BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The effective use of multiple layers of
intelligence gathering, including existing behavioral
identification programs, could have excluded the murderous Farouk
Abdul Mutallab from travel before he got anywhere near Northwest
So says University at Buffalo behavioral scientist and security
researcher Mark G. Frank, PhD, who explains, that although Mutallab
got through some security levels, "Behavioral science techniques
could have detected him once he got to the airport."
Frank says, "There have been many scientific advances in
technology coupled with understanding such people and their
behavior -- and programs exist that put that into action -- to help
identify them. Unfortunately, they are not being used widely
Frank, who has advised on behavioral identification programs
with the Department of Homeland Security, agrees with security
experts who maintain that security is best achieved in a layered
approach to the examination of would-be airline passengers.
"No single security technique, on its own, is a panacea,
although that would be great," Frank says. "But no technique need
be 100 percent accurate to be deployed effectively. Each imperfect
layer complements the next because the goals of security screening
are actually more modest than people assume.
"The goals are, first, to employ intelligence and investigatory
processes to dissuade or disrupt a would-be terrorist from
traveling at all," he says.
If a terrorist suspect gets through the first layer of security
and travels anyway, Frank says, then the goal is to force him or
her into a group marked for intense secondary screening.
"At this point," Frank says, "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.
"We ignore these scientific techniques at our peril," he
Frank points out that multiple layers of security each have
strengths and weaknesses, and any layer is able under some
circumstances to identify a terrorist, "So it is necessary to put
resources into each layer."
One such layer uses effective behavioral techniques, and
includes the Department of Homeland Security's SPOT and FAST
"Both of these are observational systems with strong scientific
foundations that are effective in identifying suspicious behaviors
and strongly increase the odds that a would-be terrorist would be
forced into yet another level of scrutiny."
Frank, an original member of the FBI's Terrorism Research and
Analysis Project (TRAP), which combines academic researchers with
counter-terrorism professionals, serves as a consultant to the
Department of Homeland Security for the SPOT and FAST programs.
"SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique)," he
says, "is a behavioral observation technique employed by
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 a sensor-based program currently in development that reads body
reactions indicative of hostile intention and uses these to develop
stronger algorithmic predictions as to whom should be sent on to
"Both programs should be applauded for seeking the strong,
direct involvement of scientists and both have benefited
accordingly. Appropriately utilized, I believe they would have
permitted us to spot the Northwest Airlines terrorist," he
"The immutable fact is that any effective international
terrorist security system must address myriad psychological, social
and political issues," Frank says.
"The cause of terrorism and its cures are very complex and
require a multi-layered and multi-pronged approach," he says, "but
I want to emphasize that we already have many of the technologies
and techniques -- with more to come -- vetted by scientific
research, to better identify and stop these people all along the
Frank is an associate professor of communication at UB, where he
serves on the advisory board of the Center for Unified Biometrics
and Sensors. He has published research in nonverbal communication
and deception, and has worked with many government agencies on
interviewing and deception detection through research and training.
His research has been funded by the Department of Homeland
Security, Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation
and he has consulted with, advised or trained members of law
enforcement, security and judicial agencies throughout the
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
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York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
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the Association of American Universities.