Suspects' body language can blow their coverBy Thomas Frank, USA TODAYBOSTON — Carl Maccario noticed it the instant he watched a tape of three Sept. 11 hijackers going through security at Dulles International Airport.
Not one of the men looked at security guards.
"They all looked away and had their heads down," Maccario says.
Avoiding eye contact with authorities is the kind of behavior that could indicate someone may be planning a terrorist attack, says Maccario, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program analyst at Boston's Logan International Airport. "The fear of discovery changes people's behavior and body language," he says.
Next year, the TSA says it will train screeners at 40 airports in behavior analysis. The screeners will join a growing number of police officers learning to detect the subtle, often unspoken clues that terrorists and criminals could display.
The technique is called behavior detection or behavior-pattern recognition. It's rooted in the notion that people convey emotions in subconscious gestures, facial expressions, speech patterns and answers to simple questions such as what flight they are taking.
Careful observation and questions of escalating intensity can unmask possible terrorists, who typically become anxious and deceptive around authorities, says Rafi Ron, former security chief at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport. Ron founded New Age Security Solutions in Virginia in October 2001 to teach police how to detect "indicators" of a possible terrorist.
How long will it take terrorists to figure out this one?
Behavior detection is "a recognized and legitimate law enforcement tool," says George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. "But it's also ripe for abuse. A person's observations are often colored by one's bias and prejudices."
Tests haven't been done in real settings such as an airport or on whether a terrorist could learn to appear honest.
Ekman says he has tried for 15 years to get the government to study behavior detection in places such as airports.
"Lab studies have proven people can detect liars," Ekman says. "We need studies to see if training can help people in the field."
Text bolded for emphasis by me.