Jihad John And The Future Of The Biometrics Terror Hunt; Identity Management A Disruptive Force For Intelligence Community, Law Enforcement

Jihad John And The Future Of The Biometrics Terror Hunt; Identity Management A Disruptive Force For Intelligence Community, Law Enforcement


“Jihad John And The Future Of The Biometrics Terror Hunt,” — that’s the title of an article on this morning’s (Feb.27, 2015) DefenseOne website by Patrick Tucker. The field of biometrics has been a disruptive force in the U.S. Intelligence Community, and no doubt to law enforcement — especially in the last five years — as the science matures. And, biometrics/identity management appears to have played a prominent role in ultimately discovering Jihad John’s true identity. An entity that is at the epicenter of this growing, disruptive force, is the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, or CJIS, which houses the FBI’s Biometric Center of Excellence. As Mr. Tucker notes “the Center is not a place so much as a program begun in 2007, that plays a key role in making use of all the biometric data that comes into the FBI’s possession. That’s every fingerprint, every image, and every phone message that anyone sends the FBI.”

“Bottom line for us…if any of our divisions, whether it be our counter terrorism division, or criminal division, if at any time during their investigations they develop biometrics [signatures]…they submit it through our system,” said Stephen Morris, Assistant Director of the CJIS, told Defense One, at a recent conference in Washington. In terms of identifying Jihad John, Agent Morris said, “I’m not going to tell you we did it,” but he added, “You have to have something to search…you can have images with faces; but, if you’re not capturing it right away, if there’s not data in that image to make a comparison, it’s not useful.”

“This is in part, why the Biometric Center plays a role in bringing parties and their biometric databases together,” Mr. Tucker observed. The FBI’s system is called the Next Generation identification system, or NGI. It includes photos, aliases, physical characteristics, and of course, fingerprints. Today, it’s completely inter-operable, with the military’s Automated Biometric Identification System; or, ABIS, and the Department of Homeland Security’s Automated Biometric Identification System, or IDENT. The center also works with the State Department, and allied law enforcement agencies around the world. The FBI and Britain’s MI5 have been working together to identify Jihad John.”

As Mr. Tucker correctly notes, “obtaining a biometrric record on a suspect to match against a terrorist video of a masked jihadi…is not something done easily, or robotically. It requires old school investigation, either sifting through lots of hours of collected video footage, and comparing that to crime videos (such as beheadings), or going out into the field, to find voice samples on suspects to match against crime videos, or both. This is where the Defense Department’s extensive library of biometric signatures, gathered on the field in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, can play a role in future investigations. The department’s biometrically enabled watch list, or BEWL, houses more than 200K records.”

“I can’t speak enough about our relationship with the Department of Defense. After 9/11, our mission on the ground changed. It was all about national security, our partnership with DHS, and DoD — to say it expanded, is an understatement,” Morris said, at a recent biometrics conference in Washington D.C. “Their ABIS system was connected to our system, so they have a small group of folks who are out there [West Virginia], in charge of their system. Having them co-locate with us has been very important.”

“That important relationship is about to get a lot more intimate,” Mr. Tucker writes. “Later this year, the FBI is going to open an approximately $328M, 360K, square foot Biometric Technology Center next to their current CJIS campus. The Defense Department will get about 40K square feet in the building, which will also consolidate the FBI’s biometric workers and operations.” “Anything and everything we do, will be run out of that building,” said Morris.

“In September 2014, the FBI announced that their $1.2B NGI system, was fully operational (it was rolled out in increments over a period of years). The system is meant to provide law enforcement with a very fast, and reliable sense of exactly who they are talking to, what threat that individual may pose, and what records they’ve left — fingerprints, voiceprints, etc., in what places,” Mr. Tucker wrote.

“But, fingerprints don’t help you capture everyone,” Mr. Tucker observes. “Voice recognition played a key role in the identification of Jihad John, according to published reports. The FBI’s biometic center site lists voice recognition as one of its key modalities or areas of study, along with DNA and others, but fingerprints and more traditional biometric signatures make up a bulk of the records it manages. Voice, in many ways, represents a crucial gap in biometrics collection for both the Defense Department and law enforcement. In a noisy environment, it can be very hard to get a dataset to do matching against, a huge technical issue that the government is looking to solve.”

“Some of the men fighting with ISIS today have probably left their fingerprints in a few places where law enforcement could pick them up…and share them,” Mr. Tucker concludes. “Technology, by itself, won’t find those places. But, once the data is found, it can make positive identification much faster, and easier, as it apparently has with ISIS’s most famous fiend.”

