Category Archives: Security

Brain Fingerprinting

Now that fingerprinting has come under pressure for being unreliable and often the cause of false convictions, a new generation of technology is emerging to take its place. Take for example Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories, which promises to find terrorists by reading their brain waves:

How do we determine if a person is a terrorist or spy? There is a new technology, that for the first time, allows us to measure scientifically if specific information is stored in a person’s brain. Brain Fingerprinting technology can determine the presence or absence of specific information, such as terrorist training and associations.

Here is the key to the new technology:

One fundamental difference between a terrorist and an innocent suspect is that the terrorist has detailed knowledge of terrorist activities and an innocent person does not. A terrorist has either committed a crime, received training in terrorism or worked with others in planning terrorist attacks. The innocent suspect does not have this type of information stored in his brain.

The fundamental problem with this is that the person being scanned has to have advance knowledge. When it comes to many terrorist cells, especially suicide bombers, the perpetrators could know little or nothing at all before the day of their mission. Also, this system seems to depend on the operators having the right pattern to match with terrorist information within a suspect’s brain.

That brings us back to the need for detailed intelligence of the terrorists and arrest of their inside planners, at which point the technology only provides a marginal gain, no? My guess is that someone will try to use this in the opposite scenario with mixed or even unjust results — trying to build a case for conviction on information that is unreliable by claiming infallibility in the technology.

What will a Brain Fingerprint look like when we watch news about terrorist plots, or read spy novels? Will it mark us as indistinguishable from someone planning or actively engaged in a terrorist plot? How would Tom Clancy’s Brain Fingerprint look?

Fatalities up in vehicle-animal crashes

I have been contemplating a Newsweek.com story for a few days. First, I arrived at the story with the impression that it would say how animals are dying more often now that people drive such giant vehicles. Not so. The opposite, in fact. The news is that more people are dying than in past years:

Fatalities from vehicle crashes with deer and other animals have more than doubled over the last 15 years, according to a new study by an auto insurance-funded highway safety group that cites urban sprawl overlapping into deer habitat.

The report by the Highway Loss Data Institute found that 223 people died in animal-vehicle crashes last year, up from 150 in 2000 and 101 in 1993.

The rate of accidents is increasing, so the fatalities rate is also increasing, but it does not highlight the ratio of fatalities to overall crashes. At the end of the story we are told that in 2008 there were 1.2 million claims for animal related crashes, and that number is up 15 percent over the past five years. Since the fatalities are up over 100%, the ratio of crashes to fatalities seems to have increased over time, no? To make things more confusing, the areas with the fatalities are known for giant SUVs and trucks:

Since 1993, Texas had the most deaths from such crashes, with 227, followed by Wisconsin with 123 and Pennsylvania with 112.

The reporter does point out that this is nothing compared with the 12,000 drunk driving deaths per year. However, the analysis goes into why breeding season and fences are important to consider when looking at the numbers.

I propose a couple additional issues be investigated. For example, large trucks and SUV, despite their bulk and appearance of safety, are difficult to handle and may cause erratic driving that lead to worse accidents. Thus, they could be the cause of more serious harm than earlier. I would look at the ratio of large to small vehicles in the number of fatalities. Another factor could be education and experience. I wonder if an insurance company tried giving evasive maneuvering lessons to people in a high-risk area (based on the numbers). Showing people how to drift on dirt roads, and brake/swerve at speed, could be an effective way to test this idea. My experience has been that the reaction of drivers to animals is a significant factor in the outcome of the accident.

Consider this You Witness News story for comparison:

A collision between two SUVs and a pickup truck sent nine people, including one pedestrian, to the hospital. […] None of the injuries was considered serious.

Incidentally (pun not intended) I see a minivan in that collision, not an SUV.

Clearly there is more security perspective that can be teased out of the insurance claim data. I do not think it comes down to such a simple equation of more animals on the road leads to more fatalities.

Cease-fire and withrawal from Somalia

Just last week Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said he would not agree to a timetable to withdraw Ethiopia’s 10,000 troops from Somalia; at least that was the story headline. The body of the story was more didactic:

Speaking in parliament Thursday, the Ethiopian leader expressed impatience with the international community’s failure to respond adequately to the violence and lawlessness that has enveloped Somalia for the past 17 years.

He suggested it might soon be time to consider ending Ethiopia’s nearly two-year military campaign to prop up Somalia’s weak Transitional Federal Government.

I can imagine the US State Department pulling strings of, or at least loaning their playbook to, the Ethiopian government. The “we will not set a timeline to stabilize the country” speech sounds very familiar. There is, however, news of progress towards a cease-fire and phased withdrawal even without a timeline:

Wahde Belay, a spokesman for Ethiopia’s foreign ministry, said the [Oct 26th cease-fire] agreement is in line with Ethiopian interests and the Djibouti agreement signed in June.

“This is a confirmation of Ethiopia’s position on an orderly withdrawal from Somalia,” Wade said in an interview from the capital, Addis Ababa, today.

That agreement called for a UN stabilization force to replace Ethiopian troops in Somalia, even though the UN Security Council has shown little willingness to send troops to the beleagured Horn of Africa nation. Ethiopia had previously said it would await the arrival of 8,000 AU peacekeepers before withdrawing. Almost two years after the accord, only 3,400 AU troops have arrived.

The problem for Zenawi is that his precondition is unlikely to be met. He has called upon international forces to ensure formation of a stable government in Somalia before he will pull all his troops out, and at the same time the UN Security Council is scaling back its presence until there is more security. Some reports reveal that the new agreement was formed after Somalia agreed to try and settle things from within:

The government further agreed to form a 10,000 member joint police force with opposition militia members to maintain security in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia.

In turn, the opposition faction of the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, led by Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, said it would observe a ceasefire in Somalia starting November 5th and to stop all hostilities.

A ceasefire agreement was initially signed in Djibouti in June, but the pact was rejected by the hard-line Asmara, Eritrea-based faction of the opposition alliance and by an al-Qaida-linked Islamist group called the Shabab.