EXCLUSIVE This Is How the US Military’s Massive Facial Recognition System Works
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EXCLUSIVE This Is How the US Military’s Massive Facial Recognition System Works

Over the past 15 years, the United States military has developed a new addition to its arsenal. The weapon is set up around the world, mostly invisible, and grows more powerful by the day.

That weapon is a Huge database, Packed with countless images of faces, irises, fingerprints, and DNA information — a biometric dragnet of anyone who has come in contact with the U.S. military abroad. The 7.4 million identities from the database range from suspected terrorists in military zones to allied soldiers training with U.S. forces.

Allows us to focus our lethality. It is like ripping the camouflage netting off the enemy ammunition dump,” wrote Glenn Krizay, director of the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency, in notes obtained by OneZero. The Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency (DFBA) is tasked with overseeing the database, also known formally as the Automated Biometric Information System (ABIS).

DFBA and its ABIS database have Received little scrutiny or press given the central role they play in U.S. army’s intelligence operations. However, a newly obtained presentation and notes written by the DFBA’s manager, Krizay, shows the way the company functions and biometric identification was used to spot non-U.S. citizens on the battlefield thousands of occasions in the first half of 2019 alone. Once flagged, these folks can be identified through surveillance systems on battlefields, close borders around the world, and on military bases.

With greater focus, and if desired, lethality.”

The demonstration also sheds light Based on Krizay’s demonstration, ABIS is joined to the FBI’s biometric database, and this is in turn connected to databases utilized by local and state law enforcement. Ultimately, that means that the U.S. military can easily search against biometric information of U.S. citizens and cataloged non-citizens. The DFBA is also now working to join its information to the Department of Homeland Security’s biometric database. The system will finally amount to a global surveillance system. In his notes, Krizay summarizes a possible scenario in which data from a defendant in Detroit will be run against data collected from”some mountaintop from Asia.”

The documents, which can be embedded In full below, were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request. These records were presented earlier this year at a closed-door defense biometrics conference known as the Identity Management Symposium.

ABIS is the result of a massive Investment to biometrics by the U.S. military. In accordance with national procurement documents examined by OneZero, the U.S. military has spent over $345 million in biometric database technologies in the previous ten decades. Leidos, a defense contractor that mostly focuses on information technologies, now manages the database in question. Ideal Innovations Incorporated functions a subsection of this database designed to control activity in Afghanistan, according to documents obtained by OneZero through another FOIA request.

All these contracts, combined with Revelations surrounding the military’s massive biometric database initiatives, paint an alarming picture: A large and fast growing community of surveillance systems run by the U.S. military and current anywhere the U.S. has deployed troops, vacuuming up biometric data on millions of unsuspecting people.

The military’s biometrics program, Started in 2004, initially centered on the collection and evaluation of fingerprints. “In a war with no boundaries, uniforms, or defined lines of struggle, understanding who is an enemy is essential,” John D. Woodward, Jr., head of the DoD’s biometrics department, wrote in a 2004 brief.

Defense contracted Lockheed Martin to start constructing a biometrics database to get an initial fee of $5 million. The department suggested that it had been just able to successfully retrieve five favorable games from 150 biometric searches. A later contract with defense industry giant Northrop resulted in similarly disappointing results with reports of”system instability, inconsistent processing times, system congestion, transaction errors, and also a 48-hour outage.”

By 2016, the DoD had begun to create Severe investments in biometric data collection. This year, the Defense Department deputy secretary Robert O. Work designated biometric identification as a critical capability for nearly everything the department does: fighting, intelligence gathering, law enforcement, safety, company, and counter-terrorism. Military leaders began to speak of biometric technology as a”game changer,” and directives from the DoD not only encouraged using their technology by analysts, but also by soldiers on the ground. Troops were taught to collect biometric information whenever possible.

The Identical year, a defense firm Named Leidos, that had acquired a huge portion of Lockheed’s government IT company, secured a $150 million contract to construct and deploy what’s now called the DoD ABIS system.

Added over 213,000 people to the BEWL, a subset of DoD’s ABIS database, according to a Government Accountability Office report. During that same period, the Department of Defense arrested or killed more than 1,700 people around the world on the grounds of forensic matches, the GAO report states.

