Identify Your Enemy

There have been some major security breaches in the past weeks: the couple who crashed the White House party, the attack that hospitalized Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the physical aggression against the Pope, and now the near-bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit. These security failures have to be examined and remedied by the best possible means. And the best remedy could well be highly-developed observation equipment.

Terrorists and mentally disturbed persons tend to act differently compared to the run-of-the-mill public; sometimes their behavior is subtly dissimilar, and sometimes their actions are blatantly obvious to even the untrained eye.

As a rule, even subtle, unusual activity can now be "read" by trained personnel and sophisticated computers linked to cameras called CCTV systems. They have been deployed in casinos for some time now, and EL AL, the Israeli airline, has used them in and about their airline terminals with great success over the years. Considering the dangers passengers now must confront in terrorists, such systems should be made obligatory at all major airports, and if that's too expensive, then they should be secretly deployed at selected airports. That way, a wannabe terrorist will not know which airports are under such surveillance. 

Scientists are working hard on even more "intelligent" video-surveillance software that can spot subtle variances in suspicious behavior. For obvious security reasons, rather than disclose what the operators look for, suffice it to say that their approach is pretty sophisticated. On the other hand, the software technology flags a suspicious subject using algorithms to profile human behavior in the environment where the system is deployed. If it detects behavior different from the norm, it gives a warning signal. It can track the individual even in low light and in crowded spaces, having memorized the shape of the person. The suspect can then be safely intercepted and questioned or given a heightened security inspection.

Digital memory far surpasses what the human memory is capable of. As a result, the effectiveness of the surveillance feeds on itself and multiplies. Furthermore, suspects can be fed into the database and will then be spotted as soon as they enter the range of the camera's observation.

Failed Northwest Christmas day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab passed through two security screenings on his way to Detroit without anyone detecting the pentaerythritol (PETN) explosive he was carrying on his body. Apparently he had concealed the small package in his crotch. Contrary to some reports, PETN can be detected at airports. A pat-down probably would not have discovered it, considering the sensitive area in which it was hidden, but an explosive-trained dog would have easily discovered it, and a 3-D whole-body imaging device might have as well. Unfortunately, not enough trained dogs are in service, and the imaging device has not seen very much service due to privacy complaints. These shortcomings must be amended now.

If a CCTV surveillance system had been employed, it may well have detected the subject before he boarded the aircraft even if he had implanted the explosives in his body (a method that has already been attempted this year and will surely be repeated).

The ingested bomb incident happened last August: Abdullah Hassan Talech al-Asiri, who was supposed to be a rehabilitated terrorist, succeeded in getting an audience with Prince Mohammad bin Naif, who is the head of Saudi counterterrorism. Before arriving, he had swallowed an explosive device and had successfully gone through two security checks. When he was in the prince's chamber, he detonated the bomb, blowing himself to bits and only slightly injuring the prince in the process. The prince was very fortunate that the force of the blast went downwards and not outwards, as it was easily powerful enough to bring down a plane.

The mentally disturbed woman who grabbed the Pope during Christmas mass in St. Peter's had already attempted to attack the Pope in the past. If her name and face had been recorded by digital memory and a video-surveillance had been set up at the entrance of the cathedral, she might have been intercepted. Likewise, the crazy who threw the heavy paperweight at Berlusconi might have been sidelined, having been flagged by his unusual behavior. As for the couple that crashed the White House state dinner, had CCTV
fed with photographs of those invited been in use, it might have caught them before they gained entry to the dinner.

There is no fail-safe method of detecting terrorists before they strike, but the CCTV system combined with profiling can surely be a considerable advantage to security. The "profiling," however, is not based on the traditionally objectionable targets of physical appearances or race (indeed the, Islam of Muslim terrorists is not a race, but a political ideology), but a profiling of behavior through situational awareness.  Terrorists and the mentally unstable do act differently from normal people; it is up to the security forces to recognize this. It is not a question of racism, or even of Islamophobia, but a question of survival.
There have been some major security breaches in the past weeks: the couple who crashed the White House party, the attack that hospitalized Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the physical aggression against the Pope, and now the near-bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit. These security failures have to be examined and remedied by the best possible means. And the best remedy could well be highly-developed observation equipment.

