DHS invests in mind-reading anti-terrorist technology -- and staff phrenologists to interpret the results

Hurrah -- the DHS is buying mind-reading machines that can tell you're a terrorist by examining the terrorist-thought-center of your brain. People with failing brains will be sent for corrective surgery.

MALINTENT, the brainchild of the cutting-edge Human Factors division in Homeland Security's directorate for Science and Technology, searches your body for non-verbal cues that predict whether you mean harm to your fellow passengers.

It has a series of sensors and imagers that read your body temperature, heart rate and respiration for unconscious tells invisible to the naked eye – signals terrorists and criminals may display in advance of an attack.

Homeland Security Detects Terrorist Threats by Reading Your Mind


  1. Oh, crap. If this gizmo can’t tell the difference between murderous intent and gross fear of flying/authorities/custom agents, I’m doomed to ride the Greyhound bus for life.


  2. I feel bad for those of us who are just nervous to fly. I can’t imagine being arrested for barfing into an air sickness bag.

  3. The amount of false positives this technology would find is a class action lawsuit waiting to happen… but of course that will never happen because people who stand up for their rights are terrorists.

  4. I imagine they will get so many hits indicating follow-up that turn out to be false-positives on this thing that the agents will loathe to be stuck on the “pre-crime” machine. Needless to say it will be a royal pain in the posterior to travelers as well to have one more thing to cause hang-ups at the airport.

    Now, if they have three drug-addled people in sensory deprivation tanks, then I’ll get a little concerned.

  5. Fortunately there is no reason your pulse, breathing rate or body temperate would increase at an airport, especially not whilst being scanned for evil by gun wielding private gestapo.

    What irritates me about this is: how do they calibrate it? For it to work, they must surely have target readings recorded from a variety of terrorists and suicide bombers, otherwise, how does it know what they are looking for? How could they possibly claim it works? What they have described as target symptoms are just stress: where are there more stressed people than at the airport?

    Consider these two people: who is going to show more stress? One is a legitimate passenger, terrified of flying, frightened by the fearsome security and panicking as the time till their flight ticks away whilst they are trapped in a queue. The other a patient hypothetical terrorist, groomed since youth to accept their death in pursuit of jihad, confident in the validity and legitimacy of what they are about to do and prepared to go to any lengths to carry it through, on the command of their god?

    They claim the enemy are these inhuman monsters then continually underestimate them. If they are what they are claimed, as dangerous, determined and resourceful, surely this stuff will have no effect!

    Whoever is selling all this crap to the security people is a genius. I’m sure they just present this tech and say “Do you want to be the person responsible when a terrorist, who this machine could have stopped, commits another 9-11 because you didn’t buy it when you had the chance? Do you? Of course not, please sign here.”

  6. dear america,

    your orwellian development incarnated in that thoughtcrime-doomsday-device really feaks us out.

    the rest of the world

  7. Sadly, false positives are about as likely to be an issue with this technology as it is with the no-fly list.

    That is to say, omnipresent, and ignored by the people in charge.

  8. “People with failing brains will be send for corrective surgery.”

    What’s sad is that I didn’t immediately dismiss this sentence. That’s how low I think the government is.

  9. what was that quote:

    You can tell if you’re buying a good side of beef by sticking your head in a bull’s ass…

    What snake charmer sold THIS idea, and what Bentley will he/she be driving later this year?

  10. .obligatory.
    Bruce Schneier has a new book out (reprinting articles he published in wired and elsewhere over the last few years).

  11. Do brainwaves fall under the heading of freedom of expression? I refuse to believe that a machine like this is constitutional.
    Either way I think it may be time for a move to Antarctica…if I can get past airport security.

  12. It’s a good thing that the only way anyone can enact a guerilla attack on Americans is on an airplane.

    Otherwise, we would be wasting a lot of time and money.

  13. anyone think its hilarious/ominous that this device is called MALINTENT?? that about sums it up if you ask me.

  14. #17: Easy! They just install them on every street corner and in every building in the country. Then we’ll all be safe!

    @Cory: In Little Brother, the section about the fallacy of the false positive explains the problem with this kind of thing perfectly.

  15. I signed up to ask a question.
    Is this source trustworthy?
    Is this kind of thing..
    “People with failing brains will be send for corrective surgery.”
    ..reported elsewhere?
    I need to research this mutha. Thanks

  16. true psychopaths do not exhibit physiological signs. They can cave in your head with a hammer and then sit down for a nice brunch over your body.

  17. What kind of cancer causing radioactive beams are they aiming at me while I’m walking past these machines? dood.

    I need a job that doesn’t involve travel.

  18. So lets see, what we have here is basically a remote polygraph.
    Polygraphs require calibration questions first.
    Oh, and I thought they could not be used as evidence in court because they are not reliable.

    What’s next, a psychic checking auras?

  19. SLEEPY13 @ 22: That line you quoted was a joke by Cory, that’s not in the actual article. Although I wouldn’t really put it past the TSA.

  20. After watching the video and seeing how they this supports primary/secondary screening, this reminds me of the mobile interrogation trailers in Little Brother.

    As for calibration, it appears they also ask you stress free questions (Is it the month of October?) in order to calibrate.

  21. “Is this to be an empathy test? Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response? Fluctuation of the pupil? Involuntary dilation of the iris?”

    “We call it Voight-Kampff for short.”

    The future is closer than you think…

  22. #26 Not a psychic checking auras.. a machine checking auras. A machine that reads and CORRECTS DEFECTIVE auras. You will wonder at your sudden love for authority.

