A Turing Test For Terrorists

from the step-into-the-booth dept

Given the events of last week, the news has been filled with plenty of stories about the latest and greatest technology that could be employed to prevent the latest object that’s been determined to be a threat onboard airplanes. This represents the current school of thought on air security in the US, and many other places: finding and detecting particular objects, rather than detecting and stopping the threats themselves. However, as some are pointing out, last week’s arrests (and the resulting thwart of a terrorist plot) were based on intelligence and investigation, not on physical security checks. Some groups, notably Israel’s El Al airline, tend to take this type of approach to securing planes: putting far more emphasis on interviews and intel than on physical searches. It’s not surprising, then, to see this approach being packaged and put into a machine that could be integrated into airport checks as an attempt to introduce more “spotting” into the security process without having to drastically scale the number of plotters. The system essentially works like a souped-up lie detector: passengers are isolated in a booth and asked a series of questions designed to trigger “psycho-physiological responses among people with terrorist intent”. After the test, passengers flagged by the system are held back for further questioning by security personnel. While the system isn’t perfect, its relatively low cost — current prototypes run about $200,000 — and potential to add another dimension to current security procedures have attracted a lot of attention. Applying algorithms and things like network theory to security and anti-terrorism efforts could be a help, particularly as groups like the TSA run into a problem that’s familiar to the Patent Office: airport screeners and other personnel don’t scale.

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Comments on “A Turing Test For Terrorists”

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Doug Hall says:

Re: Cargo

The answer isn’t high tech. It’s low tech! Spend the time and money examining unchecked luggage. Strap everything else into a glider and tow the damn thing 500 yards behind the jet. If it explodes in-flight, NO BIG DEAL! Cut the tether. At least no one gets hurt. Put automatic brakes on it so that when the plane lands, it doesn’t get rammed by the glider.

Anonymous Coward says:


That’s fine and dandy to introduce new types of technology, but it will be useless until people are willing to admit the fact that profiling is integral to figuring out who the lie detector tests need to be performed on in the first place. I could be mistaken, but I believe that there are certian rules in place to make sure that no more than a certain “quota” of Arabs are to be randomly searched in a day. That’s ridiculous, considering that that particular demographic have been the ones bombing planes since the dawn of plane bombing.

Anonymous Coward says:

M Barrett, you would prefer being fished out of the ocean by “recovery experts”?

Some of you people need to wake up and realize there are some bad bad people out there that would like nothing more than to see you dead.

There is a full scale religious war going on, except it is only being fought by one side. For you clueless ones out there, its not the US that is fighting it, but its opponent is.

From Spain to Iraq, their goal is one muslim nation.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Some of you people need to wake up and realize there are some bad bad people out there that would like nothing more than to see you dead. ”

Yes, and they can kill us no matter what we do about it.

See, we pissed them off, and now they are retaliating for it. Now, perhaps we will learn from this and inthe future we wont breed any more terrorists.

Until then, they will continue removing free lifestyle from us, by any and all means necessary until they feel redeemed. (which will probably require the undoing of israel, and a full scale civil war in iraq, and hopefully the complete destruction of iran in the process)

See what happens when you piss in a desperate mans wheaties?

And for those who would counter saying there is no valid justification in terrorism, you do realise the american revolution was WON by acts of terrorism, right? Or did you think it was ok to hide in the bushes when your enemy thought the rules of engagement required standing in line on the battlefield.

claire rand says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

iraq in a nutshell really, or any way the ‘west’ fights where you can be sure we will outgun the other side (cuz we don’t fight people who can fight back).

though the idea of wearing bright red uniforms just had to be british… (I’m among ’em so i can comment on this, can just see the HR policy now “Bright red uniforms will be worn as part of an attempt to raise our brand”)

eb says:

New Airport Checkers

Chertoff announced today that there will be new checkers from the TSA in addition to the contractor-supplied security checkers at airports. The new checkers will concentrate more on analyzing the people going on to the plane, while the contractor-supplied checkers will do low-tech stuff like load baggage for security scanning.

Jaek says:

Re: How Many Nanoseconds?

