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Marine Corps deploys Fallujah biometric ID scheme

By John Lettice (john.lettice at
Published Thursday 9th December 2004 12:13 GMT

US forces in Iraq are attempting to tame Fallujah with
biometric ID, according to an NBC news report
broadcast last week. The returning population of up to
250,000, reporter Peter Engel said on Tom Brokaw's
last Nightly News, is to be allowed back in gradually,
a few thousand at a time. "They'll be finger printed,
given a retina scan and then an ID card, which will
only allow them to travel around their homes or to
nearby aid centers, which are now being built. The
Marines will be authorized to use deadly force against
those breaking the rules."

Get an ID card or we'll shoot you - a possible slogan
for David Blunkett's ID card marketing campaign? (
But although that's pretty much the bottom line, the
Fallujah effort is particularly interesting as an
apparent attempt to use ID to control a large
population which is at least uncooperative, possibly
hostile, and possibly armed. Bearing these factors in
mind it's difficult to see how it can possibly
Click Here

The underlying theory of the effort can be identified
fairly readily. The US has taken quite a few cues from
Israel, which operates intensive ID checks (and
massive strikes and punishment demolitions), and has
been trying to implement an ID system in Iraq,
operating small scale exercises in 'controlled
access.' (
This draws on the 'secure hamlet' approach which was
used by the British in South Africa (where we
pioneered concentration camps, oops) and in Malaya,
where it was at least rather better marketed.

Alex Jones of Prison Planet has a clip of the relevant
broadcast, (
and in 1999 Jones covered a Marine Corps exercise in
Oakland, California, where "resistance fighters" were
contained in a mock camp and biometrically scanned.
This was part of Operation Urban Warrior, ( ) an
exercise which took place at several US locations and
which also involved the UK, Australia, Canada, Holland
and France (no, seriously - this was 1999-2000).
Another eye-witness account, where the Marine Corps
conducts some kind of census of the Chicago sewer
system, can be found here. (

Although most of the links from the Urban Warrior
homepage have ceased to function, it makes it clear
that the Marine Corps' training pre-Iraq was for
rather different conditions, anticipating only
"mid-intensity combat operation in an urban
environment against a backdrop of civil unrest, [with
the mission to] restore order." A 100-strong
contingent from the UK's elite Comacchio Group (now
the Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines, (
which guards the UK's nuclear capability against
sundry threats, including demonstrators, was present
at the Oakland operation, which was intended to
simulate combat in urban areas, dealing with both an
'enemy' and a civilian population.

The plan underlying Fallujah's ID scheme and phased
return may be an effort to stop it reverting to a
hostile no-go area for security forces, but it's
doubtful that this could entirely work. It won't be
possible to stop arms and insurgents who haven't been
issued with ID from infiltrating an area of this size,
nor (once they have) will it be feasible to operate
intensive ID checks that could maintain a 'clean'
population. By keeping sufficient forces there and
keeping a tight lid on the movement of the inhabitants
it may be possible to stop Fallujah from blowing up
again, but that isn't of major significance against
the backdrop of the rest of Iraq, and most of the
things governments anticipate they could do with
biometric ID in a peaceful society aren't going to be
particularly relevant.

At the moment, however, the biometric factor has a
relevance in terms of producing some kind of local
census backed up by a difficult to forge ID that can
be tied to the individual. In areas that have been
secured, it will be possible to do a local check on
the ID, but that clearly only applies in secured areas
where the population has submitted to the ID
programme. And as the marines are not going to be able
to secure, Fallujah-style, the whole of Iraq, it's
difficult to see this one as anything other than a
weird experiment without any obvious long-term
pay-off. (Thanks to Garland and Cryptogon ( for
drawing this one to our attention).
Related links:

Some transcripts of the broadcast (

Copyright 2004