Will The Digital Age Kill Off Spying: CIA Is In Crisis As Facial Recognition, Biometrics, And Artificial Intelligence Make It Increasingly Difficult For Agents To Maintain Their Cover Abroad — Single Use HUMINT Missions?
This is not a new story. Indeed, I have been writing and wondering for several years if the Intelligence and Special Operations communities were down to single-use HUMINT missions. I refer you to this blog for numerous articles on how increasingly difficult it is to maintain a fake identity. Emily Crane posted a December 30, 2019 article to the DailyMail.com, writing that “U.S. spies are no longer being tailed by foreign governments in about 30 different countries — because advances in facial recognition, biometrics, artificial intelligence (AI) [data mining and machine learning] have made it almost impossible for their agents to hide [maintain a false identity].” And of course a plethora of intrusive cyber sleuthing tools and techniques makes staying hidden online just as challenging.
Ms. Crane notes that “in an attempt to address the crisis, the CIA created a multi-million dollar program called the [CIA] Station Of The Future. The program, created in the past decade, was run out of a diplomatic facility in Latin America, and involved a team of spies tyring to build tools and test techniques that could help the industry [the Intelligence Community (IC) battle the digital age.” The intelligence officials who briefed Yahoo News, that “the program died off in the past few years due to bureaucratic neglect and financial neglect. The Station Of The Future was just one of several CIA and FBI-led programs created to try and tackle the digital threat to spies.”
Duyane Norman, a forner CIA official and creator of the Station Of The Future program told the Daily Mail that “the foundatiions of the business of espionage has been shattered. We haven’t acknowledged it organizationally within CIA, and some are still in denial.
How Home DNA Tests Could Expose Intelligence Operatives
As was widely reported last week, the Pentagon ordered all military personnel from using any consumer DNA testing kits because of security concerns. Then of course, there is ancestery sites which adds an additional layer of personal identification.
Below is a repost of an article I wrote this past September.
New Surveillance Technology Means You’ll Never Be Anonymous Again; New Era Of Biometrics And Identity Management Is Radically Disrupting The Intelligence Community; Creating, And Maintaining A Fake Identity — Is Getting More, And More Difficult
Elise Thomas posted a September 16, 2019 article to the security and technology website WIRED.com, with the title above. It is a subject I have written about quite frequently; and, I have been warning about as well. While advancements in facial recognition technology has gotten the lion’s share of the privacy concerns, there are advances in other domains of identity management/biometrics that are also advancing at the rate of Moore’s Law, or faster.
Your Gait/How You Walk Can Give You Away
“The rapidly growing field of behavioral biometrics is based on recognizing individuals based on their patterns of movement or behavior,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “One example is gait recognition, which may well be the next surveillance technology to hit the mainstream, especially if facial recognition comes under tight[er] regulation,” she adds. China is already making use of this technique to monitor its population,” and perhaps in Hong Kong as well.
“There are a few different ways of recognizing an individual from the way they walk,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “The method being employed by Chinese police is based on a technology from a company called Watrix, and relies on the use of video surveillance footage to analyze a person’s movements as they walk. In a recently granted patent, Watrix outlined a method of using a deep convolutional neural network to train an artificial intelligence (AI) system capable of analyzing thousands of data points about a person as they move, from the length of their stride, to the angle of their arms, and use that to recognize individuals based on their ‘gait record.’ Watrix claims that its systems achieve up to 94 percent accuracy; and, that it holds the world’s largest data base of gait records.”
“The vision-based methods of gait recognition being developed by Watrix and others can be used to identify people at a distance, including in crowds or on the street, in a similar way that facial recognition can — which could make it a quick and easy substitute, if regulation is brought against facial recognition,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “Increasingly,” she adds, “many video surveillance systems are collecting multi-model biometrics. That means they may be using facial recognition and gait recognition simultaneously, which at least in theory should both increase the accuracy and tackle issues like identifying people facing away from the cameras.”
“According to the researchers, the benefits of this kind of identification over vision-based systems are that it is less invasive, and less prone to disruption from objects or other people obscuring the camera’s view,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “Of course another way of saying that [since] it is less invasive, is that it is harder for people to detect when it’s being used on them. People might notice when they’re being watched by cameras, but they’re much less likely to be aware of sensors on the floor.”
“You’re heartbeat and you’re breathing pattern are as unique as your fingerprint,” Ms. Thomas notes. “A small, but growing number of remote sensing technologies are being developed to detect vital signs from a distance, piercing through skin, clothes, and in some cases — even through walls. In June, the Pentagon went public with a new laser-based system, capable of identifying people at a distance of up to 200m. The technology dubbed Jetson, uses a technique known as laser doppler vibrometryv to detect surface movement caused by your heartbeat.”
“The eventual goal is to be able to identify a target within five seconds, based on their cardiac signal, or ‘heartprint,’” Ms. Thomas explained. “At the moment however, the Pentagon’s system has a number of limitations: the target needs to be standing still, needs to be wearing light clothing (thick clothing, like a heavy coat, can interfere with the signal), and most importantly, there needs to be a clear line of sight between the laser and the target.”
“Coats, walls, even rocks and rubble, are no obstacle for another nascent surveillance technology, however” Ms. Thomas wrote. “Researchers are hard at work developing radar-based systems capable of tracking vital signs for a range of purposes, from non-invasive monitoring of patients and aiding in medical diagnoses, to finding survivors in search and rescue operations.”
