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I was vaguely aware of the extensive biometric data collection by American forces in Afghanistan. I never imagined it was so terribly efficient. Reportedly, up to 80% of the Afghan population, presumably adult population, have been captured with iris, fingerprint or DNA data and some level of notation about the individual. This was supposed to help deny Taliban agents access to villages, as they would pop up as strangers, not in the system as locals. The data became a basis of arrest, trial, and conviction of bombers or anyone who got his fingerprints on a piece that went into a bomb. AND. This information was never safeguarded, never compartmentalized, never rigged for U.S. remote data destruction. This is an intelligence and human catastrophe well beyond any managed by any of our alphabet soup agencies in the Cold War. The biometric data may well prove more harmful than all the tradition military equipment we left behind, written about and depicted in cool graphics.
Now the Taliban’s most sophisticated wing, the Haqqani Network, backed by Pakistani ISI intelligence advisers, is going door to door in Afghanistan. We may have abandoned thousands of hand-held portable scanners, with which everyone can be checked against the master database, that we allowed the Afghan “national” government to nominally control, in a Kabul office now in the hands of the Taliban and their Pakistani senior partners. The results are terrifying and were entirely foreseeable by those running the program right up to the final days.
The massive database and query program should have been rigged with a self-destruct routine that should have been executed at least the night our senior military brass directed the abandonment of Bagram Air Base. Public Intelligence, an independent watchdog organization with original reporting cited in major world media stories, wrote about the program, without flagging the massive risk, in 2014. Public Intelligence writers’ main concern in “Identity Dominance” was the apparently unchallengeable, but uncorroborated, testimony a fingerprint had in a young Afghan man’s trial for conspiracy in a bomb-making plot.
All biometric data collected in Afghanistan is ultimately sent back to the DOD’s Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS) located in West Virginia, where it is stored and also shared with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and FBI. Partnerships with other nations also allow the DOD to run data against biometrics collected by foreign governments and law enforcement.
Though the use of biometrics is relatively new for U.S. forces, collection efforts in Afghanistan have become ubiquitous, taking in data on large swaths of the population from government officials to local villagers. In 2009, it was reported that even foreign journalists covering the war in Afghanistan would be required to provide their biometric data before being accredited and provided access to military facilities. The collection of biometric data is viewed as being so essential to the war effort that the Afghan Ministry of Interior was enlisted to help run a program called Afghan 1000, which provides a comprehensive framework for collecting biometric data on the citizens of Afghanistan. The program established a goal of enrolling eighty percent of the country’s population by 2012, covering nearly 25 million people. While the actual enrollment numbers are not public, the Afghan 1000 program has been in operation for several years, collecting data for every traveler passing through Kabul International Airport, border crossings and Afghan Population Registration Department offices throughout the country.
The stated goal of the Afghan effort is no less than the collection of biometric data for every living person in Afghanistan. At a conference with Afghan officials in 2010, the commander of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Biometrics Col. Craig Osborne told the attendees that the collection of biometric data is not simply about “identifying terrorists and criminals,” but that “it can be used to enable progress in society and has countless applications for the provision of services to the citizens of Afghanistan.” According to Osborne, biometrics provide the Afghan government with “identity dominance” enabling them to know who their citizens are and link actions with actors. “Your iris design belongs only to you and your left and right irises are different,” Osborne said at the conference. “A name can be changed or altered illegally or even legally, but once your iris is formed at the age of six months, it cannot be altered, duplicated or forged.”
This system, this program of programs, is inherently deadly to the Afghan people. That top leaders in our military and in our intelligence community did not recognize and act to strongly mitigate the risks they were imposing on other people’s lives is just one more boulder that should be dropped on them in condemnation. Public Intelligence provided a link to a copy of the For Official Use Only (lowest level of classification, supposed to prevent unrestricted public release) U.S. Army Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) product the “2011 U.S. Army Commander’s Guide to Biometrics in Afghanistan.” I read that copy and found not a chapter, not a paragraph, not a word of caution about the massive digital IED they were strongly encouraging commanders to help construct.
Now the Taliban and their Pakistani partners are detonating the daisy-chained digital data bomb, one door, one checkpoint at a time. Zengler News reported in-depth on August 28, 2021:
EXCLUSIVE: First-Ever Interview With Terror Leader Who’s Hunting Americans and Allies in Afghanistan
In a rare interview, a Taliban commander confirms the existence of a special unit called Al Isha using U.S. data to hunt enemies.
Nawazuddin Haqqani, one of the brigade commanders over the Al Isha unit, bragged in an interview with Zenger News, that his unit is using U.S.-made hand-held scanners to tap into a massive U.S.-built biometric database and positively identify any person who helped the NATO allies or worked with Indian intelligence. Afghans who try to deny or minimize their role will find themselves contradicted by the detailed computer records that the U.S. left behind in its frenzied withdrawal.
[ . . . ]
U.S. officials have not confirmed how many of the 7,000 hand-held scanners were left behind or whether the biometric database could be remotely deleted.
Now one of the chief terrorists in Afghanistan boasts:
“We’re in control of the Interior Ministry and the national biometric database they kept. We have everyone’s data with us now — including journalists and so-called human rights people.”
[ . . . ]
Now that identity dominance belongs to the Taliban. “We are not collecting new data — we already have it,” said Nawazuddin Haqqani. “The group [Al Isha] just keeps an eye that if someone has worked for America or the National Directorate of Security [the former Afghan government’s intelligence agency].” The database is also used to find any person who worked with British, European or Indian intelligence services, he said.
[ . . . ]
Asked about reports that Pakistani intelligence officers were supervising the Al Isha unit’s use of biometric data to interrogate former U.S. allies, Nawazuddin Haqqani didn’t deny the Pakistan connection. “You are not that naive — you know the answer to that,” he said. “But what I can say is, it’s not necessary to train everyone in Pakistan. The Emirs [local Taliban chieftains] are quite capable of training the foot soldiers to handle the equipment.”
So, we have betrayed every Afghan whoever came in any positive contact with us AND we have betrayed sources working for all our real allies in the area. Indian intelligence agency assets, NATO countries’ assets, all have likely been burned if they were not kept out of the digital panopticon. Add this to the specifications in an Article 32 hearing (preliminary to court-martialing General Milley) or his impeachment, whichever proves more effective. Not one 4-star general or admiral in this current cohort can be allowed to retire with their latest rank and retain that prestige beyond 2022. Republicans must now demand and then legislate a reversion to this cohort’s last permanent ranks, a small but important symbolic rebuke.Published in