Defense Biometrics:

Additional Training for Leaders and More Timely Transmission of Data Could Enhance the Use of Biometrics in Afghanistan

GAO-12-442: Published: Apr 23, 2012. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 2012.

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What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has trained thousands of personnel on the use of biometrics since 2004, but biometrics training for leaders does not provide detailed instructions on how to effectively use and manage biometrics collection tools. The Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military services, and U.S. Central Command each has emphasized in key documents the importance of training. Additionally, the Army, Marine Corps, and U.S. Special Operations Command have trained personnel prior to deployment to Afghanistan in addition to offering training resources in Afghanistan. DODÂ’s draft instruction for biometrics emphasizes the importance of training leaders in the effective employment of biometrics collection, but existing training does not instruct military leaders on (1) the effective use of biometrics, (2) selecting the appropriate personnel for biometrics collection training, and (3) tracking personnel who have been trained in biometrics collection to effectively staff biometrics operations. Absent this training, military personnel are limited in their ability to collect high-quality biometrics data to better confirm the identity of enemy combatants.

Several factors during the transmission process limit the use of biometrics in Afghanistan. Among them is unclear responsibility for the completeness and accuracy of biometrics data during their transmission. As a result, DOD cannot expeditiously correct data transmission issues as they arise, such as the approximately 4,000 biometrics collected from 2004 to 2008 that were separated from their associated identities. Such decoupling renders the data useless and increases the likelihood of enemy combatants going undetected within Afghanistan and across borders. Factors affecting the timely transmission of biometrics data include the biometrics architecture with multiple servers, mountainous terrain, and mission requirements in remote areas. These factors can prevent units from accessing transmission infrastructure for hours to weeks at a time. The DOD biometrics directive calls for periodic assessments, and DOD is tracking biometrics data transmission time in Afghanistan, but DOD has not determined the viability and cost-effectiveness of reducing transmission time.

Lessons learned from U.S. military forces' experiences with biometrics in Afghanistan are collected and used by each of the military services and U.S. Special Operations Command. Military services emphasize the importance of using lessons learned to sustain, enhance, and increase preparedness to conduct future operations, but no requirements exist for DOD to disseminate existing biometrics lessons learned across the department.

Why GAO Did This Study

The collection of biometrics data, including fingerprints and iris patterns, enables U.S. counterinsurgency operations to identify enemy combatants and link individuals to events such as improvised explosive device detonations. GAO was asked to examine the extent to which (1) DOD's biometrics training supports warfighter use of biometrics, (2) DOD is effectively collecting and transmitting biometrics data, and (3) DOD has developed a process to collect and disseminate biometrics lessons learned. To address these objectives, GAO focused on the Army and to a lesser extent on the Marine Corps and U.S. Special Operations Command, since the Army collected about 86 percent of the biometrics enrollments in Afghanistan. GAO visited training sites in the United States, observed biometrics collection and transmission operations at locations in Afghanistan, reviewed relevant policies and guidance, and interviewed knowledgeable officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD take several actions to: expand leadership training to improve employment of biometrics collection, help ensure the completeness and accuracy of transmitted biometrics data, determine the viability and cost-effectiveness of reducing transmission times, and assess the merits of disseminating biometrics lessons learned across DOD for the purposes of informing relevant policies and practices. GAO requested comments from DOD on the draft report, but none were provided.

