naval Post Graduate School announced that it will begin a master's level pro- gram in identity management. And Customs and Border Protection is now collecting 10 fingerprints from visitors arriving from foreign countries.

But is all this enough?

"We are still in the throes of a paradigm shift," said Donald Loren, deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland security integration.

When he walks into the Pentagon, he still flashes an ID badge with a mug shot

"That's identification. That's not identity management," he said.

Biometrics is the science behind the larger issue of "identity management" Collecting a fingerprint is fine, but how should the government store, secure and share - when necessary - the biometrie data it collects?

Along with the military services, entities such as the State Department, the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Justice and its law enforcement arms such as the FBI - are involved in collecting biometrie data.

"The Defense Department is still in the discovery phase of interagency, international and civil support activities" when it comes to biometrics and identity management, said Loren.

"We have to continue to work out the problems," he added.

The release of National Security Presidential Directive 59 lined the steps the federal government must take to coordinate all these efforts.

The Defense Department has also set up several working groups and committees to tackle the problem. The National Science and Technology Council subcommittee on biometrics and identity management and the Defense Department's biometrics readiness group are among them.

"We don't have a single belly button for biometrics in the Defense Department," said Tom Dee, who is the point man for the field in the Director of Defense Research and Engineering office He is charged with keeping an eye on all these programs and ensuring there is a "unity of effort."

The deputy secretary of defense signed a directive in February defining roles and responsibilities in the Defense Department The Army remains the executive agent for biometrics, even though that doesn't mean it is buying systems for the Navy or other services, Dee said.

Two recent Government Accountability Office reports called into question the effectiveness of these Defense Department efforts.

"While [the Defense Department] has stated some general goals for biometrics, such as providing recognized leadership and comprehensive planning policy, it has not articulated specific program objectives, the steps needed to achieve those objectives and the priorities, milestones, and performance measures needed to gauge results," said the report titled "DoD Needs to Establish Clear Goals and Objectives, Guidance and a Designated Budget to Manage its Biometrics Activities. …

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