Military Services Failed to Report Hundreds of Criminal Fingerprint Records to FBI, Watchdog Finds

Mourners arrive at a funeral for members of the Holcombe family who were killed when an Air Force veteran with a violent history opened fire at the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, killing 26. Mourners arrive at a funeral for members of the Holcombe family who were killed when an Air Force veteran with a violent history opened fire at the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church, killing 26. Eric Gay/AP

One month after an Air Force veteran with a history of violence killed 26 churchgoers in Sutherland, Texas, the Pentagon inspector general released a study showing that the military services failed to submit required fingerprint data to the FBI’s national database in hundreds of cases where service members had been convicted of violent crimes.

The requirements to send fingerprint records and final disposition reports of court-martialed service members were not followed in as many as one-fourth of the relevant cases, the watchdog said in a review begun in February.

During the two years reviewed, 2015 and 2016, the services’ law enforcement arms were supposed to submit 2,502 fingerprint cards to the FBI, but 601 (24 percent) were not, auditors found. And only 780 (31 percent) of the required final disposition reports were received by the FBI’s national Criminal Justice Information Service.

“Any missing fingerprint card and final disposition report can have serious, even tragic, consequences, as may have occurred in the recent church shooting in Texas,” the IG wrote. “The failure to populate FBI databases with all the required fingerprint records can result in someone purchasing a weapon who should not. It can also hinder criminal investigations and potentially impact law enforcement and national security interests.”

The agencies responsible are the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Army Military Police, the Navy Security Forces, the Air Force Security Forces, and the Marine Corps Military Police and Criminal Investigative Division.

Compliance varied by service, auditors found. The Air Force, for example—which after the Texas tragedy was forced to admit that it had failed to enter data on the shooter that might have prevented his future purchase of weapons—had a relatively low rate (14 percent) of un-submitted fingerprints and disposition reports.

The Army’s rate of missing fingerprint cards was 28 percent; its rate of missing final disposition reports was 41 percent. The Navy and Marine Corps rates of missing fingerprint and disposition records were 29 percent and 36 percent, respectively, for both services.

Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine called the lapses “serious deficiencies.”

“In this evaluation, we did not determine the exact causes for the deficient practices among the services, who did not ensure that the required records were submitted,” the IG said, noting that causes will be examined in the future. Early in the program, fingerprints were taken manually on cards and copied for transfer, but over the past several years, the process shifted to “live scans” done fully electronically.

In the case of the Army, auditors suggested the service “did not have a mechanism to ensure that the field units were submitting all of the fingerprint cards as required.”

Among the IG’s recommendations are that the secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force ensure that all fingerprint cards and final disposition reports be promptly submitted to FBI databases. “More broadly, we recommended that the secretaries, the undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, and the deputy chief management officer immediately perform a comprehensive review of their criminal investigative databases and files” going back at least to 1998, the report said.

Auditors also recommended that other investigative criminal history information such as crime data and DNA samples be included with submitted files.

The services agreed and said they had begun taking steps to remedy the situation. Also agreeing to improve the system was the Defense IG’s own Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

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