Federal Antiterror Probers Study “Micro-Facial Emotional Leakages”


Bob Burns and a team of scientists at the U.S. Homeland Security Advanced Research Project Agency are researching whether video game boards, biometric sensors, and other high-tech devices can be used to detect distinct nonverbal cues from people who harbor “mal-intent,” or malicious intent. “We’re trying to detect a crime before it has occurred,” he tells the Los Angeles Times.

Roll the sci-fi thriller “Minority Report,” in which Tom Cruise and other “pre-crime” cops use psychic visions to arrest murderers before they kill. The federal work on mal-intent, which has cost $20 million so far, represents the future in screening: trying to find the bomber, not just the bomb. “Sometimes people look at our projects and say, ‘This is crazy,’ ” conceded Burns, a former submarine weapons officer. If Burns’ group is delving into the mind of terrorists, another Homeland Security agency is studying its face. The human factors division has spent nearly $20 million to experiment with micro-expressions, or super-quick flickers of facial muscles, that may – or may not – indicate hostile intent. Researchers are studying 275 videos of test interviews – frame by painstaking frame, 30 frames a second, each video up to 10 minutes long – so analysts can catalog “micro-facial emotional leakages.” “We are breaking new ground here,” said Larry Willis, the project director. The need for improvement is clear. Security teams trained to spot suspicious behavior have pulled 152,000 people out of airport lines in recent years. That led to about 1,100 arrests, mostly for immigration violations and outstanding warrants. No one was charged with terrorism.

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