New Harder-to-Counterfeit Iraqi Police Uniforms

In an effort to deal with the problem of imposters in fake uniforms, Iraqi policemen now have a new uniform:

Police Colonel Abdul-Munim Jassim explained why the new uniform would be difficult for criminals to fake.

“The Americans take a photo of the policeman together with the number of the uniform. If found elsewhere, it will immediately be recognised as stolen,” he said.

Bolani promised tough measures against anyone caught counterfeiting or trading in the uniforms and praised his officers, telling them their work had begun to turn back the tide of violence around Iraq.

I’m sure these things help, but I don’t see what kind of difference it will make to a normal citizen faced with someone in a police uniform breaking down his door at night. Or when gunmen dressed in police uniforms execute the brother of Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi.

Posted on October 11, 2006 at 12:28 PM32 Comments


roy October 11, 2006 1:06 PM

This plan might help detect infiltration into police armories and equipment storage areas being quietly raided for arms, equipment, and intelligence, but even that’s a stretch. Ordinarily, at any ‘cop shop’ no cops will challenge the identity of anyone who looks like a cop.

In the changeover period, some cops will have the new uniforms, and some the old, so the plan does not begin to take effect until new uniforms vastly outnumber the old.

I doubt the scheme will have any impact on the hit squads. Real cops do not show ID. Their confident dominant attitude suffices to identifiy them. The trouble is, a hit squad will have that same attitude.

Where the scheme fails the worst is in making it impossible for citizens, or police, to distinguish the police from the assassins when they’re in plainclothes.

I think the uniform change is just to pretend the government is doing something.

Timm Murray October 11, 2006 1:12 PM

Doesn’t sound much like anti-counterfeiting at all, but rather a way to identify stolen uniforms.

Which brings up an interesting question–how do you stop counterfeit uniforms? As I see it, the requirements are:

1) Must be cost-effective to manufacture
2) The measures must be easy to see under various lighting conditions
3) Can’t interfere with special requirements of the uniforms (armor, camoflage, etc.)

The second one is the hardest, I think. You can’t use the subtle measures used on currency, like very fine details in the pictures, since you couldn’t see them unless you’re up close under good light. Doing this under very dark conditions may be impossible, but you should be able to see the measures under low-light, at least.

Brett October 11, 2006 1:32 PM

This also does nothing about dirty cops turned assassins. Their uniforms are authentic, but their actions are still reprehensible.

David Dyer-Bennet October 11, 2006 1:42 PM

Short of the Arisians guaranteeing that they’ll never issue a Lens to anybody not worthy of it, it’s a hard problem.

(Edward E. Smith, Lensman series, science fiction).

another_bruce October 11, 2006 1:45 PM

most of the iraqi cops are shiites looking for payback for what the sunnis did to them during the saddam era. what difference do their uniforms make? this is most likely an attempt by the government to mischaracterize the problem as officer impersonation.

kme October 11, 2006 1:49 PM

Not related, but this just popped up on the Onion:

U.S. Cryptographers: ‘FrpX-K5jE-Oc4n-e5Dn’

WASHINGTON, DC—In a carefully phrased, 128-bit encoded announcement that has challenged U.S. security agency procedures, top officials of the National Cryptography and Information Security Council warned that “FrpX-K5jE-Oc4n-e5Dn” if “Ha4d-87gH-uiH3-gB5r-g8Bh” late Monday.

Dom De Vitto October 11, 2006 2:12 PM

I think the key thing is that cop uniforms can’t get “borrowed”, as they are serialised. Nor can dirty cops expect to get away so easily.

Of course, counterfeit uniforms will be made, but I guess that’s not the real problem – it’s REAL uniforms being used 🙁

Politically, the authorities can hardly say “we have a lot of dirty cops, so we are putting big numbers on each one so they behave, at least when on duty.”

pb69dP October 11, 2006 2:16 PM

The seam in jeans also has a stone washed fabric pattern that can identify where jeans are bought from. Something featured on Americas most wanted about a decade ago. Each individual wearing jeans has a unique pattern and this can be analysed with specific forensic software. Perhaps it’s best to wear a suit when robbing your next bank.

Andre LePlume October 11, 2006 2:40 PM


The suit-wearing, white-collar bank robbers are indeed least likely to be caught. :^)

quincunx October 11, 2006 2:53 PM

And what is it exactly that makes Iraqi policemen non-criminals?

Did they suddenly stop arresting children who transport gasoline and attempt to sell it at a higher price than the puppet government deems necessary?

Or is violating persons in the name of upholding the various price controls not considered a crime by the statists who frequent this forum?