Well, if you’d actually read the article that was linked to, you’d know that the test judges physical responses to the questions. It’s assumed that the right answers are given – it’s not hard to figure out whether or not you’re supposed to be smuggling drugs out of the country.

It would be pretty funny if a ‘normal’ person were trying to ‘beat the system’ and saw a question come up. “Are you going to shoot everyone on the plane?” “Wait… They want me to choose ‘No…'”

Jaek says:

Re: How Many Nanoseconds?

Well, if you’d actually read the article that was linked to, you’d know that the test judges physical responses to the questions. It’s assumed that the right answers are given – it’s not hard to figure out whether or not you’re supposed to be smuggling drugs out of the country.

It would be pretty funny if a ‘normal’ person were trying to ‘beat the system’ and saw a question come up. “Are you going to shoot everyone on the plane?” “Wait… They want me to choose ‘No…'”

Joe Smith says:


I am reminded of the old story about the Italian (Polish, Serbian, Albanian, Croatian, take your pick) immigrant who was filling out a questionnaire at Ellis Island at the turn of the last century.

One of the questions was: “Do you want to over throw the government of the United States by force or violence?”

He thought about it for a moment and then circled “force”

Plus ca change …

Neal says:

We need to improve

These security measures better improve. I was informed while I was last flying with my family that my 2 year-old is on the no fly list. He will never be off that list (it is my belief that the list will become obsolete with some form of new technology). Basically he will always be sent through secondary screening after he turns 12. I would give up some rights if it will get me through security faster. I am tired of needing to be at least 3 hours early to the airport, with family in tow that makes it excrutiating. Screen me, now let me go!

Stu says:

Re: Re: Never give up any rights for any reason

Right you are Moussky –

“Never ever say that you are willing to give up your rights for more convenience. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died so you can have those rights. I don’t believ they would be too happy to hear that you want to give some of them up so that you could spend less time in the airport.”


Never give up any of your rights for any reason – any rights for any reason!

We are not immune from losing all of our freedom.

These terrorists just want to scare us – terrorize us – get it? Look up the word.

The chances of any of us actually getting killed is close to zero. Stop whining about “They want to kill us”.

And for sure stop whining about the inhuman torture of extra time spent in the airport.

Howard Lee Harkness (profile) says:

El Al planes don't get hijacked.

On September 11th, 2001, a bunch of Islamic terrorists attacked the United States because they hated Israel. Does that make sense? Why didn’t they attack an Israeli airline???

Simple answer: Israeli pilots and flight crews are armed. Terrorists and other criminals prefer ‘soft’ targets.

More than 3,000 people died on September 11th, 2001 because a bunch of Liberals managed to prevent American pilots and flight crews from carrying defensive weapons.

However, Sep 11 changed few other things, too. It was the hijacking to end hijackings of that type. Since 9/11, there have been attempted hijackings that were defeated by the male passengers — in at least one case, the would-be hijacker was beaten to death, which is as it should be (unfortunately, his carcass was *not* fed to pigs). If I was on a plane being hijacked, I would kill the hijacker(s), or die in the attempt, because there is no other morally acceptable choice.

Accordingly, now the Islamic terrorists have changed tactics. They can’t commandeer a plane anymore, so they can only do suicide bombings to crash them (attempting to do so over a populated area, of course). We adapt as needed — I just don’t travel by air anymore.

Give American Indians their land back! says:

Re: El Al planes don't get hijacked.


You see the U.S. helps Israel by providing them funding to the tune of 1/2 billion dollars a year (last I’ve checked…couple months ago). We’ve been funding theme from its inception.In essence, their military is essentially our military as a result.

The jews in this country want to ensure that the U.S. supports Israel. That is the truth and that is what no-one wants to talk about. Israel was formed and founded on the lies of WWII. Jews in England and in the U.S, mainly very wealthy ones with a lot of political clout and influence, used the death camps of the Nazis as justification for implementing Israel, a home for the wandering jews, who will forever suffer at the hands of oppressors unless Israel is in place.

There, too, are those who, then and now, feel that since Israel exists in the bible that it should exist today in order to fulfill certain biblical prophecies.

