Misuse of biometric system won accused U.S. war criminal a presidential pardon — report

ethical and responsible use of biometrics

In an interview last week, an investigative reporter claims that the Hollywood sheen of biometric data has been used to help win a pardon for a U.S. Army first lieutenant convicted of second-degree murder of two civilians in Afghanistan.

The journalist sees echoes of the dynamic in how biometrics are sold to governments and rationalized to tax payers in the United States.

Clint Lorance, untested in battle, was filling in for a wounded platoon leader in 2012, when he ordered subordinates to kill three men on a motorcycle along a rural road. The trio stopped and stood by the cycle after they heard a shot fired by one of Lorance’s men.

At his further urging, more shots killed two of the men and sent the third running, unharmed.

The Army’s judicial system found the officer guilty, sentenced him to 19 years in prison and rejected multiple appeals.

It was when a lawyer and his biometrics consultant asked the Trump White House for a pardon that biometrics took center stage in the matter.

Reporter Annie Jacobsen has written a book, First Platoon, about the Lorance incident, and has tied it to what she feels is a misguided and unfocused U.S. battlefield biometrics program.

Launched more than a decade ago in Afghanistan, the biometrics initiative has had local and coalition troops collecting fingerprint, iris and genetic biometric data from as much of the ravaged and poor nation as possible.

The project — called Identity Dominance — reportedly requires collecting data even from Afghans killed in battle and sometimes while under fire. Jacobsen tells of how the U.S. government sees biometrics as a leg of offense as critical to an assumed victory as holding air superiority, building schools and conducting house-to-house raids.

The information is placed in a secret database called the Automated Biometric Identification System, or ABIS.

It is conceivable that the aftermath of every homemade bomb holds biometric clues that can lead back to an individual enemy combatant who then can be captured or killed. In theory, the most dangerous of the Taliban (if not the men who set the bomb builders to their brutal task) can be weeded from the population.

But Jacobsen says biometrics did not clear Lorance. First, Lorance allegedly ordered his platoon not to retrieve the biometric data from the pair that were killed.

She also claims that incomplete data was used to wrongly identify the two men killed as Taliban fighters. A column Jacobsen wrote for the New York Times seems to say that the men who won the former first lieutenant his pardon may not have actually used ABIS to make their case.

There are other pieces to the puzzle, not least of which was a White House seemingly bent on finding clear-cut cases of U.S. war crimes and pardoning those convicted in the incidents.

Ultimately, Jacobsen is saying that too must trust is being placed in a system that, at the end of every day, is operated by fallible, incompetent and sometimes criminally motivated humans.

Does it matter if two Afghans died at the order of one of our own, someone obviously dedicated to the security of the United States, she seems to ask. If no, will it matter if a selfless public servant misuses biometric systems to win the conviction of an innocent “other” in the homeland?

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