Terrorists and mentally disturbed persons tend to act differently compared to the run-of-the-mill public; sometimes their behavior is subtly dissimilar, and sometimes their actions are blatantly obvious to even the untrained eye.

As a rule, even subtle, unusual activity can now be "read" by trained personnel and sophisticated computers linked to cameras called CCTV systems. They have been deployed in casinos for some time now, and EL AL, the Israeli airline, has used them in and about their airline terminals with great success over the years. Considering the dangers passengers now must confront in terrorists, such systems should be made obligatory at all major airports, and if that's too expensive, then they should be secretly deployed at selected airports. That way, a wannabe terrorist will not know which airports are under such surveillance. 

Scientists are working hard on even more "intelligent" video-surveillance software that can spot subtle variances in suspicious behavior. For obvious security reasons, rather than disclose what the operators look for, suffice it to say that their approach is pretty sophisticated. On the other hand, the software technology flags a suspicious subject using algorithms to profile human behavior in the environment where the system is deployed. If it detects behavior different from the norm, it gives a warning signal. It can track the individual even in low light and in crowded spaces, having memorized the shape of the person. The suspect can then be safely intercepted and questioned or given a heightened security inspection.

Digital memory far surpasses what the human memory is capable of. As a result, the effectiveness of the surveillance feeds on itself and multiplies. Furthermore, suspects can be fed into the database and will then be spotted as soon as they enter the range of the camera's observation.

Failed Northwest Christmas day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab passed through two security screenings on his way to Detroit without anyone detecting the pentaerythritol (PETN) explosive he was carrying on his body. Apparently he had concealed the small package in his crotch. Contrary to some reports, PETN can be detected at airports. A pat-down probably would not have discovered it, considering the sensitive area in which it was hidden, but an explosive-trained dog would have easily discovered it, and a 3-D whole-body imaging device might have as well. Unfortunately, not enough trained dogs are in service, and the imaging device has not seen very much service due to privacy complaints. These shortcomings must be amended now.

If a CCTV surveillance system had been employed, it may well have detected the subject before he boarded the aircraft even if he had implanted the explosives in his body (a method that has already been attempted this year and will surely be repeated).

The ingested bomb incident happened last August: Abdullah Hassan Talech al-Asiri, who was supposed to be a rehabilitated terrorist, succeeded in getting an audience with Prince Mohammad bin Naif, who is the head of Saudi counterterrorism. Before arriving, he had swallowed an explosive device and had successfully gone through two security checks. When he was in the prince's chamber, he detonated the bomb, blowing himself to bits and only slightly injuring the prince in the process. The prince was very fortunate that the force of the blast went downwards and not outwards, as it was easily powerful enough to bring down a plane.

The mentally disturbed woman who grabbed the Pope during Christmas mass in St. Peter's had already attempted to attack the Pope in the past. If her name and face had been recorded by digital memory and a video-surveillance had been set up at the entrance of the cathedral, she might have been intercepted. Likewise, the crazy who threw the heavy paperweight at Berlusconi might have been sidelined, having been flagged by his unusual behavior. As for the couple that crashed the White House state dinner, had CCTV
fed with photographs of those invited been in use, it might have caught them before they gained entry to the dinner.

There is no fail-safe method of detecting terrorists before they strike, but the CCTV system combined with profiling can surely be a considerable advantage to security. The "profiling," however, is not based on the traditionally objectionable targets of physical appearances or race (indeed the, Islam of Muslim terrorists is not a race, but a political ideology), but a profiling of behavior through situational awareness.  Terrorists and the mentally unstable do act differently from normal people; it is up to the security forces to recognize this. It is not a question of racism, or even of Islamophobia, but a question of survival.

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