July 7, 2011:
In an effort to keep better track of terrorist activity, Pakistan has decided to combine its national, provincial and military databases of convicted and suspected terrorists. NADRA (National Database and Registration Authority) will establish one combined database for Pakistanis, and another for foreigners. The U.S. has been urging Pakistan to do this for years. Not that the combined databases will result in more Islamic terrorists being identified and prosecuted. Only terrorists who attack Pakistani officials get put away. Any others, especially those who carry out attacks against India or Western targets, tend to avoid prosecution or, if they are tried, avoid punishment. This is another issue that Pakistan has not addressed.
But Pakistan does have some excellent examples of how combined terrorist databases work. Next door in Afghanistan, the NATO offensive in southern Afghanistan (mainly Helmand and Kandahar provinces) over the past year has had great success in killing or capturing much of the Taliban leadership. In one six day operation, British forces in Helmand killed or captured 271 Taliban, including 19 leaders. One of these was the Taliban "governor" of Helmand. All this was no accident, and was largely the result of intense intelligence work, that identified the key Taliban personnel, and where they tended to hang out. In effect, the intel people provided locations in what NATO troops already considered a "target rich environment."
All this was not really a surprise to the Taliban. For example, three years ago the U.S. revealed that many terrorists it arrests, or kills, in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world, already had arrest records in the United States and other nations. They knew this because early on in the war on terror, the Department of Defense adopted many practices that major police departments have long taken for granted, and that Pakistan is just now coming to appreciate.
One of the more useful techniques used by the American military to build its database is biometrics. That is, every time the troops encounter a "person of interest", they don't just take their name and address, they also use portable electronic tools to take fingerprints, a retinal scan and photos. All this is stored in a database, which now contains hundreds of thousands of records for Iraqis, Afghans, and other "persons of interest". The fingerprints are particularly useful, because when they are stored electronically, you can search and find out immediately if the print you have just lifted from somewhere else, like the fragment of a car bomb, is in the database. The digital photos, from several angles, are also useful, because these pictures are run through software that creates a numeric ID that can be used by security cameras to look for someone specific, or for finding someone from a witness description. Other nations are digitizing their mug shots, and this enables these people to be quickly checked against those in the American database.
This approach played a large role in destroying al Qaeda, and other Sunni Arab terror groups, in Iraq. Over the last three years, the specialists, and their equipment, that makes it all so effective on the battlefield, have moved to Afghanistan. Along with them came over a hundred large UAVs and specialized surveillance aircraft. Suddenly, the Taliban were no longer in the shadows so much. More NATO troops, and hundreds of helicopters and thousands of MRAP armored vehicles also arrived. This enabled the growing body of information on who the Taliban were, and where they were. Thus, in the last year, raiding operations, lasting a day, or a week, surprised the Taliban and ravaged their leadership and destroyed their bases. Hundreds of tons of munitions and thousands of weapons were captured, along with vehicles, radios and, most importantly, cell phones and computers. These last items provided more leads, which were quickly followed up on (often before the Taliban were aware that their associates had been taken.)
For decades, the U.S. military has regularly collected huge amounts of information from accidents, or even combat encounters. So now, it's no surprise that forensics teams examine each bombing (car or roadside), to see if they can get fingerprints. Often bomb makers are found this way, because raids frequently encounter suspicious characters, but no evidence to justify arresting them. It only takes about two minutes per subject to take the biometric data, so any suspicious characters are added to the database. Now, after several years of this, raiding parties know to grab any guy who seems to panic at the sight of the biometrics equipment coming out. The terrorists know that biometrics is bad news for them, and they fear it.
Naturally, the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies were data mining this database, and running cross checks with other databases of people with known, or suspected, criminal backgrounds. As was long suspected, many Islamic terrorists had spent time in Western nations, where they participated in criminal scams, and were often arrested. Same pattern in Moslem nations, where there was a strong linkage between criminal behavior in general, and association with Islamic terrorist organizations. Some of this is because the same kind of personality is attracted to both lifestyles, but it's also long been a common practice for Islamic terrorists to raise money, and gain access to weapons and explosives, via criminal activities and connections with other criminals.
Pro-terrorist message boards on the Internet have long been discussing the biometrics, and the likelihood that the Western intelligence agencies were tracking terrorists with this kind of information. This is probably why the FBI went public about this program. They discovered early on in Afghanistan, for example, that about one percent of the al Qaeda suspects they picked up, already had an arrest record back in the United States. It would be interesting to know what the percentage is in Pakistan.