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The biometrics technology that helped ID Bin Laden

posted 6 May 2011, 11:40 by Mpelembe   [ updated 6 May 2011, 11:42 ]

How certain was the U.S. Navy Seal team that it was Osama Bin Laden they shot, killed and buried at sea? According to a Florida company that makes biometric identification equipment, there's no doubt the Seals got their man.

Michael Oehler, a project manager at Crossmatch Technologies in Florida, says he is certain that the man targeted by Navy SEALS in Pakistan on Sunday was Osama bin Laden.

The private company supplies the U.S. military with portable biometric devices that Oehler says allow for real time identification with nearly 100 percent accuracy.

Employees at the small technology firm are having a hard time hiding their jubilation at the possibility that they may have played a small part in bringing down Bin Laden although, when asked directly, Oehler, goes with the company line.

"We cannot confirm or deny that our specific device was the one that was used and that is obviously because the military does not allow that sort of information out nor will they confirm or deny it." said Oehler. "What we can say is two things. One is that a device very much like this had to be used for the identification. Biometrics is one of the things identified as something that was used, so we know that it had to be a device like this."

The device is called a Secure Electronic Enrolment Kit, or SEEK. It can take a full set of fingerprints, perform facial and iris scans, read any form of chip based card or passport and match it against a database of America's most wanted fugitives.

Tom Buss, the Technology Development Officer at Crossmatch, says the device is designed for operations like the raid on bin Laden's compound.

"If I am in a team that is rapid in and out, kick down doors and indentify bad guys, this (SEEK II) does rapid ID. You can carry a database on this device that has the definitive bad guys known by our intelligence community. They are carried on the device so that if I kick down a door I can know if one of these guys I just identified is on the very bad guy database. If not I can hook up my SATCOM link and send it back to West Virginia."

Clarksburg. West Virginia is home to the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, where the agency keeps a database of information on criminal fugitives.

Buss also says that while DNA is the gold standard in identification, the biometrics gathered by SEEK leaves very little room for doubt.

"If you have ten fingers and then you throw in two irises the probability of a match is astronomically high. The accuracy is very high." he said.

Oehler says the device also plays an important role in gathering intelligence. It is designed to gather biometric information on anyone deemed suspect anywhere in the world and store that data for future use.

"In order to match someone against a database you have to have a database. Well, that information needs to be collected and that is where we separate out two functions. One is enrolment which is essentially capturing data and putting it into the database and then the matching which is having a person you want to identify and matching them against the database." said Oehler.

Buss and Oehler are tight-lipped about what the next generation of mobile biometric sensors will look like, but hint that it will probably be smaller and more user-friendly than the current models.

The ultimate goal they say, is a high-end forensics lab and data centre that fits in the palm of your hand.