Pentagon maintains a DNA database with 80,000 DNA profiles

Published 15 December 2008

The Pentagon has built a DNA database with about 80,000 DNA profiles of suspected terrorists; database has grown dramatically in the last two years (it had only 15,000 profiles in 2006)

The ultimate biometric database would be a DNA database — and the United States has one. Defense officials and documents reveal that the Pentagon has cataloged 80,000 DNA profiles in an obscure database that holds genetic information on foreign terrorism suspects and detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Joint Federal Agencies Intelligence DNA Database has grown by more than 400 percent since the end of 2006, when it held 15,000 DNA profiles. The Army, which maintains the database for use by the military, FBI, and other intelligence agencies, has not previously disclosed its size or growth.

USA Today’s Peter Eisler writes that Pentagon officials would not provide any more information about the database, including details about the rapid growth in collected samples or how they were collected. Lt. Col. Lee Packnett, an Army spokesman, confirmed to USA Today that “currently there are approximately 80,000 profiles in the database.”

The database provides “information that you can actually use to prevent something bad from happening,” says Kevin Lothridge, CEO of the National Forensic Science Technology Center, a government-funded, nonprofit institute that provides forensic training and consulting for the public and private sectors. Lothridge says DNA profiles could be used to identify an Iraqi detainee whose genetic profile links him to particular bombing incidents, or to identify potential terrorists trying to enter the USA with fake identification.

Eisler writes that the DNA database originated from an initiative called Black Helix which envisioned “a secure depository and interactive database, which will focus on archiving, retrieving and interpreting biomolecular data for the identification and tracking of terrorist suspects,” according to a 2007 report by the Defense Science Board (see the relevant section in the ”Report of the Defense Science Board on Defense Biometrics”). The database is overseen by a working group of officials from the Defense Department, FBI, and select intelligence agencies.

The Pentagon database includes genetic information taken directly from detainees and terror suspects, usually through oral swabs, as well as biometric data lifted from physical evidence, such as bomb making materials, cell phones and other items collected in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, according to the science board’s report. 

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