  23. @20: I was thinking about the exact same passage in Little Brother.

    Considering that from all the passengers in airliners every year is close to 700 million ( source: http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_41.html) and in 2001 only 19 of them were terrorist (9/11) that is 0.000002 % of the passengers were terrorists the accuarcy on this machine should be off the charts.

    If you add to this the 600 ppl who were detained in 2000 (2001+ data is strangely missing http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_02_16a.html) you get an 0.00008% (but bear in mind that the system already works to stop this 600)

    This is nothing but a tech scam someone is pulling on the dhs.

  24. Mr. Chertoff, phrenology was dismissed as quackery 150 years ago.
    Of course you’d say that, you’ve got the crainial bumpage of a terrorist!


  25. My favorite part:

    Burns noted his team’s goal is to “restore a sense of freedom.” Once MALINTENT is rolled out in airports, it could give us a future where we can once again wander onto planes with super-sized cosmetics and all the bottles of water we can carry — and most importantly without that sense of foreboding that has haunted Americans since Sept. 11.

    Super sized cosmetics and all the water bottles I can carry?? Woo hoooo!!! Who wouldn’t trade personal privacy for that!

  26. “There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking… The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor,
    studying with real ordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of
    drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture…” -George Orwell, 1984

  27. Hey Department of Homeland Security, save your money, I’ll tell you exactly what I am thinking. I’m thinking you are a bunch of idiots!

  28. Gosh, it’s too bad this wasn’t already installed in Boston’s Logan International Airport last September, it might have saved a certain MIT student a bunch of headaches.

    If after this science-fictional machine is put into service we still won’t be allowed to bring up to three sticks of dynamite in our carry-on bag then we’ll know they don’t really have much confidence in it.

    Of course, having a machine that goes “Ping!” on command (like the metal detectors) would be great for justifying all sorts of intrusions. I fly occasionally and I look a little freaky occasionally too, but I always take great pains to avoid having any metal on me when I go through security. As in, no metal AT ALL. And yet 9 times out of ten the metal detector goes off anyway and I’m subjected to secondary screening, but somehow they never manage to find the weed.

  29. I suspect that the latest digital imaging technologies could truly revolutionise the field of criminal anthropometry.

  30. I would venture to guess that terrorists about to blow a plane out of the sky with themselves in it would probably be the only calm, focused and “normalized” folks in the airport. Because they’ve already made their peace, and they know what’s going to happen (no fear of flying if you know when you’re going to die, and that it will be instantaneously – people tend to relax significantly when they’re in charge of what’s going to happen, even if that includes blowing up). And those that are nervy will probably be more than a wee bit drugged up to calm themselves down so they don’t give anything away.

    So I’d suggest TSA look for the calm, focused guy with the look of total peace and an aura of being in total control. If he’s not the one wearing a pilot’s uniform, take him down. Leave the rest of us frazzled nervous nellies alone. We’re doing everything we can not to go postal on the garlic-infused mouth breather slopping over into our seat space.

  31. I’m imagining someone going through months of fear of flying classes only to be jumped at the gate by screaming, gun wielding maniacs because of their abnormal heartrate.

    I have heard of at least one suicide bomber being described as incredibly (perhaps chemically) happy prior to the event. One imagines there would be some kind of physiological elevation but, yes, how they claim to know what a terrorist aura looks like I’d love to know.

  32. the link may be to fox news, but it’s kinda worth reading. regardless of the efficacy of the attempt (although computers didn’t work very well to begin with, remember?) the premises are surreal. they will monitor our thoughts and emotions so that we rewin the freedom to carry cosmetics on planes

    consumer choice != freedom that’s a pretty old fallacy.

    and of course, the only way to make it work is to check everyone against their own baseline. so eventually the data will not be ‘dumped’ just after being taken.

    i like the idea of thought falling under freedom of expression, although we all saw what happened to ward churchill, first amendment or no.

  33. It’s simple. they haven’t found the terrorists. When it’s your job to find a needle that might be in a haystack- you don’t really know- then eventually you wind up grasping at straws.

  34. What if I am pissed at the lameness and wrongness of the DHS and am thinking about harming those damn mind-reading machines, fantasizing about it in my head to keep from acting out in real life? Then I so look like a terrorist, god this is stupid.

  35. The calm and determined martyr walks on to the plane as I, despite the Valium I took, am gripped by my fear of flying and overenthusiastic authority figures just as the nice DHS men notice my suspiciously elevated vitals and take the necessary precautions. Thus, thousands of lives are saved and the nation remains secure.
    Oh, wait…

  36. they don/t really believe this stuff works. They just use it as further justification to imprison, torture and kill who they want to.

  37. #44 Hey, you’ve just taken out all the enlightened people! That’s not very nice, and it certainly doesn’t improve our odds. Let’s not keep doing that.

  38. Bullcrap technology like this aside, what is lacking from discussions on this topic are suggestions for workable alternatives.

    It is all well and dandy to shoot stuff down, particularly obviously alarming stuff like this, but if we don’t present alternatives to dealing with real threats, then there is no compelling reason for the public not to go along with the bullcrap alarming stuff.

    Granting that:
    a) we are overly paranoid, and creating fear and suspicion is exactly what the terrorists want, and,

    b) fool-proof security is a mirage, and,

    c) more intrusive surveillance just creates more potential for abuse,

    What are the human-affirming, practical and reasonably effective alternatives?

    I don’t see many critics proposing any.

    Oh, and it would also be cool to link to, say, a Telegraph report on this technology, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/3069960/New-airport-screening-could-read-minds.html , rather than Faux News.

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