Anyone who has ever watched the hit TV series 24 or seen any of the Mission Impossiblemovies has surely wondered if the high-tech gadgets they see on the screen exist in real life. In the case of the biometric ID badges that are used to access secure sites and computer networks, the answer is yes. And the person who led the development of these real-life smartcards that are critical to the operations of our military is Robert Brandewie.
The development of the Defense Department’s (DoD) smartcard began in 1999. High fidelity scanners and printers, coupled with the growth of the Internet, had made the production of high-quality fake credentials cheaper and easier. Also, the quality of the fakes was much improved. Accordingly, DoD launched a project to reduce the fraud associated with the standard Armed Forces ID card. The smart card program would also improve the security of physical and logistical access and enable e-commerce.
As the Director of the Defense Manpower Data Center, Robert Brandewie and his team would create what is known as the Common Access Card (CAC). The multi-function CAC represents the first successful federal government implementation of a smartcard-based ID system. It currently provides more than 3 million DoD military personnel, civilian employees and contractors with state of the art digital credentials. Every day, DoD issues an additional 10,000 Common Access Cards, in almost 1,000 different locations around the world. Proving the security value of this technology, at European facilities that require Common Access Cards for entry, DoD has denied access to persons with inadequate credentials more than 1 million times.
A Presidential directive now requires all federal agencies to credential their employees with similar smartcards.
Brandewie and his group have developed additional identity systems that build on the CAC. The Defense Biometric Identity System (DBIDS) is a centralized database that includes information about pictures, clearances and other biometric data. The DBIDS system allows DoD to digitally authenticate visitors using more than merely pictures, which are easy to fake. DBIDS not only independently displays the photo of the legitimate ID cardholder, but it also provides the capability to compare fingerprints and validate the credential.
Brandewie’s team has also developed the technology to digitally authenticate any DoD credential using a Web-based interface. He created another system that allows the same secure Web authentication of credentials issued by DoD’s commercial partners.
Some cynics might suggest that Brandewie’s accomplishments are simply “good for government work.” The fact is Brandewie’s work is on the cutting edge of these new technologies. The private trade association, the Smart Card Alliance, gave Brandewie its Individual Leadership Award in 2005 for his achievements which have propelled the industry forward. In addition, many of Brandewie’s private sector partners praise him for creating an environment of entrepreneurship, independence and innovation in his agency. They say that his shop operates more like a high-tech start-up company in Silicon Valley than the common perception of a federal agency.
Unlike 24 hero Jack Bauer’s cell phone which gets a signal everywhere and always keeps a charge, Robert Brandewie has created real-life technologies that have enhanced our national defense. Thanks to his leadership and technical expertise, the Defense Department has world class capability to detect and deter fraudulent credentials and provide increased security on its bases and in its computer systems.