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Fear detector:Israelis unveil next generation in security



Israelis unveil next generation in security

Fear detector: TSA to Screen for Terrorists by Reading Palms

A new system developed by an Israeli company utilises physiological and psychological responses assessed by a computer, rather than a human. It is due to go on trial at both a West Bank crossing point and a US airport, which is deliberately not being identified, later this year.

Fear detector: TSA to Screen for Terrorists by Reading Palms

The passenger places his passport on a scanner and the other hand on a sensor. He is then asked to answer written questions indicated by the passport while a special detector measures physiological responses.

Built to replace human selectors or random check ups of visitors, the SDS-VR-1000 is based on polygraph-like tools to identify insurgents.

Israeli startup Suspect Detection Systems (SDS) has won a U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) tender to install a system to identify unarmed terrorists.

The Atlantic City, N.J., airport will install an experimental version this year. SDS beat out a host of American competitors, including Boeing, to secure the contract, valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The primary fear of a suicide bomber is to be caught. The system is based on the belief that the terrorist's fear will be reflected in measurable psycho-physiological parameters.

"Foreigners flying El Al are currently subjected to 10-20 minutes of questioning," says SDS CEO Shabtai Shoval. "The line for U.S. immigration authorities is liable to take 90 minutes. Our system is a type of kiosk making an initial assessment within three minutes. If the system identifies a suspect, he can be sent to a personal agent to complete the investigation."

Fear detector

It isn't science fiction, claims SDS; it's possible to spot terrorists by reading their thoughts.

Shabtai Shoval got his idea while watching Vanilla Sky, a movie set in a futuristic world, where it is possible to identify criminals before they commit crimes, on the basis of their intentions. Shoval left the cinema with one question on his mind, Was it possible to create such a system in today's reality and using today's tools? After consulting friends in the Israeli Security Agency (ISA, formerly known as the General Security Services or GSS), Israel Police, and the high-tech industry, and with polygraph, investigations, terrorism, and software experts, he concluded that it was possible.

"SDS utilizes the principles of the polygraph, but our system is not, and isn't meant to be, a polygraph, for several reasons," says Shoval. "The first reason is that the polygraph is designed to spot a lie. But a terrorist is trained to persuade himself that he is not lying, and his concept of a lie isn' t always the same as that of the person conducting the test. It's a cultural thing. Our system therefore doesnt try to catch a lie, but the fear of being caught."

Does a terrorist about to commit suicide show emotional patterns indicating fear, even fear of being caught? Shoval claims that the defense forces' experience of terrorists shows that the fear is there.

Testing the limits of the reasonable

One of the company's critical assets is a collection of words in dozens of languages that trigger a different response in a suspect linked somehow to the world of terrorism, compared with the response of a person with no link.

Shoval gives the example of the Hebrew word "tadrikh" (briefing). "A person about to carry out a terrorist attack usually undergoes a briefing. A person who hasn't had a briefing that has to be concealed will react apathetically to this word. Another example is Semtex, an explosive that only a few people are exposed to.

"Our advantage, assuming that the system is installed in a major US airport, is that we're exposed to thousands of people from every culture, who speak every language. We can build a profile of a response by a 'reasonable Pakistani', or a 'reasonable Iranian' to a string of our words. The system constantly examines and learns this reasonable response.

"We look for two gaps. One is the difference between the interviewee's responses to our special words and the reasonable response to these words. The other is the difference between the interviewee's response to suspicious words and the response to ordinary words. We're not catching drug traffickers, smugglers or pedophiles, only people planning to carry out terrorist attacks."

SDS's system is built differently from a polygraph. Instead of attaching electrodes, a lengthy procedure that puts an interviewee under pressure, skin conductivity is tested through the palm of the hand. The interviewee places his or her hand on the machine, and with the other hand selects the language for the questions. The interviewee is shown a range of words, including the suspect words, and his or her response to them is measured. The test takes three minutes. "The US Department of Homeland Security's policy is to test only 20% of aliens, depending on their country of origin. On the basis of this condition, 20 terminals are enough for a large airport," says Shoval.

"Globes": You look for suspicious responses, but people are different from one another. Maybe a suspect is mentally disturbed, or merely weird? Maybe his response will be different from that of other people of his nationality, because his parents were immigrants?

Shoval: "In such a case, we'll see a very different response from that of other people of his nationality, but we won't see an exceptional response to the special words. His responses to all the words will be equally odd."

Can a terrorist develop a response to beat the system?

"Terrorists don't know our special words, which we constantly change, nor do they know the 'reasonable response', against which they're compared. It will therefore be very difficult for them to train. A terrorist can try to teach himself to mute his responses, or even take a tranquilizer. But in that case, his response will be different from that of other people of his nationality."

What if a terrorist doesn't chose his native tongue, in order to avoid the special words?

"He will respond differently from the way the average English-speaker responds, both because it isnt his native tongue, and because he won't understand some of the words. It's impossible to outsmart this machine; anyone who tries to be clever is screwed."

What about someone who's very interested in terrorism, but isn't a terrorist? Maybe he's a member of Pakistani security?

"It's possible, although not at all certain, that such a person would be a suspect within the 4% permissible range. If he is, he'll have to explain himself to the human interrogator."

Don't tell the terrorists how it works

The field is very hot, and there must be other companies mulling similar ventures.

"As far as I know, there are no systems that even come close to working on the same principle. There are systems that try to spot a lie through voice frequencies, but it hasn't yet been proved that voice is an effective physiological index of intent. Another system is trying to spot excitement through body temperature, but what if the terrorist has taken a tranquilizer? None of these systems is as specific as ours. Even if someone were to read this article and decide to imitate us, he would face at least a two to three-year development hurdle."

Have you patented the method?

"We haven't. What's a patent after all? It means that you must disclose your know-how in full, and then someone can copy you, and, at best, you can sue him. In addition, although terrorists will have trouble confounding the system, it's foolish to give them as much information as possible, as required in a patent. In fact, the law permits a suit even without a patent, if there is proof of theft of intellectual property. We gain nothing from a patent."

I dont want to bring the Israeli technology boom crashing down on the evidence of misquoted films but has he got Minority Report and Vanilla Sky confused?

Incidentally if it normally takes 90 minutes to assess guilt and this can do it in three, are we to expect Judge Dread style arrest prosecution and execution all in under an hour?

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