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FCW : March 15, 2015
March 15, 2015 FCW.COM 15 accuracy and speed of facial and iris scans, while DOD is gradually deploy- ing a biometrics database whose accu- racy and cybersecurity need improving, according to a DOD auditor. For DOD to reap the benefits of this promising field in the coming years, it must address those shortcomings and find a way to use commercial technol- ogy to feed information into the data- base, according to practitioners and observers. Along those lines, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers recently listed biometrics as among a handful of technological chal- lenges facing DOD and the intelligence community. Roger Mason, a former senior adviser to the director of national intelligence and a biometrics expert, said that although law enforcement agencies have used fingerprinting for decades, the anonymity that is possible on the Internet has made biometrics intelligence more difficult in recent years. “The challenge that [Vickers] is referring to is that when you think about the ubiquity that biometrics now plays in all of our lives and com- bine that with the way that we inter- act with the Internet in terms of our personas, the challenge of anonymity and the challenge of trying to detect other identities becomes much more difficult,” said Mason, who is now a senior vice president at science and technology nonprofit Noblis. Mobilizing a DOD database The Army’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems is in charge of a DOD-wide biometrics database that has been in the works for half a decade. The Automated Biometric Identification System is a central repository for biometrics data from various combatant commands and military services. The system can process as many as 30,000 daily sub- missions and hold as many as 18 mil- lion records, according to PEO EIS. For example, a soldier on patrol in Afghanistan uses a device known as the Biometrics Automated Toolset to collect biometrics. Its hardware, called the Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit II, automatically captures and formats fingerprints and iris and facial images, and has a keyboard for soldiers to type in biographical information about the subject. The handheld device connects to a central workstation that links up with any of the several dozen servers across Afghanistan for storing biomet- rics data. The data is then sent to the ABIS database in West Virginia for cor- relation. The FBI and the departments of State and Homeland Security, among other agencies, use ABIS to identify biometrics matches for criminal cases and people on intelligence watchlists of suspected terrorists. ABIS, in short, is a giant initiative for collecting and sharing data, and its efficacy depends on the quality of the technology on which the system is built. The Army deployed its latest version (ABIS 1.2) in October 2014. It has dem- onstrated increased throughput and capacity, and offered an opportunity to refresh the system’s hardware, said Col. Sandy Vann-Olejasz, DOD biomet- rics program manager at PEO EIS. Full deployment of the system will occur no later than the first quarter of fiscal 2016, she added. The Army launched the initial ver- sion of ABIS (1.0) in January 2009, and DOD issued acquisition guidelines for ABIS 1.2 in January 2011, but the sys- tem was not deployed until three and half years later. Along the way, there were at least four failed attempts to deploy ABIS 1.2, according to a fiscal 2013 review by DOD’s director of oper- ational test and evaluation (OT&E). In one botched attempt, the two ver- sions of the database failed to operate in tandem. Vann-Olejasz said ABIS 1.2 over- came an important hurdle by requir- ing less manual labor to get a positive Biometrics are critical to the Defense Department’s global intelligence-collection efforts. U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, for exam- ple, take iris scans of field subjects and send the data to a DOD-wide database, where it is checked against a list of suspected terrorists. Biometrics technology and its applications for security are at a cru- cial juncture, experts say. The private sector is driving rapid improvements in the algorithms that determine the The Automated Biometric Identification System handles everything from iris scans of suspected combatants in Afghanistan to visitor screening at select U.S. military bases. 0315fcw_014-016.indd 15 2/23/15 4:17 PM
March 30, 2015