By Neal Harris, VP Worldwide Sales –
The U.S. government’s current method of vetting refugees and visa applicants needs strengthening. The House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), announced that his committee will soon propose legislative reforms. Among other things, the bill will likely mandate social media checks and personal interviews. Adding private-sector technical innovation to the requirements will improve the odds of identifying individuals that threaten our national security.
The Los Angeles Times reported that San Bernardino mass murderer Tashfeen Malik had pledged support for Jihad via Facebook’s private email feature. The bill should require the state department to work with Facebook and other social media companies to identify language and keywords that would alert them to potential threats.
Visa Applicant Interviewer Insufficient
Visa applicant interviews are more challenging because the interviewer is tasked with determining an applicant’s intentions. Are interviewers able to correctly separate the dangerous applicants from the harmless? Tashfeen and her husband, Syed, died for their cause and orphaned their baby girl in the process. Those that share their ideology would certainly lie about their intentions.
In their 2006 paper “Accuracy of Deception Judgments,” university researchers Charles F. Bond Jr. and Bella M. DePaulo determined that gut feel or intuition during an interview is only 54% accurate; no better than a coin flip. If interviewers can’t detect intentions to do harm at a rate better than chance, then the personal interview offers no added security.
The U.S. National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) advises federal agencies on lie detection, and they encourage the use of technology to improve the rate of discovery. Polygraph examinations conducted by skilled examiners are highly accurate, but the number of such trained examiners is inadequate to meet the burgeoning national security needs. If polygraph is mandated for visa applicants and refugees, as was recently suggested by Texas lawmaker Mark Keough, many more examiners will need to be trained in a 3-month program at an American Polygraph Association (APA) or federally accredited polygraph school.
The U.S. contingent of examiners around the world, often located in dangerous places, are already testing for espionage, narcotics and human trafficking, homicides, kidnappings, rapes, corruption, sabotage, border security and insider threats against our military and embassies. Adding terrorism screenings to the workload will require large numbers of additional examiners or new technical innovation.
Polygraph examiners testing for terrorism use strict protocols to improve their chances of identifying intentions. Pass/fail scores are modified based on risk tolerance, and escalating attacks will require the continued use of strict protocols. Statistically, a small number of visa applicants or refugees would pose a threat to America, but they would be failed at high rates nonetheless. The risks are too serious for examiners to use their standard protocols that are applied to routine background checks.
Also, more than 650,000 people in the U.S. have a top-secret clearance, but these clearance holders — that have access to our most sensitive national secrets — are tested only every 5-7 years. Our ability to catch the next Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning is compromised by infrequent testing. That means employees have ample time to steal and leak sensitive information.
New ODT Technology
Against this backdrop, it’s clear that a new, first-line screening tool would be invaluable to interrogators tasked with discovering those who threaten our national security.
The ocular-motor deception test or ODT is an innovative, first-of-its-kind computer-based lie detection system developed by University of Utah scientists. It’s recently become available for the types of mass screening required for national security applications. ODT detects deception at rates comparable to polygraph without the risks posed by human errors, biases, or emotions. The scientists that created ODT are the same scientists that developed the computerized polygraph in the early 1990s using algorithms to standardize and objectively interpret the sensor data recorded by the polygraph.
ODT is based on the scientific method that identifies deception cues in the eyes, primarily minute pupil dilations that occur immediately after an examinee tells a lie. A standard Windows®-based computer is connected to a highly sensitive infrared sensor, somewhat like the Kinect® sensor on an Xbox®. The sensor collects hundreds of thousands of eye measurements in a 30-minute test and uploads them to a secure cloud server for a computerized assessment of deception. Within five minutes, the ODT can automatically determine with 85 percent accuracy if the applicant exhibited signs of deception, and deceptive applicants can be referred for deeper investigation and interrogation. Since computerized examinations are multi-lingual, no polygraph examiners or interpreters are required, adding efficiency to the process. Last week in Washington, D.C., ODT briefings were held for U.S. security agencies and lawmakers.
To “vet” means to appraise, verify, or check for accuracy, authenticity, and validity. The House Judiciary Committee should immediately consult with the NCCA to determine the suitability of ODT for visa and refugee screenings. Based on the adage, “the eyes are the windows to the soul,” ODT will be a valuable tool to look into those souls and detect their intentions to do harm.