- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

The FBI and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service need to integrate their fingerprint identification systems more quickly in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said yesterday.

"In light of the events of September 11, the need for linkage is even more critical than ever," Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said in a report. It acknowledged that any integration of the two separate systems "remains years away."

The INS and FBI operate separate fingerprint systems that do not share information on apprehended aliens or individuals wanted or suspected of committing crimes. Three recent Justice Department studies have concluded that integration of the two systems known as IDENT and IAFIS is technically and operationally possible.

IDENT, operated by the INS, is an automated two-print system used to identify and track aliens apprehended trying to enter the United States illegally. The system electronically compares an alien's fingerprints to those of aliens who are recidivists, convicted or suspected of committing serious crimes, previously deported or aliens who may be inadmissible for security-related reasons.

The report noted that the IDENT system must process a high volume of fingerprint checks in no more than a few minutes so INS employees can quickly decide whether to detain an alien.

IAFIS, maintained by the FBI, is an automated ten-print system that relies on rolled fingerprints rather than the flat, pressed prints used by IDENT. It contains more than 40 million 10-print fingerprint records in its criminal master file and is connected electronically with all 50 states and several federal agencies.

The report said the IAFIS response time for criminal fingerprints submitted electronically is two hours. While IAFIS was built to handle a large volume of fingerprint checks against a large database, it requires ten rolled prints to search latent fingerprints found at crime scenes.

"Our primary finding in this follow-up review is that the department and its components have moved slowly toward integration of the two fingerprint systems," said Mr. Fine, adding that the need to integrate the systems because of possible future terrorism events was "critical."

The IG's report, requested by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, recommended that INS continue to use IDENT while proceeding with integration of the two systems.

In addition, the report supports deployment of IDENT workstations to additional INS sites pending its full integration with IAFIS. IDENT is the only fingerprint identification system currently available to the INS that allows a rapid check of aliens seeking entry into the United States legally or illegally.

The department's Justice Management Division, which is coordinating the project, is field testing the first stage of an integrated system to gauge its operational impact and to test the system's performance. The report said INS anticipates significant increases in its staffing and detention expenses when the two systems are integrated to handle the growing number of criminal aliens who would be identified and need to be detained.

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