A much needed biometric technology is brought to the battlefield in Khalidaya
In the middle of January, I embedded with the joint U.S. Marine and U.S. Army Military Transition Team based in Khalidaya in Anbar province. The MTT was then commanded by Major Owen West. Major West’s greatest criticisms of the war effort is our failure to recognize the nature of the insurgency, which in many parts of Iraq is fought by applying what he calls “heavy police tactics,” and our failure in applying the right tools to deal with the problem.
Daniel Henniger of the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Page has written an article about how a group of people looked to solve part of this problem. Mr. Henniger describes the enterprise as such, and well: “This is a story of can-do in a no-can-do world, a story of how a Marine officer in Iraq, a small network-design company in California, a nonprofit troop-support group, a blogger and other undeterrable folk designed a handheld insurgent-identification device, built it, shipped it and deployed it in Anbar province. They did this in 30 days, from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15. Compared to standard operating procedure for Iraq, this is a nanosecond.”
Major West, along with Spirit of America, a technology company called CDI, and with a small helping hand from me, fielded “The Snake Eater,” a biometric device that photographs, fingerprints and stores data about captured suspected insurgents, and then builds a networked picture on their family, history and activities.
Mr. Henniger aptly describes the process, as well as the need for the device, and I recommend heading over to the Opinion Journal to read the entire article.
On the night of January 20th, I accompanied Major West and his MTTs, and the Scouts platoon of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade of the 1st Iraqi Army Division on the first patrol with “The Snake Eater.” There is a picture of the Snake Eater in action in the original posting.
I would like to add that not only will this device have a real impact on data gathering and storage, and creating a networked picture of the insurgency, there is also a real psychological effect of this tool on the populace. Several of the young men who were stopped and had their data gathered were clearly nervous about the device. They knew their fingerprint and picture were being taken and stored. Despite Anbar being the backwaters of Iraq, the people still understand technology and modern policing (I’ve seen CSI on TVs in homes during raids, for instance.). Major West informed me that immediately after the night patrol, “there was a buzz throughout the town” about the device. The Snake Eater may very well serve to deter those less committed to the jihad cause; the part time rent-an-insurgent might view the risk to great.
Also, on a final note, I want to thank Spirit of America for bringing me in on this project and for helping with the last two embeds in Iraq. It is an honor and priveledge to work with Jim Hake, Michele Redmend and the rest of the Spirit of America team. If you are looking for a way to help the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa, as well as help our fine troops in the field, Spirit of America is the place to go. You can view the project page for the Snake Eater here.
Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD’s Long War Journal.