Veritas: Brain Scans May Reveal Traitors Among US Allies in Iraq
A former Army counterintelligence agent has proposed a solution to protect troops from insider attacks: brain scans that can predict betrayal.
Recently, the New York Times reported on the risks of assisting an Iraqi army that is deeply infiltrated by Sunni and Shiite extremists. Insider attacks perpetrated by informants within ally forces have killed up to 60 troops in the past year in Iraq. Now, a truth detection system called HandShake, developed by US Army veteran Derrell Small, may be able to detect signs of disloyalty to the United States.
[Credit: Veritas Scientific]
In order to test truthfulness, a US military officer would attach electrodes to an Iraqi officer's head, which would then measure the officer's EEG and functional near-infrared imaging in order to gauge certain brain activity, such as image recognition. The Iraqi officer would then undergo a battery of neurological tests, such as being shown pictures of faces or locations that would only be known to a potential terrorist. When an image is shown that holds emotional significance, a person's electromagnetic activity drops for a fraction of a second, which can be measured by the EEG.
It is difficult to assess which images should be used in order to avoid false positives, however. Veritas Scientific founder Eric Elbot clarified that simply recognizing the parts of an IED would not necessarily indicate that a person is a terrorist, "but if I flash you a picture of a diagram that shows you how to build an IED, that would be a pretty strong indicator that you might be a foe…You wouldn't be studying how to make an IED if you were a friend." In spite of this difficulty, the company claims that they can measure incriminating brain activity with 80-90% accuracy.
"The US is engaged in a dangerous multi-fronted, contradiction-loaded, counter-intuitive game [in Iraq]. Our technology if it were fully tested would be up to this sort of advanced challenge. I can assure you that we would do the best to work under these time and battlefield conditions and that we can make a major difference in managing complex inputs and outcomes," said Elbot.
There are several potential problems involved with this technology. First, the relationship between brain activity and behavior is not at all well understood, even by the world's most prominent neuroscientists. And not only is Veritas attempting to determine which allies are secretly informants, they also claim to be able to measure with some accuracy the likelihood of a person betraying the US in the future, which is an extremely dangerous road to walk down. Strictly speaking, being likely to become a traitor cannot be a punishable offense.
Furthermore, the technology's purported accuracy is dubious. These types of scans can be affected by all different kinds of arbitrary factors, such as age, stress, alcohol and nicotine use, mental disorders, gender, and even loud noises.
"Measures of perceptions don't exactly measure truth. And that's why the law has an evidentiary problem with this," said Adam Lamparello, assistant professor of law at Indiana Tech Law School. He asserted that brain scans are not perfectly reliable indicators of potential threats, but are rather "suggestive."
And even if the technology was perfectly reliable, there are privacy issues at stake. Particularly when discussing propensity for behaviors rather than behaviors that have already occurred, brain imaging could potentially lead to many privacy violations and undue assumptions.