Biometrics in the trenchesDistinguishing friend from foe: Afghani biometrics database expanded

Published 17 August 2010

In 2009 there were more than 200,000 biometric enrollments put into the biometric identification system operated by Coalition forces in Afghanistan — a system aiming to determine whether members of the Afghan population are insurgents or innocent; 210,000 have been added already in 2010; the military’s goal is to get to 1.65 million enrollments; the Coalition is currently in the process of contracting out an Afghan company to provide Afghan enrollers to go around the country and work at border crossing points, international airports, district headquarters and district jails

Coalition forces in Afghanistan have different ways of gathering information to determine whether members of the Afghan population are insurgents or innocent. With the scan of an eye, biometrics has made the process easier.

There are multiple biometric systems used in today’s military: the biometrics automated toolset, the hand-held interagency identity detection equipment, and the secure electronic enrollment kit. “They make life easier,” said U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gregory Scarborough, 3rd Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, base defense non-commissioned officer in charge.

U.S. Army Sgt. Grant Matthes writes in that the method of getting a never-before-scanned individual in the biometric database is called enrolling. This consists of gathering the subject’s fingerprints, facial picture, and/or an iris scan. Personal information including name, province, district, and reason for the enrollment are also put into each enrollment file.

“Our platoon uses the HIIDE and BAT system to help with census,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Benjamin G. Olivarez from Company B, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st BCT, 101st Abn. Div. (HIIDE stands for Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment; BAT stands for Biometrics Automated Toolset System; for the use of HIIDE in Afghanistan, see “The promise, and risks, of battlefield biometrics,” 11 August 2010 HSNW).

There are three types of characteristic recognition associated with the BAT: fingerprints from all fingers on both hands, facial, which requires a photograph of the subject, and an iris scan of both eyes.

The HIIDE is compact, and requires only fingerprints of the index finger and the thumb on both hands. It also has an iris scanner that requires less time for a response from its database on personnel who are already in the system. “If they are already in the system, they pop up quick,” said Scarborough. “We keep the system with us on patrol to I.D. people to see if they would pop up.”

The SEEK (for Secure Electronic Enrolment Kit) is most used by special forces due to it having the same characteristics as the HIIDE but quicker to capture an image of the subject’s iris, and its lightweight design. Like the other machines, the SEEK has a fingerprint scanner.

Matthes notes that when materials like cell phones, weapons, and improvised explosive devices are found, they are taken to labs by coalition forces to get as much information as they can about the items. If there are fingerprints, they are scanned to a biometrics system. These fingerprints are stored in the system database, so if a person were to get detained or enrolled by coalition forces, and it happened to be the same individual from a previous attack where fingerprints were scanned, it would pop up on the system with information regarding the previous enrollment.

“Right now, there are over 18,000 unknown fingerprints that are in the database,” said U.S. Army Maj. Guy Yelverton, the Task Force Biometrics, Joint Task Force 435, executive officer.

There have been a couple of villages that have been enrolled because the village elder said they wanted to prove that they support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and are against Taliban, Yelverton said.

“It allows non-criminal males to have an easier time finding work, because if they haven’t been involved in criminal activity, it helps,” said U.S. Army Capt. Michelle Weinbaum, Task Force 435, Task Force Biometrics operations officer. “It’s not only proof of involvement, but also proof of non-involvement.”

In 2009 there were more than 200,000 enrollments put in the system. Yelverton said 210,000 have been added already in 2010. “Our goal is to get to 1.65 million enrollments,” said Yelverton.

“We are currently in the process of contracting out an Afghan company, to provide Afghan enrollers, to go around the country and work at border crossing points, international airports, district headquarters and district jails,” he said.

In addition, there was a program in Kandahar where coalition forces hired Afghans to enroll Afghans using the HIIDE. The program has been turned off for about two weeks now, said Yelverton.

“We were told that we will be able to continue operations once our force protection assets are back into place by the local military police company,” said Yelverton. “Afghans enrolling Afghans really works. “Not only did they do an awesome job, Afghans lined up to get enrolled by other Afghans.”

As the number of enrollments climbs, it will become easier for coalition forces to tie the crimes to the criminals.