U.S. Special Operations Command testing rapid DNA readers
Priced at $250,000, the DNA readers compare the submitted DNA sample against a database that matches DNA to identities of individuals.
The machines weigh 60 pounds and are about the size of a copier, but require less manpower than an entire DNA lab.
The machines are able to calculate results in 90 minutes – a process which used to take two weeks to complete.
“These things are downrange and we’re spending a year gathering data — on the utility, on how well is it working, the match rate, how well are the operators keeping them up and running,” said Michael S. Fitz, manager of the Sensitive Site Exploitation Special Reconnaissance, Surveillance & Exploitation program at U.S. Special Operations Command. He said that because the program was so new, “we’re saving it for the juicy missions.”
The DNA readers will be used to verify the identity of targets, either before or after raids.
“Our whole program is built around follow-on targeting. We don’t gather biometrics for criminal prosecution,” Fitz said. “Our primary objective is actionable intelligence for follow-on targeting.”
Fitz eventually wants a robust, battery-powered DNA reader no larger than a cellphone, which will allow special operations fighters to collect DNA and match verifications on site by connecting remotely to a database. This type of device might be available for field-testing around 2019 or 2020.
In addition to reducing the size of DNA readers, the agency also hopes to build out the database of DNA samples to match against.
“Right now the database is a criminal database: U.S. people. We haven’t been collecting DNA, in part because it’s been a cumbersome and lengthy process to do that. There was no reason for the units to go out and collect DNA because the results were so slow,” said Fitz, adding that the Defense Department’s DNA database are “not robust; not populated with the people we’re interested in.”
During the peak period of the U.S. operations’ presence in Afghanistan, the military used a device called Biometrics Automated Toolset,
The device was able to capture fingerprints, iris scans, and photos of individuals with whom troops encountered. The data was eventually stored on the Defense Department’s Automated Biometric Identification System.