The Feds Fingerprint Al-Qaeda

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The FBI and CIA are quietly assembling the most extensive database ever created of the fingerprints of international terrorists. The expanding collection of prints of Al-Qaeda operatives and members of some 30 other terrorist groups is being amassed from the files of police and security services in Pakistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Western Europe and other cooperative nations where violent radicals have operated. The prints are digitized so they can be searched. The advantage: A suspect whose prints are in the system won't be able to spoof it by giving a phony name and false documents.

The fingerprint project, the most ambitious ever undertaken by the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence community, grows out of the U.S. effort to locate and neutralize the 10,000 or so men who went through Al-Qaeda terror camps and are now dispersed in sleeper cells around the world. U.S. counter-terrorism investigators, sifting through interviews with detainees in Guantanamo and documents seized in Afghanistan and Pakistan, place top priority on pinning down the true names and nationalities of these Al-Qaeda operatives. Once that's been accomplished, U.S. agencies canvass security services where the terrorists resided for fingerprints. Mugshots and other identifying data are also being filed in the new system.

A bill that passed the House last December and is expected to win Senate approval this week will require that by the year 2003 all foreign visitors must submit fingerprints and other biometric data, which will be encoded in a tamper-proof visa document. The U.S. State Department will be able to access the FBI/CIA database while considering whether to grant a visa. The Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs authorities will also have access to the names and details in FBI/CIA terror intelligence database when screening visitors at ports of entry.