Secrecy News

A DNA Database for Counterterrorism

DNA samples of thousands of suspected terrorists from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been collected and preserved in a little-known U.S. government database that is intended for forensic intelligence and counterterrorism purposes.

As of 2005, seven thousand detainee samples had been processed into the Joint Federal Agencies Antiterrorism DNA Database. Ten thousand more were “inbound” at that time from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a public presentation. See “The Department of Defense DNA Registry and the U.S. Government Accounting Mission” (pdf) by Brion C. Smith, August 2005 (at page 14).

The Joint Federal Agencies Antiterrorism DNA Database working group is comprised of representatives of the Department of Defense, the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community.

Disclosure of DNA and other medical information for intelligence purposes is explicitly authorized by government regulations.

“Under U.S. and international law, there is no absolute confidentiality of medical information for any person, including detainees,” according to the new DoD directive 3115.09 (pdf) on intelligence interrogation. “Medical information may be released for all lawful purposes… including release for any lawful intelligence or national security-related purpose.”

Update: See, relatedly, this new report from the Government Accountability Office, which curiously refrains from mentioning the term “DNA”: DOD Can Establish More Guidance for Biometrics Collection and Explore Broader Data Sharing (pdf), GAO-09-49, October 2008.