How the Army is advancing facial recognition

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How the Army is advancing facial recognition

The Army is using its latest advancements in facial and voice recognition tech to help track and identify potential terrorists and other adversaries for overseas intelligence personnel.

The Army's C5ISR Center, a research organization, has been implementing two face and voice recognition programs — Video Identification, Collection and Exploitation (VICE) and Voice Identity Biometric Exploitation Services (VIBES) — which U.S. Central Command and the Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve use to identify people who may pose a threat to the DOD's missions. VIBES has been around at least since 2015 and has recently been integrated into VICE, which is closing in on a one-year milestone.

"The Army employs biometrics systems in operations to support force protection, physical access needs and other operations, but largely it's been fingerprint based," Keith Riser, a computer scientist for the Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate at the C5ISR Center at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md., told FCW.

In the past year, VICE/VIBES have been able to create about 25,000 biometric records, process hundreds of watchlist matches, facially template thousands of individuals and voice-print hundreds of "unpictured, unvoiced ISIS fighters" and other actors, Riser said.

With VICE, CENTCOM has been able to spot "a suspicious person of interest at a training event who was filming with their cell phone," determine if that an individual had a previous biometric enrollment and nominate them to be put on a watchlist and denied access to the event, Riser said.

Another example, involved identifying and reporting a senior Iraqi military officer who had been suspected of terrorism. The C5ISR Center and the system operators "don't take any disposition on that," Riser said, "but once we make that linkage, we're able to have that person be nominated to watchlists and whatever action needs to be taken."

Since July 2018, CENTCOM, which operates in North Africa, the Middle East and Central and South Asia, has been using the tech to wrangle the "growing database" of individuals in areas of operation using publicly available information. Some of that media comes from internet sources, such as publicly facing websites, and "other forensic media that's been collected" Riser said.

"I don't want to make this sound like we're going out there and scraping the internet because that's a huge problem in its own right. That's not really what we are. We're a face-matching system, providing the analyst a way to match faces against media that they have," he said.

"For the most part, it's something that they've had and want to be able to say 'who is this person' ...You might not always be able to [collect] a fingerprint, but this way we can check against the face."

But the rise of deepfakes does raise concerns for the Army. "As we're collecting data, the potential for those images that we received to be a deepfake is becoming more and more of a possibility," Riser said. "In some of our analysis, it's something that we've identified that we want to pursue more. Right now, when we have data against the watchlist we have pretty good confidence that it's not."

In the next two years or so, C5ISR wants to make VICE/VIBES a program of record under the Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare, and Sensors' program manager for DOD biometrics. Decisions that determine whether that will happen will begin to take place in early 2020, Riser said.

The present focus, however, is on improving the Biometric Examination Services workflow that "allows analysts to have a more accurate first pass on facial recognition," he said.

Riser said he personally thinks the systems' "capabilities will be able to persist and grow throughout the DOD and agency" and wants to improve them, clean up data and make it more shareable with other DOD systems.

"We're just focusing on trying to make sure that any systems in DOD that need access to this information can obtain it," he said.

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is a staff writer at FCW covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at, or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.

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