Immigration vigilance is vital to national security! Who knew?
In the six-and-a-half years that the U.S. government has been fingerprinting insurgents, detainees and ordinary people in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa, hundreds have turned out to share an unexpected background, FBI and military officials said. They have criminal arrest records in the United States.
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Many of those with U.S. arrest records had come to the United States to study, said former Criminal Justice Information Services head Michael Kirkpatrick, who led the FBI effort to use biometrics in counterterrorism after Sept. 11. "It suggests there was some familiarity with Western culture, the United States specifically, and for whatever reason they did not agree with that culture," he said. "Either they became disaffected or put up with it, and then they went overseas."
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Already, fingerprints lifted off a bomb fragment have been linked to people trying to enter the United States, they said.
In a separate data-sharing program, 365 Iraqis who have applied to the Department of Homeland Security for refugee status have been denied because their fingerprints turned up in the Defense Department's database of known or suspected terrorists, Richardson said.
If Iraq and Afghanistan were a proving ground of sorts for biometric watch-listing, the U.S. government is moving quickly to try to build a domestic version. Since September 2006, Homeland Security and the FBI have been operating a pilot program in which police officers in Boston, Dallas and Houston run prints of arrestees against a Homeland Security database of immigration law violators and a State Department database of people refused visas. Federal job applicants' prints also are run against the databases. To date, some 500 people have been found in the database and thus are of interest to Homeland Security officials.
Steve Nixon, a director at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the effort is key to national security.
"When we look at the road and the challenges, globalization and the spread of technology has empowered small groups of individuals, bad guys, to be more powerful than at any other time in history," he said. "We have to know who these people are when we encounter them. A lot of what we're doing in intelligence now is trying to identify a person. Biometrics is a key element of that."