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Farouk Abdul Mutallab could have been stopped using behavioral science

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Behavioral identification techniques could stop terrorists like Abdul Mutallab says University at Buffalo behavioral scientist and security researcher Mark G. Frank, PhD. According to Dr. Frank, there are a ways to spot terrorists based on behavior that are easily employed and do not involve ethnic profiling and random passenger screening.

“Behavioral science techniques could have detected him once he got to the airport”, Frank says. He is in agreement with other security experts that a using a layered system could have stopped Mutallab, but those techniques are “not being used widely enough." Frank has advised Department of Homeland Security on behavioral identification programs. He believes if behavioral science techniques were more widely used Abdul Mutallab could have been stopped from boarding Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas day.

Dr. Frank explains that behavioral identification to stop terrorists like Abdul Mutallab begins with employing “intelligence and investigatory processes to dissuade or disrupt a would-be terrorist from traveling at all," he says. If that fails, the next step is to force the individual into a group for more intense scrutiny. Once there, “there exist excellent scientific techniques to spot such suspects, and they don't employ ethnic screening or the random screening of passengers, processes that are not effective and to which Americans object.”

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Using a layered approach, based on behavioral science to spot terrorists also employs the SPOT and FAST programs. Frank, who serves as a consultant for the Department of Homeland Security for the programs as is an original member of the FBI's Terrorism Research and Analysis Project (TRAP), explains that SPOT is a behavioral observation technique employed by the Transportation Security Administration. It is based upon a successful Israeli program derived from that country's direct experiences with terrorists and current behavioral science.”

FAST, an acronym for Future Attribute Screening Technology, is still in development, and is a system that uses sensors to read body reactions indicative of hostile intent. The system would identify individuals at airports who should be screened more intensely, as would have been the case with the Mutallab.

The scientist says if both systems had been employed it is likely that officials would have spotted Mutallab. "The immutable fact is that any effective international terrorist security system must address myriad psychological, social and political issues," Frank says. He says systems are already in place to spot terrorist behaviors that are based on science, but "We ignore these scientific techniques at our peril." Dr, Frank says Farouk Abdul Mutallab could have been stopped at the airport if the behavioral science techniques had been used, and they should not be ignored when dealing with passenger safety and identifying terrorists.

University of Buffalo News