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Biometric technologies impacting covert travel for special intelligence agents


Though biometric technologies and methods have helped to successfully identify global terrorists and immigration fraudsters who would otherwise be unknown, it has also simultaneously made it more difficult for undercover agents to keep their anonymity, according to a report by Foreign Policy.

Undercover US special intelligence agents can no longer enter another country using a fake passport and donning a disguise to mask their real identity, as once their iris scan has been enrolled, it becomes extremely difficult for them to go undetected.

“In the 21st century, you can’t do any of that because of biometrics,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Combined with the presence of closed-circuit TV surveillance and Internet-tracking tools, these biometric technologies make it particularly dangerous for these undercover intelligence agents.

This depletion of anonymity is forcing the US intelligence community to come up with a different approach to global intelligence gathering.

“You have to take many more security measures to be able to prepare someone to operate in an environment in which you can no longer physically hide,” Flynn told Foreign Policy.

The policies of US intelligence agencies have shifted in terms of which individuals can travel where, and how often, which “limits [their] movement,” according to an unnamed senior Defense Department official.

These concerns have led to an internal restructuring of the CIA, which includes the recent emergence of the Directorate of Digital Innovation. Additionally, CIA Director John Brennan told staff in memo that the agency must “embrace and leverage the digital revolution.”

Though Brennan did not specifically address the effect of biometrics on undercover travel, but experts stated that it is one of the major reasons for the CIA’s restructuring.

Meanwhile, California Rep. Adam Schiff, who is also part of the House Intelligence Committee, welcomed Brennan’s new approach to the “digital domain.”

“Technology at times is a double-edged sword,” Schiff said in an email to Foreign Policy. “On the one hand, advances like those in the field of biometrics make our ability to identify and track bad and dangerous actors much better. On the other hand, these same technologies have the potential to help others track and identify us.”

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