Pre-Crime Detection: Recognizing Terrorists Ahead of Time

So apparently the US Dept. of Homeland Security is gonna try out its very own version of the Minority Report. The Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST) purports to recognize people intending to commit a terrorist act. It has recently completed a battery of field tests at an “undisclosed location”. FAST is intended to supplement current TSA screening measures like SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique), all designed to identify potential threats.

Cops have used behavioral cues and psychophysiological responses during interviews and interrogations for years. They’re even teaching it to Marines now, as part of the Combat Hunter program. Simply put, a comparison of behavior against established patterns, context and relevance help to predict human action. FAST operates in a similar fashion by observing such potential clues as blink rate, body movement, facial temperature (measured by stand-off thermal cameras) and BioLIDAR, which measures heart rate and respiration.

Unlike “predictive” devices like a polygraph, FAST’s sensors do not come in direct contact with subjects being monitored nor does it depend on direct questioning. This allows them to evaluate people walking down a hallway, for instance, or standing in line. This allows leads to the inevitable (and arguably deserved) Orwellian/Big Brother connection, and of course the obvious Minority Report reference. To be fair, FAST doesn’t appear to rely on psychics in a big pool of water, but its critics say the comparison isn’t far off the mark even as proponents carefully explain how accurate the system can be.

Says Steven Aftergood, senior research analyst at the Federation of American Scientists, “I believe that the premise of this….an identifiable physiological signature uniquely associated with malicious intent…is mistaken.” However, it’s hard to dispute the success law enforcement has enjoyed with Human Behavior Pattern Recognition, and organizations like the Center for Aggression Management provide compelling arguments toward the ability to recognize and evaluate “emerging human aggression”.

Much of FAST is being developed by the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, an independent, not-for-profit, research centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They think the system is awesome.

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About the Author

The Mad Duo
Richard Kilgore and Jake Call enjoy something of a celebrity status among action figures and 1/1 scale trigger-pullers alike. They are world renowned for their wit, objectivity, keen tactical insight and utter lack of exaggeration or hyperbole. They leverage tens of thousands of hours of training and operational experience to the betterment of all mankind (and shooters). When not saving helpless school children from terrorists, rescuing damsels in distress and removing insurgents from the gene pool, they write, blog and support single dancing moms one dollar bill at a time. This provides much needed wisdom and perspective to the vast community of trigger-pullers that so desperately hungers for it. You can reach them at or if you're not a SISSY.
  • Deacon

    …but you still have to find the people that are about to commit the terrorist act before you can interrogate them.

    I’ll take the fancy hologram touch-screen thingy though.

  • PMI

    Which is small comfort for those who are detained, harassed, arrested and otherwise have their 4th Amendment rights violated due to false positives from these devices.

  • Achilles

    Cool post!

  • Casey

    This should not be used to make arrests, but should serve as a warning sign. Just a way to tell you who you should be keeping your eye on, and then if something starts to happen, you are already dialed in.

  • Elijah Robinson

    Our military should be empowered with ever tool available to sucessfully complete any assignment or mission. For every action there is a equal re-action. An individual should not be singled out for this without cause. Why? If a person’s reactions are already know, it would be easy to create circumstances that would elicit the actions desired. Ask the question! Have you ever tasted any snot better than mine? What ever way you answer, yes or no, it still implies you are guilty of eating the stuff. Using the methods to id a potential threat is pratical, If a person was spotted at a bus-stop with blood all over them, we WOULD want it investigated, even if the person worked at a butcher shop.

  • fxdidan

    this just another way to waste taxpayer dollars,probally just another scam!

  • tomaso

    IS it a good step?..yes…… can it be miss used? …yes…is it better then doing nothing???????
    Hindsight is useless unless you learn from it…this i think is allot better then some of the programs in use now…only thing is this system only works in a progressive adaptable training system…meaning it has to keep evolving. Our security officials have enough past videos to use as training tools to see just how good this system is….and if the system has 80% positive its a good piece of our defense against terrorist plots.

  • Infidel4LIFE

    Like the movie right? Tom Cruise, Colin Farrel..imagine being locked up coz you think you want to kill someone. Talk about Big Brother. I don’t mean the band either..


    This is too far. Are we so scared of “terrorist” that we will give up all right’s to to feel secure. This is retarded the potential hazards behind this thing are too large to count. Stop this program and pass concealed carrier permits to rational individuals. If you see someone acting suspicious take notice, if they start to get wild, draw down. Problem sloved.

