FCW.com News – DOD surges on biometrics 

  • DOD is getting more money for biometric technologies to be used in Iraq.  It’s interesting to see how biometrics and information technology are coming together here to create what we might call “bio-informatic-warfare.”  However, it seems that many of the problems here do not really have to do so much with biometrics as with the ineffective use of databases, which, let’s face it, are not exactly new technology.  (Excerpts followed by my bulleted comments.)

The military has been using biometrics, which can include fingerprints, iris patterns and DNA information, to control access to U.S. installations in Iraq for several years. The Pentagon accelerated those efforts since late 2004, when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a U.S. base near Mosul, killing more than 20 people.

More recently, troops on the ground have started using biometrics as a law enforcement and forensics tool in stabilization and intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said John Young, DOD’s director of Defense research and engineering.

For example, military officials are employing biometric tools to track how insurgents manufacture and plant improvised explosive devices, he said.

Marines also use biometric information in what they call census operations. During such operations, Marines enter Iraqi homes to collect data about who lives in a village or city block, Robert Carey, the Navy’s chief information officer, said at a recent breakfast sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council. The idea is to build a database of individuals considered regular citizens so officials can quickly identify potential trouble-makers who move in from elsewhere.

But incompatible databases used to record information in various parts of Iraq hamper efforts to create a map of the human terrain, as officials call it.

Meanwhile, Carey, who recently returned from service in Iraq as a Navy Reserve officer, said disparate databases create other problems in the collection and storage of information about IED events.

Carey said U.S. troops often use Excel spreadsheets to store data about such incidents. “That’s the same as doing it on pen and paper,” he said. “We need a relational database, where we can analyze and massage the data.”

  • Relational databases aren’t exactly new. I created a rather sophisticated one in FileMaker Pro to manage my research information for my dissertation. Granted, it took me a couple months to design it and to figure out how to build it. But that was starting from scratch; and I had never worked with FileMaker or built any kind of database before. Are there no operations research and systems analysis specialists in the field who could build a database?