Heath King: New Technology Promises to Peer Into a Terrorist's Mind

Sunday, 12 May 2013 08:31 PM

By Dr. G. Heath King

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One may have to look back to the Boston Massacre of 1770, when five unarmed civilians were shot and killed by occupying troops, to find an event of comparable consequence to the Boston bombings in galvanizing resolve to protect the citizenry of our mainland.

Yet in the aftermath of this terrorist act the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Mike McCaul, made a remarkable admission: "My fear is that the Boston bombers succeeded because our system failed."

Clearly, the FBI procedure of investigating and interviewing suspected terrorists — which failed to identify the Army recruiting station shooter Carlos Bledsoe in 2009, the Fort Hood assassin Major Nadal Hasan the same year, and the Boston bombers — is inadequate and outmoded.

A far more sophisticated method of identifying terrorists and preempting their designs is needed.

I believe we are on the threshold of new developments in the fusion of psychology and technology that can fundamentally reduce these misperceptions and save lives. In my book, "Existence, Thought, Style. Perspectives of a Primary Relation," I traced how a thinker's subliminal response to metaphoric associations could reveal the truth or falsity of his statements. Now, technology in Israel conceived by one of its leading engineers, Dr. Euhod Givon, and the eminent psychologist Dr. Shlomo Breznits. is in the final stage of development that can measure the involuntary responses of potential terrorists by image association.

This technology, WeCU, or,, "We see you," is based on the fact that people always react with involuntary physiological responses, however slight, to familiar images in a different setting. The simultaneously measured responses include increases in body temperature and heart and pulse rate. The varied and unpredictable data bank of photos and stimuli would be comprised of that which only a terrorist would have encountered.

The advantage of WeCU technology, which was envisioned for use at airports, but which, I believe, can be installed elsewhere in strategic investigative loci, is that the suspect is not subject to emotional pressure that a skilled terrorist can consciously master, as has often been seen with lie detectors like polygraphs. Hence by the same token false positives by the innocent registered by polygraphs and imperceptive interviewers are also eliminated. WeCU Technologies has thus far reported a 95% accuracy rate in the lab and field and has received two grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The question remains: How does the mind of a terrorist function? Already in the early 1950s the far-sighted "longshoreman philosopher" Eric Hoffer noted that the fanatic lives with an inner void and low self-esteem that he seeks to alleviate by immersing himself in a mass movement. The greater the numbing dogmatism of the movement that provides meaning to his existence, the less he is reminded of his own chronic inability to find answers himself. And the greater self-sacrifice mandated by the movement, the more completely the impoverished inner self of the fanatic is sedated and effaced.

Eric Hoffer's prescience has since been commended by three American presidents — an arch of erudition and discernment spanning three decades — Eisenhower, Johnson, and Ronald Reagan who awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983, the year of his death. In light of the terrorist malaise now on our mainland, Hoffer's writings, in my view, continue to take on relevance.

Another characteristic common to the terrorist is deflecting blame for his shortcomings to others, be it an ethnic group, nation, or creed. We may think here of the young Joseph Goebbels. The as yet only partially translated 29-volume diary of Goebbels make for a revealing case study in the sociopathy of the terrorist. It is little known that Goebbels studied romance literature at university and wrote a novel called Michael. However, like the novel of a later terrorist Saddam Hussein entitled Zabibah and the King, it was judged to be without merit, as was his attempt at journalism and his plays, which were never staged.

Significantly, Goebbels refused to acknowledge his lack of talent and instead blamed Jewish publishers for his failure. Soon thereafter he joined the Nazi Party and fomented its reign of terror.

After these rejections Goebbels' developed contempt for intellectual achievement. He later said, "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun". His grandiose novel, like that of Saddam Hussein, was a mere compensation for all they lacked in their inferiority complex ridden life. The army in WWI had also rejected Goebbels owing to a limp and deformity of his right leg. His fanatical militaristic stance can, in my view, be understood as a compensation for this.

On a more elementary, primitive level, the Boston bombers are a further manifestation of this psychological profile. They are, as their uncle attested, "losers." The older brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev, while blaming America for his own inadequacy, received state welfare benefits, as did his parents at one time. The 26-year-old immigrant exploited his wife's labor to pay expenses while he chose to remain unemployed. The 27-year-old Goebbels prior to his reign of terror lived idly and jobless in the home of his parents.

With the new breed of terrorist we do see a metamorphosis of appearance and strategy. Sociopaths are able to morph into any disguise to retain their exploitative modus operandi in a chosen habitat. In a sense they mimic what in biology is called "cryptic coloration", much as the predatory praying mantis blends into its environment as indistinguishable from a twig or leaf. Like the Boston bombers we may expect the terrorist of the future to have assimilated into the mainstream of American life, as indistinct and mute as a leaf on a tree. And like the praying mantis Online radicalization allows him to remain motionless.

With the radical Islamist terrorist the posture of prayer, too, is deceptive, for in this world of propagandized culpability the term jihad itself is de-spiritualized to mean the struggle against the enemies of Islam, rather than the greater meaning of the Quran – the “inward struggle” to live in the way of God.

Given this degree of assimilation there will always be a need for undercover operations, but now on a much more sophisticated level. In unison with new technology I recommend forming an elite nucleus of prodigies — what may be called an Anti-terror Brain Trust — with a pronounced aptitude to trace, enter into, and decipher the mind of the new breed of terrorist.

The idea is prefigured in 17th century England when its currency was devalued owing to highly adept counterfeiters who could not be identified. The government called upon its most brilliant mind, Isaac Newton, the "supreme rationalist" who had altered our conception of the universe, to solve the problem. Newton left his chair of mathematics at Cambridge to consort in disguise with London's underworld in its seamy taverns, engaging in clandestine meetings with criminal double-dealers and bounty hunters. With psychological acumen he identified and brought to justice over 200 counterfeiters, among them their master strategist William Chaloner, the Bin Laden of counterfeiters, who until then had defied the most accomplished detectives in the kingdom.

Refining the technology of his time Newton also invented a method of milling the edges of coins to prevent their being “clipped” for their silver and sold to France, a measure that left its imprint on the American quarter to this day. It remains for the prodigies of our time to avail themselves of the fusion of technology and psychology in thwarting global terrorism.

G. Heath King, Ph.D, is a psychoanalyst and former professor of interdisciplinary studies at Yale University. He is author of "Existence, Thought, Style: Perspectives of a Primary Relation, Portrayed Through the Work of Søren Kierkegaard." He explored the philosophical foundations of psychology at the University of Freiburg, Germany, where he completed his doctorate.









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