Identity Management/Biometrics Is Revolutionizing The Intelligence Collection Domain; And, Also Significantly Undermining Our Ability To Keep Someone Undercover For An Extended Period Of Time

The field of biometrics and identity management has been undergoing disruptive and revolutionary change the past decade, as staying hidden and/or undercover is becoming increasingly difficult. DNA-shedding, Iris and facial recognition, fingerprints that now can be downloaded from a personal photograph on the Internet, digital exhaust, overhead drones, retailers tracking us through our cell phones, and data brokers watching us as we browse the web — and, the list goes on. Staying hidden, anonymous, or undercover is becoming increasingly difficult and extremely challenging. As Candace Cooper wrote on the November 24, 2014 website, Inside Counsel (IC), “biometrics are unique data markers that identify [us] using intrinsic physical or behavioral characteristics. Physical characteristics can include fingerprints, face prints (facial recognition-ready photographs); Iris scans, palm and voice prints, wrist veins, hand geometry, a person’s gait, and DNA. Behavioral biometrics include non-biological, or non-physical features such as distinctive and unique mannerisms (signature or keystroke patterns, habitual behaviors).” And, adds Ms. Cooper, [personal] data collection is easily accomplished and does not necessarily require your cooperation, nor awareness.”

Dan Moren, writing in the December 30, 2014 website, Popular Science, “biometrics has long been put forth as the next big thing in authentication, replacing, or supplementing the concept of “things that you know,” — passwords, PINS, and so on, with “things that are you.” “But despite lots of advances in the realm of biometric authentication, it’s clear that there’s still plenty of room for improvement.”

“Hackers have found ways to trick and circumvent biometric authentication that relies on factors like fingerprints or facial recognition; and, it’s not hard to imagine that they’ll also find ways around more advanced authentication methods, too””

“In the end,” Mr. Moren writes, “what may prove most effective is a mix of methods, all of which add up to prove that you are in fact….you. While you may be familiar with security that employs fingerprints, voice, and retinas, we’re guessing at least a few of these biometric authentication methods under development will surprise you,” he writes.

Ear Ear

“You heard it here,” Mr. Moren writes. “The shape of your ear is just as distinguishing as your fingerprints; no two ears — even on the same person — are alike. Startup Descartes Biometrics has come up with an app that can identify smartphone users by the way they press the phone to their ear and cheek — though it is less-than-consistent recognition means that this particular app isn’t yet ready for prime time;

Follow Your Heart

The Nymi, is an in-development wristband that takes an Electrocardiogram (ECG) – measuring the electrical signal generated by your heart’s activity — and, uses it to authenticate your identity. “You can then use the Nymi as a secure token for unlocking access to other devices, such as smartphones and computers. To date, identifying by ECG is less proven than fingerprints, or iris/retina recognition, but give the burgeoning popularity of smart devices that measure your heart rate, it could end up being a convenient method of identification;

Butt Biometrics

“I suppose you could say there’s just one ‘but’ about this biometric authentication method — and it’s your posterior, Turns out your keister,” Mr. Moren writes, “or, more specifically, the way you sit — can be used to identify you. One team of researchers has created a prototype of a car seat that can tell who’s sitting in it. It’s not only great for making sure that only you (or, presumably your family) can start your car; but also potentially handy for ensuring that your seat, mirrors, and other preferences are automatically adjusted for you;”

The Eye Movements Have It

“Authentication via parts of the eye, like the retina or iris, has been around for a while,” Mr. Moren acknowledges, “but, an Israeli company wants to use the unique movements of your eyes to identify you. It seems we move our eyes in predictable patterns when doing certain tasks, such as following an icon across a screen. The advantages of the system are that it’s tough to fool, since it requires a real-time response to a stimulus, rather than a static factor like a fingerprint; and, it’s fairly easy to implement. The downside, I imagine, is that it requires eye contact (which may not be easy when you’re driving for instance) and, is probably a little slower than using something like a fingerprint;”

The Nose Knows

“Not only is your olfactory organ good for smelling ; but, British researchers have established that it’s also a handy way to tell you apart from your neighbor. Like your ears, your nose is distinct — probably belonging to one of six common nose types — and it is unlikely to be mistaken for anybody else’s. It’s also easy to recognize, though changing your nose is hardly as tough as changing — say — your eyes. Hollywood can vouch for that;”

You’re So Vein

“While your fingerprints may be the biometric standby these days, there are some issues with relying on them too heavily. For one, they’re fairly easy to copy. Second, if someone is truly invested in breaking into your accounts, that may provide enough enticement to (gulp), remove a finger. Vein matching, on the other hand, can also use a finger, or a palm, but provides few additional benefits — most notably that the veins must be from a living person in order to work, and that they’re very hard to fake;”

The Sniff Test

“When that grade school bully taunted “Smell ya later,” he probably didn’t realize that he was predicting another potential biometric method,” of identity management. That’s right,” Mr. Moren notes, “your distinct body odor — and we’re making no judgments here — can be used to identify you. Researchers at the Polytechnical University of Madrid, have studied how scents differ among people; and, built an artificial nose, which they say can differentiate between two people by their smell. Like a bloodhound. The U.S. Army is interested in similar technology, which it would like to use to help suss out potential threats. It’s still early days, though the artificial nose can filter out smells like hand cream, or changes in odor — caused by diet or disease; but the Madrid team’s technology still has a failure rate of around 10 percent.”

As the Sting/Police song goes, “Every move you make, every breath you take, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.” V/R, RCP

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