Home DNA tests not on the Pentagon’s Christmas wish list for troops


Here’s a puzzle for you. If you happen to have sent a Christmas gift to that friend or family member who is in the military, the Pentagon would prefer that it not be a home DNA test kit from one of those genealogy companies like Ancestry or 23andMe. But why?

The answer isn’t entirely clear from this report at NBC News. Some of the generalities the military is citing sound well-intentioned enough. They mention things like privacy concerns and the potential inaccuracies in any sort of health analysis done in this fashion. But does it really justify steering our warfighters away from what many people consider to be a fun family ancestry study?

Senior Pentagon officials have told members of the Armed Forces to skip what may seem like the perfect holiday gift — an at-home DNA test.

In a Dec. 20 memo obtained by NBC News, Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan and James Stewart, acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, said that DNA testing companies were targeting military members with discounts and other undisclosed incentives.

“Tests that provide health information have varying levels of validity, and many are not reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration before they are offered,” the memo said.

The Pentagon memo is rather sparse, but it points to only two areas of concern, neither of which seem to make much sense. Their first objection is that the test results may contain inaccuracies. They go on to say that this is “a fact that poses more risk to military members than regular consumers.” Huh? How so?

This is explained by saying that inaccurate results “could negatively affect the required disclosure of those members’ medical information.” So what they’re saying is that you might get back medical data which you would then be forced to disclose to the military. But doesn’t the military want to know such details? After all, that’s why they ask in the first place.

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Also, I’ve done the 23andMe test myself. They don’t diagnose conditions you have. What they do is show you whether or not you have a genetic propensity toward various medical conditions. You’d still have to go down to the doctor and be tested to find out if there’s actually a problem. Many people have a higher propensity for certain conditions but never wind up coming down with the problem.

The other alarm bell the Pentagon is sounding has to do with protecting your genetic data. The memo states that “outside parties are exploiting the use of genetic materials for questionable purposes, including mass surveillance and the ability to track individuals without their authorization or awareness.” Perhaps I’m just being naive here, but how do we go from Ancestry having some of your DNA to someone being able to trace your movements and surveil you? To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t DNA sampling and analyzing devices embedded in all the ATMs. (Well… at least not yet.)

Going on nothing more than my spider senses here, there’s got to be more to this story that we’re not hearing. First of all, it would be pretty out of character for the Pentagon to be worried about the privacy of the troops because the troops have no right to privacy from the chain of command. If we’re talking about some scenario where hostile foreign powers could get hold of the troops’ DNA data and somehow use that against us, well… that’s a pretty complicated conspiracy theory to construct. I honestly don’t know where this is coming from, but I’m willing to bet we’ll find out there’s more here than meets the eye later on.

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