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  • 11.29.10

State Dept: Give Us Your Retinal Scans, Your Credit Card Numbers …

According to leaked cables, U.S. diplomats sought retinal scans and DNA from their foreign counterparts in Africa and Asia. Also on the agenda: Credit card numbers, frequent flyer cards, and travel plans.

Hillary Clinton

American diplomats were actively
instructed to seek out detailed biometric information on politicians,
bureaucrats and fellow bureaucrats from other countries and global
organizations.

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That’s the news according to the latest trove of
diplomatic cables released to the public by WikiLeaks. Among others,
American diplomats attempted to get biometric and other sensitive
identifying information from leading figures at the United Nations,
and countries such as South
Africa, the Sudan, Senegal, North Korea, China, Cuba, Egypt, India, Indonesia,
Malaysia, and Syria.

The kind of information the State
Department was looking for is a marketer’s dream. One cable,
apparently from Hillary Clinton to embassies in
the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania,
Clinton asked
for the following
of “persons related to the African Great
Lakes”:

Biographic and biometric data,
including health, opinions toward the US, training history,
ethnicity (tribal and/or clan), and language skills of key and
emerging political, military, intelligence, opposition, ethnic,
religious, and business leaders. Data should include email addresses,telephone and fax numbers,
fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans.

That’s not the only data that
American embassies were busy trying to dig up. Clinton’s wire
requests that diplomatic officers obtain credit card numbers, work
schedules and frequent flyer account numbers of persons of interest
in addition to business cards, phone numbers, job
titles and email addresses.

Similar biometric and deep-information
data gathering was also happening in the Palestinian Authority.
Diplomats throughout the Middle East were
instructed to
collect similar information on Fatah and Hamas
officials, including the same biometric data, credit card numbers and
frequent flyer numbers—but with more specific wording than the
African cable. The exact wording used by the State Department was
“biographical, financial and biometric information on key PA and
Hamas leaders and representatives, to include the young guard inside
Gaza, the West Bank and outside.” Diplomats were also asked to
obtain “details of travel plans such as routes and vehicles used by
Palestinian Authority leaders and Hamas members.”

While it is hard to imagine a scenario in which United States diplomats get
retinal scans of African and Middle East politicians, some biometric
identifiers are much easier for the State Department to get their
hands on. Fingerprints, DNA and signatures all fall under the
biometric identifier rubric and are all easily obtainable.

Clues to how the State Department obtained biometric data can be found in the Pentagon’s recent embrace of biometric identification in Iraq
and Afghanistan. The Iraqi government, under the supervision of the
American occupation, has
collected fingerprints and retinal scans of nearly every member of
the Iraqi military, police and prison service
–along with every
prisoner and registered gun owner in Iraq for good measure.

Privacy
groups feared that the massive cache of identifying materials
constituted a “hit
list”
that was at easy risk of being obtained by terrorists
through hacking or other unsavory methods.

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A biometric database in Iraq was
created
out of fingerprints found on enemy weapons and bombs
. In
Afghanistan, the current government is undertaking a product under
American supervision to create
biometric identification cards for the entire adult population

using technology from American firms. The U.S. military currently has biometric information on 800,000 Afghans, while
the Afghan government’s database contains just
250,000 records.

Afghan politicians are hopeful that the
identification card can someday be used for banking as well as voter
and vehicle registration. Afghanistan currently
has a literary rate of 28.1%
and only 12.6% of Afghan women can
read.

But the million dollar question remains:
how will the U.S. government use biometric information on foreign
leaders?

[Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley]

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