Biometric war

The US military’s obsession with biometrics is, in part, the product of its phantasmatic desire to make the battlespace fully transparent, as its incorporation within the targeting cycle makes clear:


But it’s also a vital means of furthering the profoundly biopolitical project embedded in later modern war (something that intersects, in various ways, with Mark Neocleous‘s arguments about military violence – war power/police power – and ‘ordering’):

The stated goal of the Afghan effort is no less than the collection of biometric data for every living person in Afghanistan. At a conference with Afghan officials in 2010, the commander of the U.S. Army’s Task Force Biometrics Col. Craig Osborne told the attendees that the collection of biometric data is not simply about “identifying terrorists and criminals,” but that “it can be used to enable progress in society and has countless applications for the provision of services to the citizens of Afghanistan.”

CALL-AfghanBiometrics-1I touched on some of this in a different context in ‘The biopolitics of Baghdad’ DOWNLOADS tab), and Public Intelligence has just released the U.S. Army Commander’s Guide to Biometrics in Afghanistanfrom which I’ve taken the image above, and which provides a much more detailed accounting.

The release also includes an illuminating short essay, ‘Identity dominance: the U.S. Military’s biometric war in Afghanistan‘, that provides a gloss on and a guide to the program:

In a section titled “Population Management,” the U.S. Army’s guide recommends that “every person who lives within an operational area should be identified and fully biometrically enrolled with facial photos, iris scans, and all ten fingerprints (if present).” The soldiers must also record “good contextual data” about the individual such as “where they live, what they do, and to which tribe or clan they belong.” According to the guide, popuation management actions “can also have the effect of building good relationships and rapport” by sending the message that the “census” is intended to protect them from “the influence of outsiders and will give them a chance to more easily identify troublemakers in their midst.”

For a wider, wonderfully critical commentary on biometric war, see Colleen Bell, ‘Grey’s Anatomy goes South: Global racism and suspect identities in the colonial present’, in the Canadian journal of sociology 38 (4) (2013) 465-486 available open access here.

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