It has become routine to identify individuals from their DNA.  The recent killing of five Israelis and their Bulgarian driver by a suicide bomber demonstrates the importance of such an investigative tool as Israel might consider the attack a casus belli if the attacker can be identified by DNA and plausibly linked to either Hezbollah or Iran.

Hezbollah has used suicide tactics in the past; Iran has not. Hezbollah is widely regarded as a surrogate of Iran, though the argument that it does Tehran’s bidding is somewhat overstated. The U.S. media and some parts of the federal government are following the Israeli lead in blaming the bombing on Iran, ignoring both the strong possibility that al-Qaeda might have sponsored the attack and the lack of any evidence implicating Tehran. But that can quickly change thanks to DNA.

The Bulgarian government, aided by the FBI and Israeli security experts, has obtained DNA samples from the bomber, together with fingerprints to aid in his identification. The bomber’s nationality continues to be unknown in spite of the evidence collected, but initial claims that he was a former Guantanamo prison inmate who had been subsequently released by the Swedish government turned out to be inaccurate.

The issue of DNA sampling is itself rather interesting. The CIA program in Pakistan to collect DNA in an attempt to find Osama bin Laden has been described at length. Less noted is the fact that a worldwide database of DNA samples has slowly been developing. Many western European and Asian police forces routinely collect DNA from suspects in criminal and even in some civil cases. This information is freely shared with other police forces and with INTERPOL when an investigation is underway. In the United States, more than 20 states have passed laws requiring the police to obtain a DNA sample whenever anyone is arrested. Arrested, not convicted, and the process is involuntary. The Obama administration wants to make the procedure mandatory in all 50 states, and Congress has voted money for fund the project.

Maryland has a law mandating that all those arrested for violent offenses provide samples. At least four states require all juveniles to be sampled. Interestingly, the Supreme Court of the United States is currently considering a challenge to the Maryland law based on the claim that taking DNA samples involuntarily amounts to an illegal search and therefore is contrary to the Fourth Amendment. The authorities argue that the taking of samples to link suspects to other possible crimes is good police work. Both sides agree that the collection of DNA has led to few linkages to other criminal cases, with only 19 additional charges filed in Maryland in 2011, resulting in only 9 convictions. So much for the legal argument, but another issue that is not being raised in court is the gradual creation of a massive database to identify U.S. citizens. How will the information be collected, retained, protected, and used? By what authority does any government have the right to obtain the biological profile of someone who has done no wrong? Together with increasingly sophisticated database mining and memories of the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness program, this suggests that the federal government is pursuing its post 9/11 agenda to have all citizens and permanent residents identified and categorized in a file somewhere to make everyone “safer.”