A visitor to the Provost Marshal General's office will be greeted by the expected Military Police seals, flags and awards -- and, when this visitor stepped inside, by a chart depicting the roll-out of upgrades to DoD's biometrics database. It may not be typical MP wall decor, but for an officer who earned a master's degree in Computer Science, you might say it's in character.
"I bought my first computer in 1984 -- it had two floppy disk drives and no hard drive," recalled Major General David E. Quantock, Provost Marshal General (PMG). He brought it on post and showed his MP company how to use spreadsheets and word processors. Before long, he was attending the Naval Postgraduate School to formalize his training in information technology, and earned a secondary specialty as a Systems Automator.
It was just one step of many on the road that brought him to the PMG's office, and the database diagram scrawled on a whiteboard within it. But now that he's there, MG Quantock oversees a Military Police force in transition, winding down a decade-long mission in Afghanistan and adopting new biometric and forensic technology, but remaining the gold standard in the law enforcement community.
Broadly speaking, MG Quantock sees the MP Corps having three core competencies: corrections, investigations and policing -- all while remaining professional Soldiers. While soldiering is still a critical piece of their identity, MPs' main focus as Soldiers must be on bringing their unique law enforcement competencies to the battlefield. No other Army organization can manage hostile detainees or perform Sensitive Site Exploitation with the expertise of the Military Police. "Since 2001 or 2002, the Army has really needed us to have an expeditionary mindset," he said.
The MP Corps is uniquely positioned to contribute to the Army's antiterror mission. Each of its components has roles to play, from MP Soldiers performing force protection duties in the field to the Office of the Provost Marshal General's (OPMG) major commands -- U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), Army Correctional Command (ACC) and its newest member, the Defense Forensics and Biometrics Agency (DFBA).
In one common scenario, intelligence generated by ACC's questioning of detainees leads to a CID investigation of a particular site, which yields forensic evidence to exploit, which DFBA's experts at the Defense Forensic Science Center examine and the Biometrics Identity Management Activity match to biometric profiles in their database, thus providing deployed MPs a watchlist with suspicious individuals' names and biometric data.
Core Competencies, Many Missions
Although MPs' core competencies are inspired by law enforcement, their missions go far beyond those of a typical police officer. While CID, for example, does pursue more conventional investigations like murder, rape, contract fraud and pilferage in the logistics chain, it also provides critical pieces of the intelligence puzzle by gathering evidence and questioning suspected terrorists. "This is not your grandfather's CID," MG Quantock said. "We're jumping out of helicopters for Sensitive Site Exploitation missions."
CID also helps the Afghan government build legal cases -- often based on biometric evidence -- for prosecuting detainees in local courts. As U.S. forces leave Afghanistan, this mission will scale back, but international assistance will not. CID will continue to be called upon as expert trainers by partner nations around the world.
ACC is also considered expert at its own mission -- not only containing hostile detainees, but turning adversaries into allies.
"You keep detainees busy, or they keep you busy," MG Quantock advised. With this in mind, U.S. Army Detainee operations execute rehabilitation programs in Afghanistan, just as a typical prison does in the U.S. Long-term detainees are given the opportunity to learn skills in fields as varied as masonry, agriculture, or even tailoring. The goal is to treat detainees with dignity and respect. With suitable treatment, they may hesitate to fight against U.S. interests after their eventual release -- whereas undignified treatment makes it very likely they will. "You don't want to create an enemy who you'll have to release," MG Quantock said.
He related a story of a former Iraqi detainee who was released from a facility in Baghdad's Green Zone. The newly-free Iraqi turned to the MP escorting him to the gate and thanked him for "treating me better than my own people treated me." Achieving this level of goodwill is a critical mission for ACC.
