Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Department of Homeland Security, Division of Self-Parody
Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
By Allison Barrie
Baggage searches are SOOOOOO early-21st century. Homeland Security is now testing the next generation of security screening — a body scanner that can read your mind.
Most preventive screening looks for explosives or metals that pose a threat. But a new system called MALINTENT turns the old school approach on its head. This Orwellian-sounding machine detects the person — not the device — set to wreak havoc and terror.
MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security's directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.
(((Dude, how cool do you think those guys feel when they get to flash id and reveal themselves as "Homeland Security. Human Factors division." When is the pilot for that TV show? Can you get T-shirts and ball caps at the DHS gift shop?)))
It has a series of sensors and imagers that read your body temperature, heart rate and respiration for unconscious tells invisible to the naked eye — signals terrorists and criminals may display in advance of an attack.
But this is no polygraph test. Subjects do not get hooked up or strapped down for a careful reading; those sensors do all the work without any actual physical contact. It's like an X-ray for bad intentions.
Currently, all the sensors and equipment are packaged inside a mobile screening laboratory about the size of a trailer or large truck bed, and just last week, Homeland Security put it to a field test in Maryland, scanning 144 mostly unwitting human subjects.
(((Apparently they did not think to install one of these outside the commuter turnstile in Battery Park.)))
While I'd love to give you the full scoop on the unusual experiment, testing is ongoing and full disclosure would compromise future tests.
(((Only at Fox News do journalists say "if I told you the story, I'd have to kill you." Do you suppose they pre-screen their stories with the government?)))
But what I can tell you is that the test subjects were average Joes living in the D.C. area who thought they were attending something like a technology expo; in order for the experiment to work effectively and to get the testing subjects to buy in, the cover story had to be convincing.
(((Hey, Agent Smith, I thought you said we were going to get to see the new Google phones!)))
While the 144 test subjects thought they were merely passing through an entrance way, they actually passed through a series of sensors that screened them for bad intentions.
Homeland Security also selected a group of 23 attendees to be civilian "accomplices" in their test. They were each given a "disruptive device" to carry through the portal — and, unlike the other attendees, were conscious that they were on a mission.
(((So you answer a classified ad for test subjects, thinking you might make some beer money; you show up at the appointed time and place, and they put you in a room where a couple of government agents tell you "we need you to carry this disruptor device through the magic portal"...)))
In order to conduct these tests on human subjects, DHS had to meet rigorous safety standards to ensure the screening would not cause any physical or emotional harm.
(((Do you suppose PETA plans to liberate the secret lab in suburban Maryland where Homeland Security keeps its test animals?)))
So here's how it works. When the sensors identify that something is off, they transmit warning data to analysts, who decide whether to flag passengers for further questioning. The next step involves micro-facial scanning, which involves measuring minute muscle movements in the face for clues to mood and intention.
((("Micro-facial scanning" — sounds dermatologically rejuvenating.)))
Homeland Security has developed a system to recognize, define and measure seven primary emotions and emotional cues that are reflected in contractions of facial muscles. MALINTENT identifies these emotions and relays the information back to a security screener almost in real-time.
(((Do you think we can get these installed in our televisions to screen the veracity and moral intentions of politicians and talking heads trying to infiltrate our brains? Can they do it in time for the Friday debates?)))
This whole security array — the scanners and screeners who make up the mobile lab — is called "Future Attribute Screening Technology" — or FAST — because it is designed to get passengers through security in two to four minutes, and often faster.
(((Someone needs to do a solid etymology of the evolution of government acronyms. They used to be just acronyms, but the current administration, perhaps reflecting the deep embedding of spin doctors into all aspects of government, like the political officers of Soviet Russia, have gotten really skilled, in a totally ham-handed and Stan Lee lexicon sort of way, at coming up with acronyms that are also descriptive words in and of themselves -- FAST, MALINTENT, PATRIOT Act, and now TARP (the unbelievable acronym for the Treasury Department's proposed $700 billion "Troubled Asset Relief Program," which I guess they plan to throw over the whole mess and hope the public doesn't ever lift it up to see what's going on underneath.)))
If you're rushed or stressed, you may send out signals of anxiety, but FAST isn't fooled. It's already good enough to tell the difference between a harried traveler and a terrorist. Even if you sweat heavily by nature, FAST won't mistake you for a baddie.
(((Dig the anthropomorphization of the technology —"FAST isn't fooled." Who knew the deus ex machina was the one from the Old Testament?)))
"If you focus on looking at the person, you don't have to worry about detecting the device itself," said Bob Burns, MALINTENT's project leader. And while there are devices out there that look at individual cues, a comprehensive screening device like this has never before been put together.
(((So I guess now I can start taking my handy box cutter on the plane, as long as the government's intentions-reader is confident all I want to do is cut open my UPS packages from Amazon? What awesomely all-American technological confidence!)))
While FAST's batting average is classified, Undersecretary for Science and Technology Adm. Jay Cohen declared the experiment a "home run."
(((Hey, that doesn't sound classified to me — sounds like he says it's batting a thousand. But how do they test for genuinely bad intentions, as opposed to people play-acting? Do they really recruit people and persuade them they are really acting out bad guy missions as secret government agents? That would be awesome.)))
As cold and inhuman as the electric eye may be, DHS says scanners are unbiased and nonjudgmental. "It does not predict who you are and make a judgment, it only provides an assessment in situations," said Burns. "It analyzes you against baseline stats when you walk in the door, it measures reactions and variations when you approach and go through the portal."
(((Sure, it's a "cold and inhuman electric eye," but it's our cold and human electric eye.)))
But the testing — and the device itself — are not without their problems. This invasive scanner, which catalogues your vital signs for non-medical reasons, seems like an uninvited doctor's exam and raises many privacy issues.
But DHS says this is not Big Brother. Once you are through the FAST portal, your scrutiny is over and records aren't kept. "Your data is dumped," said Burns. "The information is not maintained — it doesn't track who you are."
DHS is now planning an even wider array of screening technology, including an eye scanner next year and pheromone-reading technology by 2010.
(((Pheromone-reading!!! Dude, let's get the license of that tech. We can do some killer pyramid marketing through late night informercials and "how to pick up girls" seminars.)))
The team will also be adding equipment that reads body movements, called "illustrative and emblem cues." According to Burns, this is achievable because people "move in reaction to what they are thinking, more or less based on the context of the situation."
(((Nothing will be quite so fun as hacking the body language cue-reader. 2600 will put on its own festival of experimental and improvisational dance.)))
FAST may also incorporate biological, radiological and explosive detection, but for now the primary focus is on identifying and isolating potential human threats.
(((Who needs to worry about WMD when you can read people's minds?)))
And because FAST is a mobile screening laboratory, it could be set up at entrances to stadiums, malls and in airports, making it ever more difficult for terrorists to live and work among us.
(((In case you needed any more reasons not to go to a fucking shopping mall.)))
Burns noted his team's goal is to "restore a sense of freedom." (((If only Stanley Kubrick were around to do the 21st century sequel to Dr. Strangelove.))) Once MALINTENT is rolled out in airports, it could give us a future where we can once again wander onto planes with super-sized cosmetics and all the bottles of water we can carry — and most importantly without that sense of foreboding that has haunted Americans since Sept. 11.
(((The Department of Homeland Security — reading your mind to protect your Constitutional freedom to super-size it.)))
Allison Barrie, a security and terrorism consultant with the Commission for National Security in the 21st Century, is FOX News' security columnist.
(((Only Fox News would have an actual government "terrorism consultant" masquerade as a reporter to peddle the executive branch's press releases as actual news stories.)))