Washington: Imagine technology that
will allow law enforcement officials to get inside the mind of
a terrorist to know how, when and where the next attack will
occur. Well, it could soon be a reality, say scientists.
A team at Northwestern University has developed a new
test which they claim if employed for a real-world scenario --
like an imminent terrorist attack -- could enable the police
to confirm details about an attack, like date, location, and
In their study, when the scientists knew in advance
the specifics of the planned attacks by the "terrorists", they
were able to correlate P300 brain waves to guilty knowledge
with 100 percent accuracy in the laboratory, according to Prof
J Peter Rosenfeld, who led the team.
For the first time, the scientists used the P300
testing in a mock terrorism scenario in which the subjects are
planning, rather than perpetrating, a crime. The P300 brain
waves were measured by electrodes attached to the scalp of the
make-believe "persons of interest" in the laboratory.
The most intriguing part of the study in terms of
real-word implications, Rosenfeld said, is that even when the
researchers had no advance details about mock terrorism plans,
the technology was still accurate in identifying critical
"Without any prior knowledge of the planned crime in
our mock terrorism scenarios, we were able to identify 10 out
of 12 terrorists and, among them, 20 out of 30 crime-related
details," Rosenfeld said.
He added: "The test was 83 per cent accurate in
predicting concealed knowledge, suggesting that our complex
protocol could identify future terrorist activity."
For the study, participants -- 29 students -- planned
a mock attack based on information they were given about bombs
and other weapons. They then had to write a letter detailing
the rationale of their plan to encode information in memory.
Then, with electrodes attached to their scalps, they
looked at a computer display monitor that presented names of
stimuli. The names of Boston, Houston, New York, Chicago and
Phoenix, for example, were shuffled and presented at random.
The city that study participants chose for the major terrorist
attack evoked the largest P300 brainwave responses.
The test includes four classes of stimuli known as
targets, non-targets, probes and irrelevants. Targets are
sights, sounds or other stimuli the person being questioned
already knows or is taught to recognize before the test.
Probes are stimuli only a guilty suspect would be likely to
know. And irrelevants are stimuli unlikely to be recognized.
"Since 9/11 preventing terrorism is a priority. Our
hope is that our new complex protocol -- different from the
first P300 technology developed in the 1980s -- will one day
confirm such chatter in the real world.
"We suspect if our test was employed in the real
world the deeper encoding of planned crime-related knowledge
could further boost detection of terrorist intentions,"