By Gordon Lubold, Navy Times Staff writer, 9 October 2006
Forwarded by

The Pentagon will begin issuing millions of common access cards to every service member starting in late October in an effort to heighten the effectiveness and security of the cards, make them more interoperable and allow them to be more useful in more places.

The new cards, officially called Next Generation CAC, will be issued to service members and other government employees over the next three years, said Mary Dixon, deputy director of the Defense Manpower Data Center in Arlington, Va. Dixon said there are no security guarantees, but that the card’s technology is far more secure than anything to come before it. “There is nothing that cannot be broken into, given enough time, dollars and resources, but we believe that this is as good as it gets, and will only get better over time.”

Spouses and military retirees will not get new cards, but will continue to use the ID cards they have now, officials said.

The front of the new card looks slightly different than the original, with a vertical, rather than horizontal, identifying stripe to indicate that it is the new model, and a larger expiration date that will help security personnel more easily identify which cards are still valid.

The cards will come in different colors for different populations of people, including green and red. They’ll contain bar codes, computer chips and magnetic strips — all very high-tech. But it is what’s under the hood that really distinguishes this card from the existing CAC, Dixon said. The new cards have been re-engineered with a “contactless” capability that will allow them to be used like a subway card in that people can wave them over card readers at a distance of up to about four inches, Dixon said.

That capability could raise concern that personal data could be removed from the card, but Dixon said the chip within the card and the card’s magnetic strip are encrypted, making the data almost impossible to remove. Some of the data to be placed on the cards include an individual’s name, gender, card expiration date, blood type, government agency and branch of service, duty status, pay grade, date of birth and other information.

The chip also will include two encrypted fingerprints. The magnetic strip will include an individual’s Social Security number and “physical security information.” The card will be used to authenticate someone’s identity — an “identity credential” — while the bulk of information on a particular person is stored elsewhere, Dixon said. “I don’t have to store a lot of information about you in a database, so I’m reducing the number of places where information about you is stored.”

The card also will give holders “logical access” to computers, eliminating some of the need to manually enter a computer name and password to log on. Ultimately, the switchover will mean that service members who have the new cards won’t need additional cards to access sites within other governmental organizations.

Creation of the new card is part of a broader security initiative led by President Bush called Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, which aims to increase the security of employees and government agencies by creating a more recognizable card with a single security standard. More than 4 million new cards eventually will be issued to federal employees. But the military, often the guinea pig for many such programs and initiatives, has the lead on this one.

All active-duty, Selected Reserve, Defense Department civilian employees and other contractors will get the card. The card will start rolling out Oct. 27, but this will not be a “mass issuance,” as was done when the first CAC was issued in 2000. Instead, cards will be issued individually by attrition as older cards expire.

The new cards are now being tested at 10 locations around the country, including Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Redstone Arsenal, Ala.; Fort Belvoir, Va.; Fort Hood, Texas; and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.