“Thought Police Peek Into Brains”

Julia Scheeres reports for Wired News. Excerpt:

U.S. investigators are facing the daunting task of sorting through more than 700 suspects in connection with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A neuroscientist from Iowa says he’s got the perfect tool to help them do it.

Lawrence Farwell says he has devised a test that will ascertain whether the suspects have criminal knowledge of the terrorist attack by measuring their brainwaves. He calls it “brain fingerprinting.”

It a nutshell, it works like this: A subject’s head is strapped with electrodes that pick up electrical activity. He sits in front of a computer monitor as words and images flash on the screen. When he recognizes the visual stimuli, a waveform called the P300 reacts and the signal is fed into a computer, where it is analyzed using a proprietary algorithm.

In police cases, a suspect is shown data that only a person with intimate knowledge of the crime would know, such as details about the crime scene or the weapon used. If the suspect’s P300 waves reacted to the data, it would be an indication of guilt, Farwell said.

For the terrorist investigation, suspects could be shown pictures and terminology known only to members of a terrorist group, such as the word “al-Qaida” written in Arabic, or the instrument panel of a 757, he said.

“There is no question from a scientific perspective that this is an extremely useful tool in the war against terrorism,” said Farwell, who says he has tested more than 170 people and has a 100 percent accuracy rate in determining a recognition response. “It’s extremely important to the national interest to implement this as soon as possible.”

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