Monitoring Indoor Movements
“But why bother installing new radars when we’re already bathed in a different sort of radiation pretty much all the time?,” Ms. Thomas asks. “Wi-Fi can be used to locate individuals, identify their position in a room, and whether they are sitting or standing, and even track vital signs.”
“Until recently, it was thought a dedicated WiFi network was required [to identify someone in a room], in part because the technique depends upon knowing the exact position of the WiFi transmitters,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “In 2018 however, a group of researchers at the University of California built an app which allowed them to figure out the exact location of the existing WiFi transmitters in a building. With that information, they were able to use normal smartphones and existing ambient WiFi networks to detect human presence and movement inside the room.” “With more than two WiFi devices in a regular room, our attack can detect more than 99 percent of the user presence and movement in each room tested,” the researchers claimed.
“Some research groups want to go further [and have] than just using WiFi to detect [and identify a person] people,” Ms. Thomas wrote. “Based on movements and vital signs, [researchers] they claim it is possible to monitor the subject’s emotional state, and analyze their behavioral patterns. These researchers have formed a company to market a ‘touch-less sensor and machine learning platform for health analytics,’ which they claimed has been deployed in over 200 homes and is being used by doctors and drug companies.”
“Beyond the potential benefits for healthcare and emergency responders, however, the technology also has obvious applications for surveillance,” reconnaissance, and intelligence gathering operations, Ms. Thomas observed. “Technology which is capable of building up a profile a person’s heartbeat and breathing in order to watch for abnormalities in a health context, is readily adaptable to being used to identify one person from another. Radar-based security surveillance systems capable of detecting people are already on the market,”/commercially available. “It’s only a matter of time, perhaps not even very much time, before the ability to identify a person is layered on top,” Ms. Thomas warned.
Tracking Your Microbial Cells
“Every person emits around 36 million microbial cells per hour, and human microbiomes are unique for a certain period of time (a 2015 study found that around 80 percent of people could be re-identified using their microbiome up to a year later),” Ms. Thomas wrote. “This means that the constant trail of microbial traces we leave behind us, as well as those we pick up from our surroundings, can [and are] being used to help reconstruct a picture of a person’s movement and activities — like where they walked, what objects they touched, and what environments they have been in.”
Monitoring Your Scent
“Identifying people by smell is actually one of the oldest police tricks on the book; but, doing it with computers instead of bloodhounds is still in its infancy, in comparison with facial recognition and fingerprint technology ” Ms. Thomas wrote. “The field of oder biometrics may be useful for individual authentication; but, is not well suitedto mass surveillance — separating exactly who smells like that in a crowd can be tricky, as anyone who has been stuck in a public transport on a hot day probably [does] knows.”
Believe it or not, researchers have been working on identifying a specific individual, based on the shape and size of their derriere. Japanese researchers have worked on a technology that demonstrated identifying a person — with 98 percent accuracy — by noting the shape and size of someone’s rear-end. But, Ms. Thomas notes that this research apparently not been further pursued, or at least not publicly known.
Ms. Thomas ends her article noting that the field of biometric identity is undergoing such fast and disruptive change, that oversight, regulation, and public awareness of how the technologies can and are being used — is lacking.
Attempting To Hide One’s Identity And Activities Is Getting Much More Difficult — And Quickly; New Era Of Biometric Identification And Identity Management Is Disrupting Intelligence Operations
None of this is surprising to those of you who follow this blog, and others like it. Attempting to hide, and/or disguise one’s identity — even within the Intelligence and Special Operations communities is extremely challenging to say the least. Are we down to single use HUMINT missions, or use of a source? At least at the unclassified level it sure seems that way.
Identity management, biometrics — DNA-shedding, facial recognition, IRIS scanning, body scanning at airports and other facilities, the texture of ones veins as well as the texture of one’s ears, digital fingerprints, digital exhaust, and so on — make it very, very difficult to conduct and maintain undercover HUMINT operations. As these technologies continue to mature, along with advancements in big data mining, we could soon be forced into single-use HUMINT operative missions. Big data mining, big data analytics — connecting-the-dots also adds another sophisticated layer for hostile intelligence agencies to discover and compromise our agents in the field.
Creating, And Maintaining A Fake Identity — Is Getting More, And More Difficult
As an August 1, 2015 article in The Economist noted, “Credit-cards, mobile phone bills, and a web presence, can be faked; but, it takes a lot of time and intensive effort. One small mistake, one small clue — can bring the whole cover story to a chaotic end. “If you claim to visit Russia for the first time, but your facial bone structure, gait, retina scan, or DNA shows you were there before under another name — you are in trouble. Spymasters cannot easily overcome these difficulties — using people with solid, real-world identities who act as spies on the side is far harder than faking identities.”
“Technology has turned the spy world upside down. The benefits of successful espionage have never been greater. But, so are the penalties for carelessness, both in public opprobrium, and secret disaster,” The Economist concluded.
As Kate Brannan wrote In an April 6, 2015 article in Foreign Policy, “gone are the days of entering a country with a false passport, and wearing a wig and a mustache to hide your true identity. becomes nearly impossible to evade detection.
Lots to think about here. Sure, there are still some unique and clever techniques one can utilize to hide one’s identity; but it is much, much harder to do over any extended period of time — where one small, careless mistake will give you away. Thank goodness, this kind of biometric identification was not available in WWII, since undercover operations, and denial and deception were so important to the Allied victory. RCP, fortunascorner.com