So the powers in Europe mainly England and the U.S. got together in the early ’40s, singled out the Palestinians as the scapegoats, kicked them off their land and put Israel in its place.

So now the world suffers from the shortcomings of the jews in Europe and religious zealouts who intend to destroy the world.

There, I said it. THAT IS THE TRUTH!

Go ahead, I challenge anyone to fight me on this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: El Al planes don't get hijacked.


Three things:

1st) “Prate” is a noun, not to be used as a transitive verb.

2nd) If you don’t engage, why ask of me to further troll.

3rd) What religious nonsense? A blogger asked a question, I answered it.

The truth can hurt so I have no choice but to understand and accept how you feel.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: El Al planes don't get hijacked.

“Would-be hijacker was beaten to death”?

Could you provide a link? Because the only story like that I can remember was an innocent (but mentally disturbed) individual who freaked out and started banging on the cockpit door (obviously part of some devious terrorist plot in your mind), and a bunch passengers acting as radical as a terrorist in their incessant beating of this frightened man until he was dead.

I’m glad that you don’t fly anymore, because you would probably attack a confused mentally challenged boy because you were sure he was committing some heinous terrorist act, then I would get in trouble for beating you to death.

Sanguine Dream says:


Since you can’t run this test on every single passenger for obvious time reasons. That means you have to “randomly” pull people to question. So you still have the same chance of skipping over the real threat. But its does sound like a move in the right direction.

The system essentially works like a souped-up lie detector: passengers are isolated in a booth and asked a series of questions designed to trigger “psycho-physiological responses among people with terrorist intent”.

Yet I wonder given they will check would I set it if I took this after finishing a phone call that left me extremely angry.

Mousky (user link) says:


I’m sick and tired of everyone holding up El Al as the gold standard in airport security. How many international airports are their in Israel? How many flights depart from Ben Gurion? How many passengers are processed through Ben Gurion? It’s easy to provide the level of security when it is done through a single facility. Now multiply it by at least a 100 times to get to a North American or European scale

ConceptJunkie (profile) says:

Oh, great... another bad idea...

So now we are going to strap suspects into lie detector machines? Yeah, this will scare the crap out of a lot of non-terrorists, and catch the total amateurs. Meanwhile, we squander tens or hundreds of millions and we are no closer to the level of security of El Al, as someone else here pointed out.

You will never solve the security problem with means that only require hiring entry-level, semi-literate workers at near minimum-wage, which is what seems to be the highest priority at the TSA. You can not rely on brute force methods (including what is essentially a lie-detector, one of the most thoroughly discredited means of investigation), eventually, you are going to have to stop strip-searching 80-year-old Swedish women and start being smart. At least, if you expect to do your job.

George Bush says:

I think we should call the terrorists on the phone and make friends. But to continue to ensure Amerikan’z saftie, we should put people on one airplane and put luggage on a robot airplain. We should also require everyone to be like the funny-eyes Asain people and take off your shoo’s when entering the airplane building and put on slippers or sandles. Can only take drinks and chow you buy at a special counter where all the cups are with antenah’s that are watched by computers and people with special training and education for the training of watching those cups. Yeah! that would work…..can i be president again, yall?

Joe Smith says:

Creation of Israel

Dear Give American Indians their land back.

You have a very inaccurate understanding of history.

The Balfour declaration may have contributed to the ultimate creation of Israel but the British did not endorse the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state.

After the Second World War England opposed the establishment of Israel and Jewish terrorists attacked British officials in Palestine (Google “king david hotel bomb’)

Aris Katsaris (user link) says:

Policing will never stop terrorism for long. In the end this war should be both ideological and military.

Unfortunately, on the ideological level George Bush completely undermined the moral superiority of the West with his support of torture and violation of prisoner rights. His love for religiosity and contempt for democracy versus strongman rule (“signing statements” anyone?) is another way he chooses to fudge the dividing line between Western democracies and the Islamofascists — a line that should be crystal clear if we wanted to have a chance to ideologically succeed.

