Detecting a crime before it happens- LA Times

A recent article published May 28, 2010 in the LA Times explored new technologies that are developed by Bob Burns and Larry Willis, who both work for the Department of Homeland Security.

Burns, who works in the Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency is developing “mal-intent”- software and technology that could potentially detect nonverbal cues from people who harbor malicious intent. The technology being developed “represents the future in screening: trying to find the bomber, not just the bomb” according to the article, written by Bob Drogin.

Larry Willis, who works in the Human Factors Division, is developing technology that can spot microexpressions, that “may or may not indicate hostile intent.”

Dr. Paul Ekman, the scientific consultant of Lie to Me and one of the leading researchers in the field, doubts that high tech-tools can do any better than behavior detection officers. He also dismisses Willis’ work and says that “The research already shows that not every person intending hard shows micro-expressions” and that the program is “A waste of time.”

However, other leading researchers in the field disagree.

Dr. Mark Frank, a psychologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo and deception expert, calls the work “worthwhile” and says that “If the science helps us make better guesses, I think that it is very productive and at least it’s the right approach.”

Dr. David Matsumoto agrees with Dr. Frank. Although he says a 100% foolproof system is never going to happen, he also says that its possible to “deploy something that better than what we have now” and that “both programs are well on their way to doing that.”

To view the complete article, click here

3 responses to “Detecting a crime before it happens- LA Times”

  1. Ross Wolf says:

    On May 27, 2010 Obama gave a speech stating he wanted the power to override the U.S. Constitution, to detain indefinitely in prolonged detention without probable cause or evidence, any U.S. Citizen based on he assumption someone is likely to commit a violent act in the future.

    TSA’s scheme to uncover Terrorists before boarding flights, using the new technology “Spot–Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” is believed by many to be a scam. Government paid millions of dollars for this alleged technology and to train hundreds of TSA personnel to implement it. The new Screening Techniques include TSA security at airports tracking and monitoring a “Set Of Involuntary Physiological Reactions” to detect when a person “harbors malicious intent” as opposed to when someone is late for a flight or annoyed by something else. It should have been apparent to TSA/Homeland Security that few humans even trained psychiatrists, have the capability to differentiate-sets of involuntary physiological reactions in Americans and different ethic groups and cultures to determine when someone is harboring malice intent; for example certain Asian cultures do not always show emotion; other cultures might overly express emotion. Any American salesman boarding a flight may harbor malice to smash his business competition once arriving at his business destination and could show “A Set Involuntary Physiological Reactions” that appear to harbor malicious intent.” More recently it was reported TSA is considering buying a new technology that supposedly can analyze body-odor from a distance at airports to determine whether a potential passenger is under a certain kind of stress that signals hostility. This idea it isn’t worth discussing.

    TSA’s new technology “Spot–Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques” may actually help sophisticated terrorists escape detection at airport checkpoints: Could TSA’s training narrow the observation capability of TSA trained security personnel at airports to uncover terrorists, by conditioning TSA observers to rely on specific techniques to Spot–Screen Passengers? It is relevant to mention that Russian KGB Agents and (spies) were trained to monitor their own physiological reactions under stress and to pass lie detector tests when they were lying. U.S. Homeland Security recently was quoted in the LA Times as having said they stop people that show no emotion. For the most part that could be a wasted effort, millions of Americans are medicated for psychological issues and often don’t show normal or any emotion at all.

    Russian KGB agents were taught not only to “monitor” their body language, but copy and implement other people’s’ body language including mannerisms while on a mission to prevent their own body language from being read. KGB training included covertly filming their agents’ “body language” during a mission, then providing the film to the agent so he or she could repeatedly review the film and modify their body language to avoid detection. It is foreseeable sophisticated terrorists could also copy and emulate other people’s non-threatening body language and portray different character types, just like actors do, to avoid detection by TSA airport security and other government security. TSA airport Security and other government-trained security may constrain their ability to catch terrorists by relying too much on “Spot–Screening Passenger Techniques” at airports and by over relying on communication patterns of phone calls and emails. It is also a concern whether U.S. Government can keep their passenger observation techniques secret when they provide that training information to so may trainees. It is foreseeable more sophisticated terrorists could use that training information to implement verbal and non-verbal elements (body language) to map around TSA’s security personnel training to avoid detection in the future should TSA passenger screening techniques and technology ever prove successful.

  2. Othmane Benkirane says:

    I must disagree with Dr. Matsumoto in that subject: I think real terrorists will be trained well enough not to show their intentions on their faces, if this system is in place. It will only affect those who are angry, because of an irrelevant topic, if the system is not good enough.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is not really useful. Unless it is really powerful.

  3. Keith D. says:

    There are inherent flaws with this approach. Screening for the harmful content is always going to be far better than screening for the intent. Here’s why:

    1. A person with hostile intent need only find a patsy who can be made unaware of what they’re about to take part in. One person in an airport yacking on the phone in the bathroom for 2 minutes is all it takes for someone to slip a bomb into their suitcase. If we become too dependent upon this kind of behavioral intent detection technology, we’ll become lax in very fundamental, basic security procedures and this could potentially slip through security.

    2. There is no way to determine WHAT intent someone has, or why. By far, the vast majority of people who will be detained by these techniques, will be people who are upset with a work situation or something temporary in their life and feel something like “I’m going to kill Larry when I get back from this business trip!” The intent there may well be real, but that does not mean it will turn into action, nor that the person poses any real threat. I believe the vast majority of people who would likely be detected by this technology, should it be possible to develop, will be relatively harmless compared to those who would not be harmless. There will also be those few who can slip through utterly undetected, making this technology essentially not worth much more than flipping a coin.

    That’s just my $.02. I don’t however believe that the research behind it is worthless. Learning new things and proving them using scientifically rigorous methodology can always be a benefit in some way or another.

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