The Taliban have reportedly seized biometrics devices used by the US military that could help identify Afghan nationals who worked for the US government and aided coalition forces, raising concerns the Taliban could use the information to retaliate in the wake of the collapse of the US-backed government.
The devices, known as HIIDE, for Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment, were seized last week as the Taliban went on an offensive march to overtake Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, sources tell The Intercept. Information stored on the devices include iris scans, fingerprints and biographical information, the news outlet reported Tuesday. They can also reportedly be used to access a broad centralized database.
“We processed thousands of locals a day, had to ID, sweep for suicide vests, weapons, intel gathering, etc.” a U.S. military contractor told The Intercept. “[HIIDE] was used as a biometric ID tool to help ID locals working for the coalition.”
The devices have played a key role in the US’ decades-long war on terror, helping identify Osama bin Laden during the 2011 raid on his Pakistani compound. But it was also intended to be used to gather biometric data on 80% of the Afghan population, or about 25 million people, the NPR reported earlier this year.
More than 300,000 Afghan civilians have been linked to the American mission over the past two decades, according to the International Rescue Committee. As the US military withdrawal triggered chaos in Afghanistan, about 2,000 Afghans were evacuated to the US, but thousands more are said to be mired in a years-long backlog for the special immigrant visas necessary to leave Afghanistan for the US.
But it’s widely feared that the thousands of Afghan translators, interpreters and others who assisted the US government still in Afghanistan — and their family members — may face grave danger if the country’s new leadership know their identity.
Biometrics are key to the facial-recognition technology commonly used for everyday tasks like unlocking phones and tagging friends on social media, but it’s also used by law enforcement and the military in identifying suspects or other individuals.
In 2019, the Chinese government used facial recognition software to track and control 11 million Uyghurs, a largely Muslim minority, in the country, The New York Times. Tapping an expansive network of surveillance cameras, the technology looked for Uighurs based on their appearance, kept tabs on their movement and put millions in detention camps, the Times reported.
The Defense Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.