Sunday, May 11, 2008

Personal Update

I don't usually write much about what is going on with me personally in this space, but as this is my 300th post, I thought it somewhat a propos.

As of April 30th, I am no longer employed by Stanley Associates as an Installer/Trainer on the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs' Installation and Training Project. My tenure on ITP was the longest of my professional career to date. I spent six and a half years living out of a suitcase and clocking United frequent flier miles and Starwood points. During the six and a half years I was on the contract, I believe that I traveled more than anyone else across the three traveling teams. In 79 months, I made 79 deployments.

But all that is in the past now. Beginning June 22, I will be working for Northrop Grumman (NG) as a System Administrator. NG has a contract with the Army to install and maintain the Biometric Identification System for Access (BISA). I will be administering said system at Camp Speicher* in Iraq. BISA uses biometric identification technology to provide secure access to Army facilities for non-American civilian employees.

Let's say you are an Iraqi whom the Army wants to hire to work on a base. In order to enter an Army facility, you need a badge. In order to get the badge, the Army will take your photograph and fingerprints. The photograph is taken using a digital camera and the fingerprints are taken electronically.

These images are then transmitted to a facility in the United States. There, checks are run against several databases to make sure that you aren't a criminal or a terrorist. If there are any "hits" against any of the databases, these are reviewed by an adjudicator who must then decide whether the person in the "hit" is you or not. If the adjudicator decides the person is the "hit" isn't you, then the request for a badge is approved and you get your badge.

Your badge has a chip in it that contains the images that were taken previously. Then, each time you show up to work, you put your badge in a smart card reader and put a finger on a fingerprint scanner. The fingerprint scan is compared to the images stored in the chip and software determines if the fingerprints match. The Security Forces airman** also will compare the photo stored in the chip to the person seeking entrance to the base to determine if it is the same person. (Although I imagine the fingerprint comparison is more determinative.) If everything checks out, you go to work.

The system runs on top of plain networked PCs running Windows XP and it will be my job to keep them up and running, along with the associated peripherals (the cameras and fingerprint scanners).

Everyone has asked me why I am doing this. Obviously, the money is good. But, it's not just that. My time on the ITP contract was spent working alongside Foreign Service Officers (FSOs). Almost to a person, FSOs are a bright, driven, hard-working lot. Most of them tend to be from the "liberal internationalist" school of political thought. In my opinion, they seem to feel ashamed of the current administration and America's behavior during that time. One of the things I am most looking forward to in Iraq, is working alongside people that are unabashedly proud of America.

Additionally, there is the challenge of the work environment. I want to find out if I have the courage to work in a war zone.

* Camp Speicher is named for Navy Captain Michael "Scott" Speicher. During the first night of the First Gulf War, January 17, 1991, then-LCDR Speicher's F/A-18 was shot down over Iraq. There are conflicting reports of how his aircraft was downed, and over whether he was even killed. Originally, the Navy reported him as KIA, his aircraft having been downed by a SAM. A conflicting report by the CIA concluded that he was shot down by a missile fired from an Iraqi aircraft, most likely a MiG-25. There are also conflicting reports as to whether or not Captain Speicher survived the downing of his jet. In January 2001, the Secretary of the Navy changed his status to MIA and he was subsequently promoted to Captain.)

** According to my friend, Nick Keck, a lot of the physical security for Army facilities are provided by the USAF's Security Forces.

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