For more information, contact Brian Lepore, 202-512-4523, leporeb@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has made significant progress towards addressing this recommendation. For example, between February 2015 and January 2017, DOD included 17 biometrics-related tasks on its Universal Joint Task List which is a menu of tasks in common language that serves as the foundation for joint operation planning and is one of the first steps towards developing training and education, among other things. These tasks include identifying threat networks, coordinating and collecting biometric material, and conducting site exploitation. DOD also issued a number of policy and guidance documents that addressed biometrics training, including DOD Directive 8521.01E on defense biometrics (January 2016); multi-service tactics, techniques, and procedures addressing the tactical use of biometrics (May 2016); and, a Joint Doctrine Note on identity activities (August 2016). DOD officials identified individual areas where they have incorporated biometrics into training courses, including an elective offered at the Army War College addressing biometrics and forensics support to the security sector; an elective offered at the National Intelligence University addressing identity intelligence which includes biometrics and forensics; and a course at the Defense Intelligence Agency Academy addressing identity intelligence. Further, Navy officials noted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has developed and incorporated biometrics training in courses offered at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and the Navy's efforts to provide biometrics training to their Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure Teams.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that training supports warfighter use of biometrics, the Secretary of Defense should direct the military services and Special Operations Command to expand biometrics training for leaders to include the effective use of biometrics in combat operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has made significant progress towards addressing this recommendation. For example, between February 2015 and January 2017, DOD included 17 biometrics-related tasks on its Universal Joint Task List which is a menu of tasks in common language that serves as the foundation for joint operation planning and is one of the first steps towards developing training and education, among other things. These tasks include identifying threat networks, coordinating and collecting biometric material, and conducting site exploitation. DOD also issued a number of policy and guidance documents that addressed biometrics training, including DOD Directive 8521.01E on defense biometrics (January 2016); multi-service tactics, techniques, and procedures addressing the tactical use of biometrics (May 2016); and, a Joint Doctrine Note on identity activities (August 2016). DOD officials identified individual areas where they have incorporated biometrics into training courses, including an elective offered at the Army War College addressing biometrics and forensics support to the security sector; an elective offered at the National Intelligence University addressing identity intelligence which includes biometrics and forensics; and a course at the Defense Intelligence Agency Academy addressing identity intelligence. Further, Navy officials noted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has developed and incorporated biometrics training in courses offered at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and the Navy's efforts to provide biometrics training to their Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure Teams.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that training supports warfighter use of biometrics, the Secretary of Defense should direct the military services and Special Operations Command to expand biometrics training for leaders to include the importance of selecting appropriate candidates for training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD has made significant progress towards addressing this recommendation. For example, between February 2015 and January 2017, DOD included 17 biometrics-related tasks on its Universal Joint Task List which is a menu of tasks in common language that serves as the foundation for joint operation planning and is one of the first steps towards developing training and education, among other things. These tasks include identifying threat networks, coordinating and collecting biometric material, and conducting site exploitation. DOD also issued a number of policy and guidance documents that addressed biometrics training, including DOD Directive 8521.01E on defense biometrics (January 2016); multi-service tactics, techniques, and procedures addressing the tactical use of biometrics (May 2016); and, a Joint Doctrine Note on identity activities (August 2016). DOD officials identified individual areas where they have incorporated biometrics into training courses, including an elective offered at the Army War College addressing biometrics and forensics support to the security sector; an elective offered at the National Intelligence University addressing identity intelligence which includes biometrics and forensics; and a course at the Defense Intelligence Agency Academy addressing identity intelligence. Further, Navy officials noted the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has developed and incorporated biometrics training in courses offered at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and the Navy's efforts to provide biometrics training to their Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure Teams.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that training supports warfighter use of biometrics, the Secretary of Defense should direct the military services and Special Operations Command to expand biometrics training for leaders to include the importance of tracking who has completed biometrics training prior to deployment to help ensure appropriate assignments of biometrics collection responsibilities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In December 2013 Congress reinforced our recommendations in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014, directing DOD to brief Congress on the most appropriate element to take responsibility for defining and managing the end-to-end performance of the biometric enterprise, beginning and ending at the point of biometric encounter. In response, in September 2014 DOD provided a briefing to Congress that identified the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency as responsible for managing the end-to-end performance of the biometric enterprise, given its defense biometrics Executive Agent authorities. In January 2016 DOD updated its directive on defense biometrics, which highlighted that the DOD biometrics enterprise provides a critical end-to-end capability to support decision-making across the full range of military operations, and further assigned the Secretary of the Army with responsibility for leading and executing activities for the DOD biometrics enterprise. Based on these actions, we believe DOD has addressed our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the completeness and accuracy of transmitted biometrics data, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, through the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, and in coordination with the military services, Special Operations Command, and Central Command, to identify and assign responsibility for biometrics data throughout the transmission process, regardless of the pathway the data travels, to include the time period between when warfighters submit their data from the biometrics collection device until the biometrics data reach DOD's Automated Biometric Identification System (ABIS).

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Open

    Comments: In January 2016, DOD published Directive 8521.01E, Defense Biometrics, which directs the Secretary of the Army to measure the health and performance of the DOD Biometrics Enterprise and generate results for the Biometrics Principal Staff Assistant and the DOD Biometrics Executive Committee. OUSD(AT&L) and Army officials also noted that the department is required to obtain a favorable evaluation from the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) and the Army Test and Evaluation Command in order to obtain approval for extending the service life of DOD's authoritative biometric system. These officials note that the tests and evaluations required for such approval will include an assessment of transmission and response times against approved requirements for the biometrics system. However, Marine Corps officials highlighted continued biometrics data transmission and synchronization issues with a currently fielded biometric capability that uses some of the same technology we identified issues with during the course of our review. In Summer 2017, DOD informed GAO that the department will soon issue a report to address these issues, so GAO is keeping this recommendation open until such time as DOD's report becomes available for GAO review.

    Recommendation: To determine the viability and cost-effectiveness of reducing transmission times for biometrics data, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, through the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to comprehensively assess and then address, as appropriate, the factors that contribute to transmission time for biometrics data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated in May 2013 that it has assessed that there is a value in a lessons learned dissemination system, which it has implemented. They stated that the Services' lessons learned systems have been linked together to make all biometric lessons learned easily discoverable by a user from any Service. Additionally, DOD has deployed the Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLS), an overarching lessons learned system. According to DOD, JLLS provides one-stop shopping for DOD and interagency lessons learned and can disseminate lessons learned on any topic, including biometrics. In July 2013, a DOD biometrics official said that the alternative would be to push the information out to everyone in theater and he is not sure how that could realistically be done.

    Recommendation: To more fully leverage DOD's investment in biometrics, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, through the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to assess the value of disseminating biometrics lessons learned from existing military service and combatant command lessons learned systems across DOD to inform relevant policies and practices.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated in May 2013 that it has assessed that there is a value in a lessons learned dissemination system, which it has implemented. They stated that the Services' lessons learned systems have been linked together to make all biometric lessons learned easily discoverable by a user from any Service. Additionally, DOD has deployed the Joint Lessons Learned Information System (JLLS), an overarching lessons learned system. According to DOD, JLLS provides one-stop shopping for DOD and interagency lessons learned and can disseminate lessons learned on any topic, including biometrics. In July 2013, a DOD biometrics official said that the alternative would be to push the information out to everyone in theater and he is not sure how that could realistically be done.

    Recommendation: To more fully leverage DOD's investment in biometrics, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, through the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to implement a lessons learned dissemination process, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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