The uniforms are a tactic to quell the population into submitting to their authority, and not anyone else’s. It is a simple way of saying: don’t kill or maim me, because I’ve got a whole big posse that will come back for revenge.

Brian October 11, 2006 3:03 PM

I think Dom may have nailed it. It’s hard to see how this tactic will prevent people from impersonating cops… but it might let somebody who just watched their uncle get dragged into the street and shot identify who did it.

If that really is the goal, it changes the kinds of security problems you need to worry about. Counterfeiting the uniform is still a risk (since you could frame someone), but you also need the uniform to be tamper-proof in some way so that it is difficult for someone wearing the uniform to hide their number.

Making a uniform tamper-proof would be a bit tricky, but what if someone did figure out how to do it? Would the death squads just stop wearing uniforms? Or would they make sure there are never any witnesses?

Alan Porter October 11, 2006 3:35 PM

I guess they’ll evenutally end up wearing football uniforms with big numbers on the back. Then the “official” can come out, blow a whistle and say “murdering civilians, number 62, 15 yard penalty”.

derf October 11, 2006 3:42 PM

@Timm Murray

4) Must be easy to identify as authentic (i.e. significantly, visually different from any possible non-authentic copy at a distance)

5) Widely known as authentic by an overwhelming majority of the population

Duder October 11, 2006 4:13 PM

This doesn’t solve anything:
– the uniforms have to be manufactured somewhere, so they can be stolen there
– the uniforms can be taken from bodies of killed officers
– the uniforms can be copied (they just have to be good enough for the initial impression)
And we have other uniforms: medics, soldiers, postal workers…..

Aaron Luchko October 11, 2006 4:36 PM

I don’t know enough about the manufacturing process for clothing and uniforms but I suspect the “digital camouflage pattern” needs somewhat special equipment to manufacture. It can still be cost effective on the large scale but individual groups won’t have the resources to make large numbers of convincing fake uniforms.

As for the numbers if they make them big enough so that they can’t be obscured without it being really obvious.

The first measure means that if you see someone wearing a police uniform there’s a very high probability that person is a police officer.

The second measure means that if an officer is obscuring their number they are very likely up to no good (and you can report it, anonymously of course). Of course if they do something naughty with their number showing it’s easy to report them.

Of course uniforms can still be stolen which nullifies both security measures but if done properly the number of stolen uniforms can be kept fairly small.

Of course the aim of all this is to stop the bad guys from doing bad things while wearing police uniforms. If it actually works they just might be able to have a local security force that the public more-or-less trusts.

However, I fear I’m being way too optemistic

theprez98 October 11, 2006 6:18 PM

For any of you that are actually in Iraq (not many I suspect), you would probably agree the uniform of the IPs is a silly little matter compared with the many other issues of much greater importance in this country.

doublepluspointless October 11, 2006 8:04 PM

From the article:

“Peterson also paid tribute to the 4,000 officers who have been killed in the past two years.”

Yup, a great big serial number is exactly what I’d want if I were a cop (dirty or not) in Iraq right now.

The result will be either mediorcity (who wants to stand out and be identifiable and risk having one side or the other kill you) or non-compliance (IIRC even cops in Oz have been known to cover their badge numbers when breaking up protests).

At least security theater finally has a costume department.

stefs October 11, 2006 9:15 PM

the first thing i thougt of was not how civilians could identify imposters with fake uniforms, but how other policemen – or officials – could identify imposters with real (stolen or sold) ones. if this problem was solved, the one of fake uniforms would be too.

a police officer doesn’t know every other one, moreover i assume there is no working network to compare global data, e.g. over the internet. so, if a random police officer has to be identified by another one who doesn’t know him personally, without any network connection – is there a way to examine if the uniform really belongs to the person wearing it, provided there is the technical equipment available (if no special equipment is required, it would work for civilians too). there also can’t be too much shared information around that has to be updated frequently (like checksums of every officer).

maybe i don’t get the obvious here, but my first bet was on asymmetric encryption. there has to be information that could not be given to or taken by any imposter – secret codes or personal information (birthdaye, social security number) do not work, because they could be freely shared (for money) or stolen (by torture).

what about a picture of the police officer? unencryptet (printed) it makes no sense, because it could be faked easily. but a picture (and various visible and checkable information like tattoos) could be encrypted with a secret key at the factory, then the resulting string would printed on the uniform as, say, a barcode, and encrypted with the public key. a successfull decryption would show an image of the police officer the uniform was made for.

but of course, thats way too complicated. it would require lots of hardware, identifying would probably take to long and you can’t store the contents of a whole picture on a barcode. the last one is not a problem – it could be stored on an id-card too.
not really a solution that depends on instantly recognizeable uniforms, and it certainly doesn’t help the civilians.

