U.S. interrogators in Iraq are building a digital catalog of prisoners of war and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, scanning and saving their fingerprints and other body characteristics in databases.
The data banks, controlled by the FBI, CIA, Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies, are being used to investigate suspicious foreigners entering the United States, as well as to trace suspects in future terrorist attacks.
The move also reflects the U.S. government’s desire to keep tabs on Iraqi fighters after releasing them when the Iraq war is declared ended.
‘‘We do this passive collection when we go in, because these guys will scatter over time,’’ said Thomas Barnett, a professor at the Naval War College who advises the Office of the Secretary of Defense. ‘‘When you have the opportunity to tag them, you tag them before you release them to the wild.’’
While officials at U.S. Central Command refused to confirm the process, developers of the technology and some U.S. officials provided The Associated Press with details.
One of the tools, the Biometrics Automated Toolset, or BAT, is cataloguing Iraqis for ‘‘several classified databases’’ shared among intelligence, law enforcement and border control agencies, said Lt. Col. Kathy De Bolt, deputy director of the Army Intelligence Center at Fort Huachuca, where the BAT was developed.
The idea is to use the rugged laptop and its attached scanners to ‘‘register’’ Iraqi prisoners, then alert law enforcers when one tries to enter the country.
‘‘If you were at the FBI, wouldn’t you want to know if someone were a Baath official and he did some bad things, and then he puts in a visa application to come to the United States?’’ De Bolt said.
‘‘Although they might not be a terrorist now, they might have some anti-American feeling,’’ she said. ‘‘They might be a terrorist in the future.’’
Some doubt the value of such a database. Since the U.S. government never showed a clear link between Saddam’s regime and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, a compendium of Iraqis is probably of little use in homeland security, said Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA counterterrorism chief.
‘‘The people we were fighting were by and large conscripts. They’re not a pool of future terrorist operatives,’’ Cannistraro said.
Only the more ‘‘interesting’’ of the 3,500 current Iraqi prisoners — down from a peak total of 7,000 — will find themselves in a U.S. database of terror suspects, De Bolt said.
U.S. military and intelligence officials started building the biometric dossiers in Afghanistan, taking digital scans of the fingerprints, irises and voices of Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners.
U.S. Special Forces continue to use the BAT in Afghanistan to spot-check detainees’ features against those in an FBI database, De Bolt said.