UIDAI's not-so-'clean' partners and their tainted executives
Moneylife Digital Team 15 November 2010

Spending very little or no money at all on independent research or developing biometric solutions, the UIDAI is partnering with companies which have proprietary technologies and upfront loyalties with foreign governments

While the atmosphere in the country is revolving around 'clean' images - which recently has uprooted three top politicians from their respective 'chairs' of power, some government undertakings, however, seem to be ignorant of the change in the winds.

Take for example, the tenders and contracts awarded by the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) - the 'de facto' agency assigned to tag all residents - appears to be opaque in nature. Especially some of the companies and their top managements do have a tainted background and thus have been 'hammered' in the media across the globe.

The UIDAI had selected three consortia - Accenture, Mahindra Satyam-Morpho and L1 Identity Solutions - to implement the core biometric identification system for the Aadhaar programme. UIDAI has stated that the three agencies would design, supply, install, commission, maintain and support the multimodal automatic biometric identification subsystem. The three vendors would also be involved in development of a multimodal software development kit (SDK) for client enrolment stations, the verification server, manual adjudication and monitoring functions of the UID application.

L1 Identity Solutions in particular has names associated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other American defence organisations in its top management or as directors. Although there is nothing wrong in having former top government officials as directors in a company, it is often looked upon as something not quite right. Post-retirement, many top government officials have joined hands with fat profit companies that deal in their areas of expertise. In fact, in many countries, it has now become a trend.

Thousands of other former intelligence officers who have left the CIA and other agencies have returned as contractors, often making two or three times more than what they were making in their former jobs. According to a report published in 2008, contractors were responsible for at least half of the estimated $48 billion a year the US government spends on intelligence. The real figures are kept hidden under the pretext of 'national security'.

L-1 Identity Solutions is one of the largest defence contractors in the US and specialises in selling face-recognition systems, electronic passports such as Fly Clear and other biometric technology to over 25 countries around the world. L-1 is also employed by the US State Department and the Department of Homeland Security for passports, visas, driving licenses and transportation worker ID cards. And the company is on the path to becoming a monopoly in the US, especially for providing Real ID and driver's licenses in that country.

In 2004, George Tenet, ex-director of CIA, joined L-1 Identity Solutions as director on the board. L-1's chief executive Bob LaPenta, in 2006, had said, "You know, we're interested in the CIA, and we have George Tenet."

According to company filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mr Tenet was provided with 80,000 shares of L-1 stock when the company acquired Viisage, where he was also a director. Currently Mr Tenet's name does not appear on the company site.

Mr Tenet is also accused of being one of those who deliberately furnished false evidence to US diplomats in order to garner support for the US 'intervention' in Iraq, post 2001.

However, there are other names like Admiral James M Loy, who is also on the board of Lockheed Martin. Admiral Loy is former Head Secretary of the US Department of Transportation and has also served as deputy undersecretary for Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

BG (Buddy) Beck, another director on L-1's board, was a member of the Army Technology Science Board, which advises and makes recommendations on scientific and technological matters to the US Army.

Milton E Cooper is former Chairperson for the Secretary of the Army's National Science Centre Advisory Board and was Chairman of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association.

Robert S Gelbard, who served as President Clinton's Special Representative for the Balkans, Ambassador to Indonesia and Bolivia, was also Assistant Secretary of State during 1993-1997. He is one of the directors of L-1 Identity Solutions.

Over the years, particularly after taking some top-notch 'retired' intelligence and defence officials on board, L-1 Solutions has made rapid progress.

According to an IT expert, L-1 and NADRA, the Pakistan unique identity agency, appear to have been created on the same business model. "Staffed strongly by persons with intelligence (quasi-military) links, the major goals of both agencies are to do business with their respective governments, and they succeed to the extent that they have virtually no competition. And this is the company UIDAI has welcomed into India," said the expert.

However, there is some furore at present in the US following news that France-based aerospace and defence company Safran is going to buy L-1 Identity Solutions for about $1.1 billion.

According to an agreement, L-1 will put its government consulting services business up for sale for $295 million to a third party. One of the bloggers said: "Just think about how happy you can feel now knowing that your personal information including your social security number and biometric information (fingerprints, iris scans and digital facial images) may soon be available to a French company. The federal government must sign off on the deal before the deal can be sealed. All this brings us back to the topic of the revolving door that exists between government and corporations."

Even, Safran is not so clean when it comes to hiring retired government officials. Michael Chertoff, the former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, is a strategic advisor to Safran.

As far as the issuing of IDs to residents or citizens of any country is concerned, here is what Mark Lerner, from the Constitutional Alliance and author of the book 'Your Body is Your ID', had said...

"Sarcasm alert - the final titbit of information comes from the International Biometrics Agency.  For all of you that keep talking about a New World Order or a One World Government, please stop such ridiculous rumours. Julian Ashbourn speaking as the Chairman of the International Biometrics Agency set our minds to rest when he said the following: "What information do governments share? With whom is my data shared, and why? All of these questions need to be addressed by an agency with global powers.

An agency with global powers? Perhaps I am naive, but I always believed we live in a sovereign country. You may have heard of our country, The United States of China. No, that is not right, The United States of Britain. I will get it right; the United States of France. This country thing is really getting hard to remember. We have the surveillance cameras like Britain; we use facial recognition like China to identify dissidents and we sell L-1 to a French company. Thank goodness for my granddaughter, she just reminded me of what Congress and others have forgotten, this is the United States of America," Mr Lerner said. (Read original posting from Mr Lerner here: http://naturaltreasure.net/scameras/?p=1200).

1 decade ago
It is so Orwellian. 1984 is here again.
pinakin mamtora
1 decade ago
incisive article. M/s.Debashish Basu and Sucheta Dalal must email plus snail-mail it to the personal id/address of Mr.Nandan Nilekani so that he may take corrective action(s) on such seriously sensitive matters.
Samir Kelekar
1 decade ago
Isnt there any law in the US against booking George Tenet for starting an unwanted war by giving false info on Iraq's WMDs and resulting in death of so many Americans, among others?
Rambabu Shastri
1 decade ago
A biometric system is only as good as the safeguards in place to protect it. There are tertiary security threats to it, other than direct threats like espionage. If a babu in the UIDAI surfs a porno site and the system gets infected, you lose one shield intended to safeguard the data available. I would expect that there are folks around the place that can inject fake data into the system, thereby reducing it's credibility. It is like one big happy vendor family that the UIDAI has created, in it's enthusiasm for speedy implementation. To build this kind of infrastructure, they would need more closed source systems at the backend like mainframes from good corporations. IBM being one of them, and each of the shortlisted vendors, will now collaborate with biggies like IBM to provide those systems and services. Our Indian mentality of Jugaar will always remain, as long as we do not directly approach the source companies for their systems directly. IBM would have been a great choice. And not even by a barge pole can we say that Accenture is an integrated vendor. Contacts do matter.
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