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Nov 18 2020

Countering terrorism: NATO Agency aids in the development of biometrics capabilities


The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency plays an important role in helping NATO Nations work together on identity intelligence capabilities, including biometrics.

Identity intelligence capabilities are crucial to the fight against terrorism. NATO Nations need such information to identify terrorists and other anonymous threats. But for Allies to be able to work together on this issue, they need technically compatible solutions and the same standards when collecting information. That's where the NCI Agency comes in.

NCI Agency experts in Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance support the Alliance's efforts in this area. To learn more, watch the video below.

In recent months, NATO's work on biometrics hit two important milestones. The NCI Agency hosted in September 2020 a pilot of a new exercise focused on biometrics: Northern Spirit 20. Shortly after, the Agency hosted a two-day workshop on biometrics in The Hague, Netherlands. NATO's Emerging Security Challenges Division, through its Defence against Terrorism Programme of Work, sponsored both events.

With the Northern Spirit exercise, NATO sought to practice sharing biometrics and identity information in a scenario that would simulate several NATO-led operations taking place at the same time at sea, and on land. Participants practiced collecting, storing, using, sharing and reporting biometric information.

"The exercise demonstrated why collecting biometrics data is so important – to illuminate anonymous threats and to provide actionable identity intelligence to the commanders," said Radu Cimpean, Senior Scientist in Joint Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

Considering challenges caused by the COVID 19 pandemic, the number of participants was limited. Respecting the health and safety limitations, representatives from Germany and Hungary, as well as from the NCI Agency, participated in the exercise.

The interoperability workshop, which followed the exercise, provided an open forum for participants to consult and demonstrate biometric capabilities to assess the completeness and utility of NATO's standards for biometrics.

Around 50 people participated in the workshop, from six NATO Nations, the Commands, industry and partner organizations. Partner organizations participating included Europol, INTERPOL, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and two US Department of Defence organizations.

During both the exercise and workshop, the Nations used a system developed by the NCI Agency: the NATO Automated Biometrics Identification System, or NABIS.

NABIS shows Nations how to format their biometrics data and share it in the NATO environment.

The NABIS system has a concept called "ping and ring" in place to allow Nations to share data only when it is necessary, while protecting the sources of that data. If a Nation collects biometric data and needs more information to identify that person, they can "ping" the system to see if Nations have a match. Nations can "ring" the Nation asking for data if they have something that could help them. The NABIS system allows them to share this data in a secure manner.

To learn more about the system Nations use to share biometrics information, watch the video below.