US harvests anti-terror research

Cameras watch for face twitchers

The US will redirect the bulk of its investment in civil surveillance technology next year into the production of devices it can deploy in its war on terror.

The US will have increased its investment in product development by three quarters, suggesting a four-year programme of investment in civil surveillance and counter-terror detection technologies, which has had an annual budget of $800m, is starting to pay off.

James DeCorpo, director of the Eurasia office of the US Department of Homeland Security, told UK civil surveillance industrialists yesterday that the department planned to "accelerate the development and deployment" of homeland security technologies.

The production and trial of prototype technologies was also being "accelerated", he said. These are described in the department as "high risk/high pay-off" technologies and "game changers" that have a five year development cycle, and on which the DHS will have spent five per cent of its budget this year, and it will spend more than double that - 11 per cent - in 2008.

Foremost among the proposed developments will be the Future Attribute Screening Technology (FAST), which is nearing its first trial at US border posts. DeCorpo said FAST "will be looking at intent" of people crossing US border posts, by using cameras and algorithms to watch for behavioural attributes that might suggest someone should be examined more closely by the border police.

"From a psychological standpoint, people behave in certain ways when they are under stress. For example, one's nose gets cold when one is under stress. Facial muscles behave in different ways. While other scanners see through clothes and [examine] gait," said DeCorpo.

People would be given an easier ride through customs if their behaviour didn't raise the suspicion of the border patrol's intelligent cameras. The department has already deployed a system that tries to predict how likely people are to be a terrorist or member of an organised crime gang according to information stored about them in a variety of civil, commercial, and criminal databases. The Automated Targeting System categorises people according to levels of risk derived from this information.

Managed by Homeland Security Advanced Projects Agency (HSARPA), it will also nearly double its spending on turning prototypes into workable "products" for use by US border and anti-terrorist personnel. Spending here will have risen from 35 per cent to 60 per cent in 2008.

Most of the money will come from another area of its budget, which was being spent on developing interoperability standards for its civil security tech armoury. Fifty per cent of its budget is being spent here this year, but only 18 per cent in 2008.

The US, UK, and Europe have been trying to make sure their technologies can interoperate so they might one day form constituent parts of one vast civil security system.

The agency has apportioned its product development budget between the detection of explosives, chemical and biological weapons, and "human factors", the protection of borders and infrastructure, building command and control systems, and interoperability standards, and designing geophysical mapping systems. ®

Sponsored: Today’s most dangerous security threats