  • JDs Handsome Son

    Maybe this technology will reveal that six year old toddlers and elderly adults in wheelchairs aren’t really threats at our airports after all. For some odd reason our defense posture is being directed toward American citizens because our ruling class fears offending the sensibilities of those actually trying to harm us and because of the absurd belief that we can win the hearts and minds of adversaries that have neither.

  • bbb

    As long as you don’t walk through a high-security area horny as hell or about to blow yourself up, you’ll probably be fine.

  • Cavtroop

    This is wrong beyond belief. That anyone who lives in this country would label this as a good idea will be just as surprised when the government starts using drone strikes against our own citizens. Damn, wake up people.

  • bbb

    While there are some obvious privacy concerns, the fact of the matter is that people who about to do something bad, such as robbing a bank or going on a shooting spree are going to have several involuntary physiological signs (unless they are sociopaths) due to a release of adrenaline and because of the fight or flight reaction. So if someone’s heart rate is spiked, their face is flushed, they’re only blinking every 30 seconds, and they’re breathing like they’re about to tell a lie or ask someone to marry them, despite the fact that they’re simply standing in line at the airport, it’s worth keeping an eye on them.

    It’s not an invasion of privacy to be observed in public. As long as they don’t start arresting and charging people for being suspicious, it’s not Big Brother. This is the same thing as people calling in reports of suspicious behavior. Not saying I want to be watched like this, but as long as they only watch and don’t interfere with people until they actually make a move, I don’t see a problem with it.

  • jim

    i am for it so long as there are some safety measures in place because nothing is 100%. Even the police are wrong at times we are human we make mistakes.

  • Alliston Samuel

    They didn’t say they were convicting anyone. Part of prevention is making more difficult for the ‘terrorist’ to do what they intended on doing. “A terrorist only has to be correct 1x, enforcement has to be correct 100% of the time”.

  • Bill

    The more our technology advances, the more I feel driven to limit my exposure to that technology. I gave up my cellphone 8 years ago – before you could start your car and lock your house with your phone. And, there will come a day when I unplug my computer, never to turn it on again.
    My point is that I don’t understand enough about how all this stuff works, but while I can see the positive uses, I also see the inherent if underlying danger in this technology. To be quite honest, I am not smart enough to compete against this technology. For example, if this FAST Technology was used as a means to detain me, while I would express my outrage and disdain and proclaim my innocence; I know that our prisons are filled with people who proclaim their innocence. Yet enough of those people are factually guilty and with all the claims of innocence being made, the claims of those who are factually innocent get drowned out.
    As there is currently no reliable way to combat against potential false positives with this program, CAUTION is how I would want this program to be used. Conclusions should not be drawn until the circumstances support the substance.

  • Julia Hugo Rachel

    I think the potential for the chance for prevention and apprehension far outweighs privacy violation. If I was detained, I’d take it in stride. Better safe than sorry. I’ve seen what “Sorry” looks like….and ITS NOT PRETTY. Don’t get me wrong…..I am all for privacy rights….but with all the Hot spots and action in todays age…..I’ll go with the technology to save lives.

  • coolhand77

    And what about the people who constantly “Red Team” in their heads? You know, walk into a room and think of all the things the bad guys would do, not to do them, but to look for ways to prevent them, stop them, or just plain look for the best hidey hole when the crap hits the fan? Could be paranoia, could be a hobby, could be professionals who live and work in conditions where they HAVE to do that on a daily basis? Doesn’t HAVE to be someone bent on murder and mayhem.
    “Those who give up freedom, for security, shall have neither,” Paraphrased from Benjamin Franklin, IIRC

  • dan

    With the technology and psychological, physiological skillsets ramping up, this is a tech that naturally evolved.
    Brainwave patterns, brain chemestry and the nervous system are being mapped closer and closer every day. We already know what chemicals in the brain make up memories, this is just a natural progression of the tech that is being developed. It is not 100% but it can bring threats to the surface better than nothing or just a human screener with nothing to assist in getting the class ‘A’ personality by using key words and phrases.

    This is a great system with great potential, it should be rolled out to airports and police vehicles, also to public camera systems if a version can be developed. Then at least we can get a heads up on perps allot faster than after the crime is committed.