Reading brainwaves to catch terrorists

Wired Magazine reports:

It’s been a dream of scientists, interrogators and law enforcement professionals for years: Strap a terrorist suspect to a couple of electrodes, start asking him questions, and watch his brainwaves rat him out.

Psychologist J. Peter Rosenfeld [of Northwestern University] writes in the journal Psychophysiology that he can predict and prevent terrorist attacks, all after running a clinical trial in which his students had to plan a mock assault. The idea was to create a test that would allow interrogators a foolproof way of extracting information about planned attacks from resistant suspects using just two wires connected to the forehead…

Psychologists established decades ago that people will involuntarily activate a certain brainwave when they encounter a familiar stimulus, known as a P300. In theory, it’s better than a lie detector: you don’t have to worry about the brain letting out a P300 out of nervousness, the way a panicked heart can create false positives for polygraphs…
During a 25-minute test, Rosenfeld’s students were shown a screen that flashed hundreds of names of random cities, dates and bomb methods. Sure enough, the students’ P300s told Rosenfeld when and where the hypothetical attacks would take place. Even if someone tries hard not to remember his intended terrorist act, “we still catch them eight out of nine or 10 times,” Rosenfeld says. “It’s pretty damn good.”

Rosenfeld’s paper is available online here (subscription required).


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