The biometric battle space in Iraq

Washington Post:

For thousands of Iranians, traveling to Iraq through this bustling, dusty gateway now requires stopping at small white trailers where U.S. officials take their photos and record scans of their irises and fingerprints.

U.S. officials collect the biometric information of virtually all "military-age men" in an effort to stop the entry of weapons and fighters. Since officials began gathering biometric data at border posts this spring, more than 150,000 individuals have been scanned and photographed.

Their records have been added to a burgeoning database that also includes biometric information about Iraqis and foreigners employed on American bases, as well as Iraqis who are detained or interrogated by U.S. forces. American officials use the data to identify people on wanted lists, search for suspicious travel patterns, and look for matches in a separate database that includes fingerprints collected after bombings and other attacks.

"It's a bad situation," said Hamid Alavi, 27, an Iranian pilgrim, voicing exasperation about the increased U.S. military presence at Zurbatiyah. "The American people -- do they like this behavior? It's sad."

Twenty-eight teams of U.S. military officials, customs experts and former U.S. Border Patrol agents working as private contractors have been sent to small outposts along Iraq's 2,270-mile border, where U.S. officials also employ ground sensors linked to satellite cameras and unmanned aerial vehicles.

U.S. officials say the dragnet has led to the detention of hundreds of "adversaries" and yielded a clearer understanding of smuggling networks. Officials plan to double the number of border teams by the end of the year.

"Internal security is getting much better," said Lt. Col. Steven Oluic, who serves as a liaison between the teams and top U.S. commanders in Baghdad. "Now what needs to happen is we need to help them shut down the borders to malign influence. Borders are now the hot issue."

...

Military-age men must pass through a trailer, where U.S. soldiers sit behind laptop computers emblazoned with a bat symbol, a reference to the acronym of the system: Biometrics Automated Toolset. The scanning and photography take a few minutes. In some cases, officials use a second scanner with facial recognition software.

U.S. officials began crafting a border security strategy in late 2005 to stem the flow of weapons and would-be suicide bombers into Iraq from Syria.

But since last year, Iraq's 900-mile border with Iran has become the top priority: U.S. officials have accused Iran of arming, training and financing militias in Iraq, a charge Iranian officials have consistently denied.

Though the borders remain porous, U.S. officials say the new measures have contributed to the sharp reduction of violence in Iraq this year by forcing fighters and smugglers to use more remote and dangerous routes.

"It's becoming more and more effective as the database is built," Oluic said. "Monthly, it's becoming more and more difficult to use the ports of entry" for weapons and fighters.

...

One of the strengths of the US is its ability to adapt technology to the battle space where a war is taking place. As enemies recognize that they cannot defeat the US in a major combat operation they attempt to develop means to fight us and our allies though stealth and terror. To accomplish that the enemy needs an environment where he can take advantage of the ambiguity of his forces and the time and place of attack. These biometric data bases remove ambiguity of person and make it harder for the enemy to move to contact or infiltrate an area.

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