The Department of Defense is devoting increased attention to what it calls “identity activities,” which seek to identify individuals who may pose a threat on or off the battlefield.
“Identity activities are a collection of functions and actions that appropriately recognize and differentiate one person or persona from another person or persona to support decision making,” according to a new DoD publication on the subject.
“Establishing and characterizing the identity of persons of interest, known adversaries, and other relevant actors across time and space is an operational imperative that improves a commander’s full understanding of the OE [operational environment].” See Identity Activities, Joint Doctrine Note 2-16, August 3, 2016, Unclassified.
The growing need to identify individual adversaries corresponds to the rise of anonymous, dispersed and concealed threats, DoD said. “Global disorder is increasing while the comparative US military advantage has begun to erode.”
“Because VEOs [violent extremist organizations] and TCOs [transnational criminal organizations] prefer to conduct operations by, with and through the populace, while maintaining a level of anonymity by blending in, employment of identity activities to separate adversaries from civilians and assist in positively identifying threat actors and their networks increases in significance.”
Paradoxically, identity is not a constant. “Identity is not static…. [It] is the culmination of multiple aspects of an entity’s characteristics, attributes, activities, reputation, knowledge, and judgments — all of which are constantly evolving.”
Accordingly, collection of a range of identity-related data is desired, including biographical, biological, behavioral, and reputational information.
“The breadth of identity information, if analyzed and navigated expertly, can be used confidently to make positive identifications across time and space, identify and assess patterns and anomalies, and better anticipate the capability and intent of actors of interest,” the DoD document said.
Once acquired, such data is retained for future reference.
“While some identity information (e.g., attributes contained on an identity credential) can be used immediately at the point of collection, most collected data and materials are sent to authoritative data repositories or local, regional, or reachback facilities or laboratories for appropriate processing and exploitation.”
The potential for misuse of this data was not explicitly addressed, but identity activities are likely to encounter legal and policy barriers, DoD acknowledged.
These barriers include US statutory limitations on the collection of information regarding US persons, as well as foreign laws affecting DoD operations abroad. “HN [host nation] law governing an individual’s right to privacy could significantly affect how and what identity activities can be employed during a military operation; limiting certain uses, requiring specific handling conditions for identity information, and/or restricting the means of collection.”
“Identity activities” is a new term in the DoD lexicon, and it does not appear in the latest (February 2016) edition of the official DoD dictionary (although “identity intelligence,” one of its components, is listed).
The rise of identity activities is presented as a DoD response to the changing security threat environment.
“As conflicts continue to become more irregular and asymmetric in nature, the need to identify, deter, deny, and degrade an adversary’s mobility, anonymity, and access to the populace and enabling resources increases in significance,” the DoD document said.