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Pentagon warns consumer ancestry DNA kits pose security risk

(File photo by Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

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Members of the military are being advised not to use consumer DNA kits, which have private companies collecting the information.

According to an internal Pentagon memo, take-home DNA kits could pose security risks to U.S. service members, according to Yahoo News.

The memo is from Joseph D. Kernan, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and James N. Stewart, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

“These DTC genetic and could expose personal and genetic information, and potentially create unintended security consequences and increased risk to the joint force and mission,” the men said. “Exposing sensitive genetic information to outside parties poses personal and operational risks to Service members,”

Companies such as 23andMe and Ancestry sell testing kits that require consumers to send in a cheek swab or saliva sample to get a DNA profile. The Pentagon memo said military personnel are being targeted by some DNA kit companies offering discounts.

(Ancestry reportedly does not offer military discounts.)

The positives from getting DNA results is learning of possible medical risks and family ancestry, but the Pentagon has broader concerns about biometrics.

DNA, fingerprints and facial recognition have been crucial in helping the US identify potential enemies but may expose US national security personnel to identification by other countries, Yahoo News reported.

DOD memo on DNA testing by Sharon Weinberger on Scribd

The article goes on to note that there have been ethical and legal questions arise, as some companies have reportedly shared information with law enforcement or sold it to third parties.

DNA testing could impact how U.S. intelligence agencies operate worldwide.

A former senior intelligence official is cited by Yahoo, saying the rise of DNA swab tests at some international airports has played a role in fewer CIA personnel using aliases while travelling abroad.

Erin Murphy, a professor at New York University’s School of Law, told Yahoo that a foreign government could possibly use a commercial database to unmask a suspected spy operating inside their country.

“It all boils down to the same basic idea,” Murphy said. “In a world in which a few stray cells can be used to identify a person, there is no such thing as a covert action, and no such thing as anonymity.”

The professor laid out a scenario where forces looking to exact revenge could use genetic information to track down covert operatives involved in a high-level foreign military operation — the killing of Osama bin Laden being one such example.

“It’s not hard to imagine a world where people are blithely sharing information online without realizing their third cousin is a Navy SEAL, or an operative of the CIA,” she said.

In that regard, it has been reported that the U.S. military identified bin Laden’s body after he was killed in 2011 by using a sample collected from a family member.

Both Ancestry and 23andMe said in statements that they go to great lengths to ensure customers’ privacy is protected.

Tom Tillison


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