Krizay’s presentation indicates That the United States utilized biometric matching to identify 4,467 people on the BEWL list in the first two quarters of 2019. The presentation slide breaks down the numbers: 2,728 of those games were of opposing forces carried out in the”theater,” or area of where U.S. troops have been controlled.

Presentation slides from Glenn June 2019. Presentation in full below.

DFBA claims that it has data on 7.4 Million unique identities inside its ABIS database, a vast majority of those sourced from military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the agency’s website.

That number is continually growing. The documents suggest the DoD can collect biometric information in detainees, voter enrollments, army enlistments in partner countries, employment vetting, or information given to the military.

“Almost every operation provides The chance to collect biometrics,” a 2014 document on military biometrics says. “While quality is desired over amount, maximizing enrollments from the database will likely identify more persons of interest”

A graphic from a 2014 procedural Document representing military usage of biometrics.

ABIS also enables different Operations and missions in order to produce their own biometric watchlists. These databases can be be plugged into custom-built military cellular devices used to scan fingerprints, irises, and match faces against databases, based on a 2014 file outlining biometric procedures across the branches of the armed forces.

Display slides from Glenn Krizay, manager of the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency. June 2019. Presentation in full below.

“Fusion of an established identity And information we all know about allows us to decide and act with increased attention, and if desired, lethality,” Krizay wrote in his demonstration.

But much is still unknown about how The DFBA and defense agencies utilize facial recognition and biometric information. A FOIA request which would return information about those systems was denied in part by the U.S. Army.

“Public release would be tantamount To supplying uncontrolled overseas access,” the response letter stated.

In his presentation notes for the Annual Identity Management Symposium, Krizay hints at the future of DFBA and ABIS.

“We will still need to reveal Adversary broker networks, identify and track proxy forces, protect our rear areas and lines of communication, accounts for enemy prisoners of war, and identify high value individuals,” he wrote.

The demonstration suggests that the Department hopes to integrate biometrics widely into security measures.

“We have already shown we can’t Protected our personnel systems,” he wrote. “If Wikileaks can obtain over a half a thousand of our accounts, what can the likes of China or Russia do?”

DFBA also aims to better incorporate ABIS with other similar databases across the government. Even with DFBA being pitched as the central point of digital biometrics for the army, the department remains not able to share data with the Department of Homeland Security’s biometrics system due to formatting issues. In 2021, the DoD is expected to give a contract to get a new version of its biometrics program, one which brings identification software to the cloud and adds even more capabilities.

“In case Wikileaks can obtain over a Half a thousand of our reports, what can the likes of China or Russia do?”

Meanwhile, critics of facial Recognition and biometric technology both in and outside of government fret about the truth of the technologies and how it is used, particularly in regards to bias inherent in a lot of machine learning, as well as privacy violations.

The U.S. Commerce Departments’ When implemented in combat situations, such discrepancies could have deadly consequences for individuals misidentified by automated systems.

“It’s unlikely That We’ll ever Achieve a stage where every single demographic is equal in performance throughout the board, whether that is age, sex or race,” Charles Romine, manager of the Information Technology Lab at NIST, advised the House Homeland Security Committee in June 2019. “we would like to understand just exactly how much the difference is.”

Executives at Leidos, the Builder who built ABIS, don’t share similar issues about the validity of their data. “Interestinglythe latest U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) evaluations show that the top-performing algorithms really work with black faces compared to white faces,” Leidos Vice President John Mears composed on the Leidos site.

It is not clear which tests Mears is Referring to on the NIST website, but when contacted concerning that quote, NIST did not support his own claim.

“As a wide blanket statement it is Not right,” a NIST spokesperson informed OneZero, adding a report studying demographics in facial recognition is now underway.

Leidos declined to comment with this Story, also referred all questions regarding the DoD when asked how it assessed for prejudice in its facial recognition algorithms.

This technical challenge Isn’t Slowing down the adoption of biometrics. It’s uncertain how many identities have been added to ABIS because Krizay’s demonstration, or because DFBA last updated its site. Every indicator suggests the military is simply growing its capacity of collecting a growing number of data.

As that data is further connected To sources like the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. military’s surveillance program grows stronger.

“We Aren’t wandering in the dark,” Krizay composed in his presentation. “We all know who people are and more of what they Have done”

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