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by CSO Contributor

Behavior Pattern Recognition and Why Racial Profiling Doesn’t Work

Feb 01, 20063 mins
CSO and CISOIdentity Management SolutionsInvestigation and Forensics

Rafi Ron, the former Israeli airports security chief who runs New Age Security Solutions, trains guards, bus drivers and others to recognize potential terrorists.

CSO: How does behavior pattern recognition work, and why do you believe it is such an important part of security?

Rafi Ron: Security systems today are almost totally based on technology, specifically weapon detection. [After] 9/11, we recognized the fact that the weapon [a box cutter] was the minor element in the attack plan, and even so, the weapon that was chosen was allowed to be carried on board the aircraft. It led us to the conclusion that it is not enough to look for things, we have to look for malicious intentions. They can be identified by a level of search and the other security procedures that could substantially mitigate the risk of a successful attack. So in [some] countries, specifically Israel, the solution to that is the vast use of profiling. The problem when it comes into the United States is that profiling is racial. It is not only unethical but it is illegal.

My experience at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv has led me to the conclusion that racial profiling is not effective. The major attacks at Ben Gurion Airport were carried out by Japanese terrorists in 1972 and Germans in the 1980s. [They] did not belong to any expected ethnic group. Richard Reid [known as the shoe bomber] did not fit a racial profile. Professionally as well as legally, I oppose the idea of racial profiling. So we are left with behavior, because behavior is probably the Achilles’ heel of the terrorist.

In the Reid case, there were at least five crew members who later told me they had a suspicious feeling about Reid when he boarded the aircraft. The technology that was supposed to have dealt with the threat failed to do so. The clear conclusion from that is that when you [a terrorist] have to overcome a certain technological screening process, you can find a way to overcome it, but human behavior is where you will fail. Because a person carrying out a major terrorist attack that will probably end his life as well as the lives of many others cannot be in a sane state of mind. Even people who can control their behavior still fail to do so frequently.

Crew members thought Reid looked suspicious. How do you distinguish between suspicion based on observed behavior, and suspicion based on a feeling you have because you are, in fact, racially profiling them?

We give trainees a lot of examples where racial profiling would lead to disaster. We just tell officers don’t do it, but there are instincts that go along with it. We have seen that officers can use excuses to cover up the fact that they are racially profiling. Behavior pattern recognition teaches that more objective criteria must be used that is focused on behavior. We provide the trainees with a great understanding of terrorist behavior. We look for irregular behavior, and that is why the program is tightly connected to the environment where it is being implemented, because [behavior] changes from one place to another.

In an airport you can expect people to be moving around with large bags, but if someone shows up like that at a sporting event, that should draw attention and trigger a response.