Scanning prisoners’ irises is just Step 1. In Afghanistan, local and NATO forces are amassing biometric dossiers on hundreds of thousands of cops, crooks, soldiers, insurgents and ordinary citizens. And now, with NATO’s backing, the Kabul government is putting together a plan to issue biometrically backed identification cards to 1.65 million Afghans by next May.
The idea is to hinder militant movement around the country, and to keep Taliban infiltrators out of the army, NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan commander Lt. Gen. William Caldwell tells Danger Room. “The system allows the Afghans to thoroughly screen applicants and recruits for any potential negative past history or criminal linkages, while at the same time it provides an additional measure of security at checkpoints and major facilities to prevent possible entrance and access by malign actors in Afghanistan,” Caldwell e-mails.
It’s a high-tech upgrade to a classic counterinsurgency move — simultaneously taking a census of the population, culling security forces of double agents and cutting off guerrilla routes. (Plus, bombs and weapons can be swabbed for fingerprints to build files on insurgent suspects.) Gen. David Petraeus, now commander of the Afghan war effort, relied heavily on biometrics during his time in command of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Twenty to 25 Afghans a week are currently caught in the biometric sweep, military officials estimate. That number could grow significantly in the months to come. The “population registration division” of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Interior is “embarking on a program to develop, print and distribute biometrically enabled national ID cards,” e-mails Col. Craig Osbourne, the director of NATO’s Task Force Biometrics.
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