Forensic technology enlisted by the British Army to fight global terrorism could help find war criminals in the wake of the war in Iraq.
The army has invested £100,000 in mobile custom-built forensic technology supplied by Ibas, a computer forensics and data recovery company, to identify, capture and analyse data on computer equipment during and since the Iraq war.
It may also have identified companies that ignored UN rules on sanctions.
"Forensic technology is used in the workplace to counter industrial espionage and fraud, but we needed it as a weapon to investigate potential war crimes," Major John Pringle told vnunet.com.
Pringle was part of a specialist unit from the British Army's Land Information Assurance Group, (LIAG), part of the Territorial Army, which was sent to Iraq earlier this year.
The unit's mission was to look at IT security in the field and provide computer forensic capability to search for hidden files, emails and erased information on the hard drives of seized computer equipment.
Pringle, whose day job is as a senior security consultant for consultancy Boldon James, said the unit recovered around 5,500 items of media and 2.2TB of data. It has since handed over all ongoing case files to the US-led Iraq Survey Group.
During the operation, said Major Pringle, the unit "discovered a lot less use of the internet and email systems than we expected, due to sanctions and a culture of distrusting distributed information.
"A lot of computers were glorified typewriters, but we did discover some personally owned high-end machines owned by senior Iraqis."
He added that the unit also found "evidence of companies trying to beat sanctions".
The software, EnCase Version 4 from US-based Guidance Software, was able to search for key words in Arabic. The hardware had to "withstand desert conditions of extreme heat, sand and wind".
Apart from "taking more sunscreen", Pringle said the unit would do some things differently in the event of a similar operation, but that "85 to 90 per cent of the task we got right.
"We applied similar principles towards a commercial IT project, but you can't plan for everything. Next time we'd be more prepared for older media."
Pringle also underlined the army's ongoing need for better communications systems.
"We were with a US outfit because we were part of the coalition, but secure communications back to the UK would have helped," he said.
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