U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-WV, announced Thursday (September 7, 2000) that the U.S. Army plans to open a”Biometrics Fusion Center”at the Benedum Airport complex in Harrison County as early as next month.

“This is the next step in the Department of Defense’s effort to enhance its computer security system. By locating this office in Harrison County, the Army will be able to learn from the men and women who operate the largest biometrics depository in the United States at the FBI Complex in Clarksburg,”Byrd explained.

“In addition, the Army will be able to utilize the capabilities of West Virginia University, which is a developing center of excellence in biometrics research and development,”Byrd said.

“The 6,500-square-foot Army facility, which was previously occupied by Columbia Natural Gas, will employ about 25 high-tech employees over the next year to test, evaluate, and access biometrics technology,”Byrd said.

“I have worked to put West Virginia at the forefront of this new Defense Department effort. This, I believe, will prove to be a win-win situation for West Virginia and the nation,”Byrd said.

Last year, recognizing the growing threat to important government computer systems by”hackers”or”cyber-terrorists,”Byrd started working with the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a plan to combat a potential computer catastrophe. Realizing that the nation’s most sensitive military and national security secrets could be accessed by an enemy nation or organization through covert computer attacks, Byrd thought it was crucial that improvements be made to protect these computer systems.

The DoD plan would replace the current computer security system of passwords with the cutting-edge science for identification and authentication called biometrics. Biometrics utilizes unique individual”signatures,”such as a fingerprint, the pattern of veins in one’s wrist, or the network of nerves in the iris of one’s eye.

When a computer network has a biometric security system, the system authenticates the user’s identity from previously saved patterns or distinguishable traits.

“Not too long ago, biometrics was the stuff of science fiction books and James Bond movies. But what some people can dream, others can invent,”Byrd said.

“Biometrics is moving from fiction to reality, and West Virginia is poised to be a major part of its development,”Byrd stated.

In the Fiscal Year 2001 Defense Department Appropriations bill, which was signed into law in July, Byrd added $25 million to advance the biometrics initiative.