Monday, May 2, 2011

The ID of Bin Laden

The forensic issues surrounding this case are numerous. Most important is identification. How do we know this is in fact Osama Bin Laden?

I doubt there will be an accurate visual ID, especially if he was struck in the head with a high velocity round from an automatic rifle. Also, one has to wonder if he may have altered his appearance in some way while living in such a populated area. Visual ID is presumptive and in a case like this, I doubt anyone would release news of this magnitude on a presumptive ID.

Presumptive ID's identify someone was a subset it does not as a unique individual. Presumptive ID's include scars, drivers licenses, passports and tattoos. Islam does not allow tattoos, so if Bin Laden has any scars, it may be helpful. But again, this is not a positive ID

A positive ID relies on unique characteristics attributed only to that individual. DNA, X-ray, dental and fingerprints result in a positive ID.

DNA has become a useful tool in forensic ID, but it takes time. If the raid occurred yesterday at 3:30 pm EST, and the news broke around 5 hours later, I doubt there was enough time to run a sample from the body. DNA will most likely be used to confirm whatever means was used for the ID.

Fingerprints are another excellent means if positive ID as everyone's fingerprints are unique, even among identical twins. The major problem with fingerprints is obtaining antemortem samples. Less than 20% of the US population has fingerprints on file. However, I bet the CIA has Bin Laden's fingerprints on file.

X-ray is also a possibility. I don't know if Bin Laden has any antemortem records on file, but if he does, X-ray can be quick and easy.

My money is on dental. From photographs, it looks like he has well kept dentition, and I would wager he has a dental record sitting on the desk of some CIA agent!

It is often best to use more than one method. Maybe the military used fingerprints and dental and will 100% confirm it with DNA.

Regardless of the methodology, they must have been pretty damn sure it was him before they buried his body at sea (at least I hope they were!).

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


  1. Biometrics used to identify Bin Laden. Pretty amazing technology!

  2. Great link, thanks! I doubt that there is a reference retinal scan on file! I wonder how well this approach holds up after the face/head has been distorted by a high velocity round!

  3. Many people rightly or wrongly don't automatically accept the assertions of the U.S. president but there is no need for photos or videos to verify that Bin Laden was killed.
    There is a room full of his brains and blood a house full of his fingerprints. So the INDEPENDENT verification of his death is clearly a simple matter. If the DNA and human remains in the room match Bin Laden then the issue is resolved.

  4. A good thing to discuss....I've been wondering how did they confirm it was actually Osama (well...Bin Laden means son's of Laden)....

  5. I agree. I think an independent verification would be helpful.

  6. The FBI has had his fingerprints since 1998; courtesy of Saudi Arabia; however I checked with the CJIS Div. and his fingerprints were never received for identification. DNA can be very good, up to a point, but the gov. didn't have his DNA for comparison, they had his half sisters. That could be useful for eliminating bin Ladens--but that house was full of bin Ladens. Did they kill Usama, or one of his brothers? One of his older children? without the body or fingerprints taken from the corpse, we don't know.

  7. I suspect the prints were taken and matched in the field (on the boat) during post mortem. You don't need an AFIS match to compare and eliminate.
    I thought that was a bit fast for DNA to be done.
    Facial biometrics can be tricky, I have seen it fail on twins, so if you consider he took two to the head with a 5.56 round...

  8. hi i had one doubt, whether finger print of human differs within one hour of his death, if so, how we can detect?