AFRICOM And ICE Conducting Biometric Identity Operations Across East Africa



Africa (AFRICOM) command and its Identity Resolution Team now cooperate with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for conducting operations in Eastern Africa.Objective: to identify some “bad actors” (KST to known suspected terrorists, the SIA for special interest alien): traffickers, criminal, terrorists likely to attempt to travel to the United States.

The nationals of several countries of Eastern Africa are in the crosshairs: Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopians, Somalis. But the Sahel and West Africa are now treated as sensitive areas.

In August 2012, AFRICOM biometrics experts travelled to Pretoria to train officials from the ICE.A full-scale exercise followed in September at the Kenya local personnel have also been trained.

Biometric data (fingerprints, iris) collected are then handed to the US agencies such as the FBI, DoD, DHS…

Here is more information from the Air Land Sea Bulletin: 


Biometric capabilities and its integration into various activities including border security, LE and military operations have become extremely useful over the last decade in preventing illegal entry, capturing criminals, protecting American troops, and supporting national security. Biometric data is collected across several modalities (identifiers) because there is no single biometric modality that is best for all implementations, or a single device that collects all modalities. The primary biometric modalities  collected  include:  face,  fingerprint, iris, DNA, and palm print.

Biometric capabilities may achieve enabling effects such as the ability to separate, identify, track, and exploit persons of interest (POIs) (i.e., threats, “bad actors”, criminals, known and suspected terrorists (KSTs), special interest aliens (SIAs)) from the populace; promote security and governance; deny threats to freedom of movement; enhance force protection; increase security at access points (areas and facilities); and support identifying and targeting networks.


The biometrics process involves collecting, matching, storing, analyzing, and sharing an individual’s biometric identifiers and associated infomation.

With coordination beforehand and the proper sharing agreements in place, “match/no match” reports may be available to various organizations and vetted users. To initiate the process within DOD, biometric data collection is conducted by both conventional and special operations forces (SOF). Both use the same biometric enrollment equipment and send the data to the same location. POIs, SIAs, or worse, KSTs, will often hide within the general populace. The conventional forces are in a position to gather large amounts of data by enrolling several groups of people at the same time. SOF are in a position to gather highly specific data that, when used with the data collected by conventional forces, may lead to better force protection while enabling various missions.

Leaders play an integral part in planning the use and directing the employment of biometrics to achieve operational success. To ensure biometric capabilities are leveraged to the fullest extent possible to defeat the threat and enhance protection, it is imperative leaders and collectors understand biometric data may be used globally across all components of the Federal Government and in cooperation with international partners. In situations where leaders are able to coopt multinational partners by providing them proper biometric training and approved equipment, the desired effect is a reciprocal, surrogate collection capability providing a greater geographic reach.   With our own forces, leaders also must ensure biometric operations are not treated as a “check-the-block” activity. Quality biometric collections will not only lead to a greater degree of force protection for the unit, but will also enhance security across the operational environment. High quality collections result in an efficient and credible database that requires less effort from database managers to correct discrepancies and increases the likelihood of successful matches for all users.


Migration in East Africa is due to poverty, malnutrition, drought, ethnic strife, and ineffective governance, among other concerns. It enables unchecked movement and anonymity of “bad actors” that intermingle with the migrating population. These actors may  include  illegal  trafckers,  transnational criminals, SIAs, KSTs, and violent  extremists  and  their affiliates (e.g., al Qaida affiliated al-Shabaab terrorists, or pirates) who may act to influence and/or recruit other migrants. The affected nations are Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia,  and  Somalia.  The  ofcials in these countries are unable to determine and/or verify identities, since most of the migrating populations have no credible documentation. Many actors remain within these countries as anonymous, undocumented persons who carry out criminal activities or perpetrate terrorist acts (2011 into 2012 saw an increase in improvised explosive device attacks in Kenya, Somalia and Nigeria). Others continue to other parts of Africa, Europe, and North America, usually passing through the US southwestern border.


The situation in the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) area of responsibility (AOR) has high interest from several organizations across the joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational (JIIM) environment with various levels of commitment of resources. These organizations include the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Criminal Police Organization, affected partner nations, and US Government (USG) departments. USG departments include the US Agency for International Development (Department of State), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) (Department of Justice), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (Department of Homeland Security (DHS)), and AFRICOM, US Special Operations Command, and the Biometrics Identity Management Agency (DOD).   To address employing biometrics, AFRICOM and ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) collaborated to produce an initial concept of operations partnering both organizations. Because of the partnership, AFRICOM conducted training on and temporarily loaned biometric collection devices to HSI agents to conduct the Biometric Identication  Transnational  Migration Alert Program (BITMAP). They also had a bilateral agreement to conduct BITMAP with the Republic of Kenya.   First conducted in US Southern Command’s AOR, BITMAP is an effort to identify and combat extraterritorial criminal organizations that may pose a threat to the national security of the US and foreign partners. It also supports increasing the ability of the USG to identify the movements of SIAs who may be members of or sympathizers with extremist or terrorist groups attempting to gain entry into the US. BITMAP uses a portable biometric collection device (Secure Electronic Enrollment Kit II (SEEK II)) to obtain forensic-quality fingerprints,  latent fingerprints,  iris  images,  photos,  and other biometric data.

The SEEK II device collects biological and biographical contextual data of  POIs  and  matches  fingerprints  and iris images against an internal biometrics enrollment database. The device is lightweight (3 lbs., 6 oz.), is capable of multimodal collection and matching, compatible with the DOD’s Automated Biometric  Identification  System,  compliant with current software standards, and fully operational in direct sunlight. In mid-August 2012, personnel from AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, supported the DHS ICE Regional  Field  Office  in  Pretoria,  South Africa, by providing equipment to the Field Ofce  and  conducting a  train-the-trainer course on SEEK II devices for the HSI agents. The newly trained HSI agents executed a mission in September 2012. The field office conducted the initial BITMAP operation in Kenya and plans to manage future BITMAP efforts south of the Sahel (an area south of the Sahara Desert that encompasses abouten countries). With agreement and support from the Kenyan Ministry of Internal Security, the newly trained ICE HSI special agents trained select Kenyan LE personnel who later deployed along migration routes to conduct biometric collections. A milestone for BITMAP in Africa was reached when Kenyan LE submitted data successfully through DOD, DHS, and FBI national databases, and thus effectively established a new JIIM biometrics operating model for AFRICOM.


 By providing support to our International partners in Africa through the integration of biometric capabilities, the US is enabling to separate, identify, track, and exploit the threat (i.e., KSTs, SIAs, and criminals). Also, this will help prevent threat elements from harming our African partners or those in other parts of the world; or worse attacking America and American interests. The security and stability of our partner nations in Africa, and across the global community, help secure and defend our homeland