but simply printing the picture on the uniform directly would make it easy to fake. even worse, if people were to believe in this insecure method, they are more at risk because they’d probably trust an imposter more than without bad identification.

so there had to be a way to make the pictures tamperproof without (public/private key) technology involved. i think, the one who finds an easy (meaning without doing the decryption in your head 🙂 solution to this would be rich beyond imagination.

but! what, if the use of technology would be allowed? lets say, mms (multimedia message service) enabled cellphones?

then it could work this way: the officers uniform has a big unique code (4 alphanumeric chars are enough for about 1,5 million cops) on it, that is recognizeable from the distance or through peepholes. the user sends an sms with it to a public service number, and recieves an image of the assigned officer.

this method has its drawbacks: people need cellphones, a working signal, and the service had to be free. moreover it takes time, so it could hardly be done in stressfull situations (eg. shootings). additionally, if an imposter visually resemples the cop the uniform was stolen from …

but at least, if you have to decide to let a potential impostor wearing an uniform into your flat or not, this could help.

(excuse my bad english, not my mother tongue)

stefs October 11, 2006 9:18 PM

ps: “(…) but I don’t see what kind of difference it will make to a normal citizen faced with someone in a police uniform breaking down his door at night.”

if someone breaks down your door at night, it doesn’t make a lot of difference if the intruder has a real or a fake or no uniform at all.

thats a whole different kind of problem.

Jerome Lacoste October 12, 2006 7:29 AM

If I understand this is only made to protect against the fact that old uniforms are easily found in the black market. Kind of the same thing one country does when making new coins.

So it basically puts the pressure on bad guys to find new ways of getting new uniforms / counterfeiting thems.

They either have to have more money, or make new operations that will expose them.

It’s war by the finances and give the goog guys a lead time of some months or years before the situation is back to what it is now (if the political side doesn’t improve).

With a rate of 20 cops killed per week, bad guys will have enough uniforms in 6 months to be operational. That 20 dead cops/ week rate may lower if counterfeited uniforms was the reason for these killings.

Kind of killing the egg or the chicken.

Clive Robinson October 12, 2006 7:50 AM

What is the point / purpose of the uniforms?

A few questions might reveal the answers,

1, Will it stop cops getting killed = NO
2, Will it sop civilians getting killed = NO
3, will it increase the liklyhood of a cop getting killed = PROBABLY
4, Will it decrease the number of bad cops = PROBABLY NOT
5, Will it decrease the number of civilians killed by people diguiesed as cops = PROBABLY NOT

6, Will it look politicaly good in the press etc = YES

Unless anybody can come up with an other question with a convincing YES answer under all circumstances then,

I guess my above questions supply the real answer of why they are bothering to do it….

Harrold October 12, 2006 12:11 PM

With 4000 police killed in the past two years, it seems like getting a new uniform won’t be too hard, though you’ll have to mend the bullet holes.

John October 12, 2006 1:09 PM

Does anybody even remember why uniforms exist at all?

The way I see it, the new uniforms are an effort to address the “impersonating an officer” issue.

Assume you’re walking down the street, and you see a guy wearing an orange jumpsuit. That’s a problem, right?

Eventually, seeing a guy in the old uniform raises similar red flags.

Uniforms exist for a reason, and with (paramilitary) police, it’s always important to know if you’re dealing with an actual officer.

Whether he’s a dirty cop out for revenge or what is kinda irrelevant.

When anybody can get the uniform and commit crimes, you don’t even know if there’s a dirty cop or not.

No, it’s not perfect, and it will never be. But it’s probably a small step in the right direction.

Davi Ottenheimer October 12, 2006 1:57 PM

“Does anybody even remember why uniforms exist at all?”

Halloween? Oh, sorry, you said uniforms, not costumes.

“But it’s probably a small step in the right direction.”

As a morale booster and “look busy” step, perhaps. As a security measure, it’s not clear yet which direction, but it seems unlikely that putting a number and new pattern on a police uniform will help prevent a civil war. Sorry, I mean sectarian violence.

LsH October 14, 2006 7:04 AM

If they make the new uniforms bullet prove it make sense, but I don’t expect that. So I think that there is no real advance in getting new uniforms. They will be counterfeited in a very short time and after that time nothing better as the current ones.

ineedinfoaboutiraqpolice October 15, 2007 4:30 PM

hi im doin a scool social studies report on the iraqi police and i want to no wut the uniform is made of (ex. blue hat, dark shorts ect.)

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