Large-scale detainee operations will fall away as U.S. troops depart Afghanistan, but ACC's CONUS operations will continue to be a training ground for future contingencies. "[Counterinsurgency] needs these high-end capabilities," MG Quantock said, and the only way to prepare 31E Soldiers for the mission is placing them in similar duties at homestation detention facilities. The populations may be different, but the rehabilitation and interpersonal skills learned will prove valuable the next time they're needed in an expeditionary environment.
Despite the wide range of MP missions, common tools can still be found -- which is where OPMG's newest member, DFBA, comes in. "Biometrics and forensics are connective tissues between all of it," MG Quantock said. "You can't do anything today without leaving a biometric footprint," which enables the intelligence community, who might discover a threat, to provide hard data to the law enforcement community, who can apply that data to mitigate the threat.
OPMG absorbed DFBA on October 1, 2012, after a name change and transfer from G-3/5/7. "This was a great opportunity to bring biometrics and forensics under one umbrella," MG Quantock explained, noting that the Office of the Secretary of Defense had already combined supervision of biometrics and forensics into one office. OPMG has overseen Army forensics since its inception at the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL), which is part of CID. The recently-established Defense Forensic Science Center (DFSC) includes USACIL and expeditionary forensic teams. DFSC remains a component of CID but has a close organizational and working relationship with DFBA and will transition to DFBA in FY16.
DFBA may be new to the MP Corps, but its biometrics database, known as DoD ABIS and operated by the Biometrics Identity Management Activity (BIMA), has been supporting the Army and other services since 2004.
"They started with nothing and built something that has made an enormous difference on the battlefield," MG Quantock said.
The CID, ACC, and other U.S. and allied military branches all contribute to DoD ABIS. ABIS also has reciprocal sharing protocols with databases operated by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, enabling interoperability for U.S. border security and domestic counterterror investigations.
Recognition of biometrics' impact has been growing. DFBA's predecessor organizations were organized on an ad hoc basis with several homes within the Army before landing with OPMG. But as of this summer, DFBA is now an Army field operating agency dedicated to maintaining an enduring forensics and biometrics capability.
"Requirements will explode," MG Quantock explained, predicting the future of DoD biometrics. "The [combatant commanders] want this capability for force protection," as well as for tracking and capturing individual members of terrorist networks.
Impact from Legacy Data
Data collected from years of Iraqi and Afghan enrollments will continue to matter, despite the U.S. departure from those theaters. "We have records of many individuals who meant us harm," MG Quantock said. "While I was [in Iraq], we took in 88,000 detainees… Most are free today." But for detainees, a biometric record exists -- fingerprints at the very least, and often voice and iris scans. These records provide a "tremendous service to protect our borders," MG Quantock said, and have "already paid big dividends" by stopping known hostile parties from entering the country.
"The push to ABIS 1.2 gets us on another level," he said, referring to a software upgrade -- the one diagrammed in his office -- that will improve DoD's ability to interface with the Department of Homeland Security's biometric database. "If we don't [share data], we put ourselves at great risk."
Biometric records from detainees provide another legacy -- evidence for local court systems. Afghan insurgents and terrorists cannot be detained indefinitely, but they can be turned over to Afghan courts. Evidence connecting subjects to hostile events (like their fingerprints on IED fragments) offers courts a way to convict insurgents and hold them in their own correctional facilities. Forensically-derived biometric evidence continues to provide a steady stream of Afghan convictions, MG Quantock said, and will continue to for the foreseeable future.
One Team, One Fight
None of biometrics' myriad applications would be possible without back-end support from DFBA and the examiners and IT professionals at BIMA and USACIL. "I appreciate the passion they display for supporting our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines," MG Quantock said.
Though their missions differ and continuously change, the team of CID, ACC, DFBA and MP Soldiers around the Army all serve the same end. "At the end of the day [the MP Corps] is about protecting our nation and our Army," MG Quantock said. Whether its roots are in the Revolutionary War or firmly planted in the Information Age, each component of the MP Corps has a challenging future ahead of it -- but, through cooperation and professionalism, MPs have the ability to meet it.