And militarily, instead of attacking Syria or Iran, the active imperialisms and greatest supporters of terrorism in the region (and indeed globally), he chose to invade Iraq (!) instead so as to hand these countries a huge gift. As a result, Iran has conquered the whole of southern Iraq via Sadr, and with the American troops occupied there, Syria has found the opportunity to reflame the war against Israel via Hezbollah. And at the same time these countries have managed to portray the *West* as the attackers. All because of George.

So yeah, with the world going wholly kaput because of George’s idiocy, it’s surely these airport checks that are gonna save us. Pfft.

Anonymous Coward says:

Isrealis are the original terrorists...

Here is part of a greater article to enlighten the ignorant:

An article titled “Terror” in He Khazit (The Front, a Lehi underground newspaper), Issue 2, August 1943, argued as follows. The full text of the article is available at Wikiquote.

Neither Jewish morality nor Jewish tradition can negate the use of terror as a means of battle.

We are quite far from moral hesitations on the national battlefield. We see before us the command of the Torah, the most moral teaching in the world: Obliterate—until destruction.[1] We are particularly far from this sort of hesitation in regard to an enemy whose moral perversion is admitted by all.

But primarily terror is part of our political battle under present conditions and its role is large and great.

* It demonstrates, in clear language, to those who listen throughout the world and to our despondent brothers outside the gates of this country of our battle against the true terrorist who hides behind his piles of papers and the laws he has legislated.

* It is not directed against people, it is directed against representatives. Therefore it is effective.

* If it also shakes the Yishuv from their complacency, good and well.

Only so will the battle for liberation begin.

Anonymous Coward says:

I claim my right to a speedy boarding.

Do you fucknuts realize how stupid you are?

I don’t care about what happened with the creation of the Jewish state. I hope the nuke as many arab countries as they can. The only thing these people understand is violance, so lets give it to them.

How many western countries are in deep shit because they were allowed into their countries? France, Canada, UK, the list goes on and on. Kill them all.

Oh, and if you don’t know the difference between fighting a gurilla war and strapping bombs on and going on a bus full of civilians, you are either stupid or lying.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Oh, and if you don’t know the difference between fighting a gurilla war and strapping bombs on and going on a bus full of civilians, you are either stupid or lying.”

I’m afraid you’re talking to a descendant of the natives of america. Your words ring hollow, you do not have a clue what you are talking about.

History is written by the winners, the dead aren’t very good at it. Those that fled massacre are shamed into silence. Those that survive are taken into custody. Or at least that is how it was. (Maybe the information age will change that pattern. We will find out years after the middle east is “resolved”.)

The fact that the patriots did not strap bombs onto buses merely illustrates that they were not driven to that level of desperation yet.

Well, that and buses didnt exist yet.

Oh, and what the colonies did to defeat the british is NOTHING like guerilla warfare.

Which is good, in a way, as there is no honor in guerilla warfare. It is an act of desperation by desperate people.

Heres the lead in from wikipedia.

Guerrilla tactics are based on intelligence, ambush, deception, sabotage, and espionage, undermining an authority through long, low-intensity confrontation.

And how is that different from terrorism? Terrorism has a few more civilians? (my whole tribe was slaughtered, save a few females that were taken as slaves)

The point however, as little to nothing to do with whether or not the american revolution was fought with honor.

The point is that “we” (us americans, and those brits too) pissed off the muslims by meddling in their affairs. We royally dicked up their plans. What did we do that for? They don’t know. Most don’t really care. But they’re pissed, and desperate.

Anonymous Coward says:

How do we know that Iran is the enemy?

How do we know that Iran is the enemy?

We don’t really know that. Similar comments must have been made in Nazi Germany against the jews.

How do we know it’s not more “weapons of mass destruction” propoganda.

I hardly trust news sources nor our intelligence (if you want to call it that) for information. Anyone that does hasn’t been following events over the past 3-5 years.

We are hardly in a position to judge the actions of others since our own actions are shameful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: How do we know that Iran is the enemy?

That interview is what makes me question everything we’ve been told about the current situation and leader of Iran.

He is not some crazed maniac. He seemed rational and reasonable. Sure, he has some weird ideas but it’s hardly threatening.

All I know is that we waged a war on a people without any provocation and under false premises. Just because two people may wear a turban does not make them the same or the enemy.

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