by Nora Edinger
CLARKSBURG -- In a weekly column released late Tuesday, Sen. Robert C. Byrd discusses West Virginia's growing relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense.
The senator's Byrd's Eye View column specifically refers to the department's impending decision on where to locate a permanent Biometric Fusion Center. The Army has operated an interim center at Harrison-Marion Regional Airport in Bridgeport since 2000. It researches military applications for commercial identifi-cation software.
Tom Gav-in, Byrd's spokesman, said the senator is planning to meet with defense officials soon to discuss that final move.
"That meeting is, hopefully, going to occur in the next several weeks," Gavin said.
In The Exponent Telegram's coverage of a recent spurt of Department of Defense contracts in the region, area technology experts were quoted as saying a permanent location in the North Central area would be a boon to the biometric sector. Biometrics uses bodily characteristics such as fingerprints or hand geometry for identification and security reasons.
Byrd's column also reveals the interim center was a result of a tour Department of Defense officials took of the FBI fingerprint center in Clarksburg. That facility is the largest biometric repository in the world, with more than 40 million criminal records available.
"West Virginia's role in biometrics began four years ago when the Department of Defense approached me with concerns that terrorist organizations and rogue nations were attempting to break into the Pentagon's electronic networks," Byrd stated in the column.
"At my request, DOD officials toured the FBI complex ... and saw first-hand the expertise that already called West Virginia home."
Byrd also referred to West Virginia University and five North Central companies that have a $19 million contract to support the interim and, possibly, the permanent Biometric Fusion Center.
"This work will contribute to the country's ability to defend its electronic and computer information -- ranging from national security secrets to electrical grids or to drinking water systems -- from cyber attack," he said.
Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org