Nonverbal Surveillance

You can observe a lot by watching. --Lawrence Peter ("Yogi") Berra

Watching and listening. 1. The act of observing the behavior and body language of persons or groups under suspicion. 2. Systematic observations, openly made as well as covert, conducted in airports, at border crossings, and in other public venues, often for reasons of national security.

Usage. As the threat of international terrorism grows, nonverbal communication plays a vital role in the training of government, military, and law-enforcement personnel. The ability to see danger signs in anomalous behaviors and time patterns, in "intention" movements, clothing signals, abnormal gaze patterns, emotional voice tones, and deception cues--and in seemingly "meaningless" grooming habits, facial expressions, and gestures--is essential to ensuring public security today.

Curiosity. The best observers tend to be those who are naturally curious. They like to know what other people are doing--and why. Moreover, they are able to project themselves, through empathy, into the emotional mindset of those they observe (i.e., they can "get inside" others' heads). Perhaps most importantly, they are able to turn off the verbal dialogue going on inside their own heads long enough to monitor the scene. The best observers rely on their own feelings to ask questions: "Why is that person tense?" "Why do those two make me nervous?"

Elevator scenario. Software has been developed to interpret nonverbal behaviors, captured by closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras, as being normal or abnormal. Staying too long in an elevator, e.g., would be classed as an abnormal time usage which would set off a remote alarm for security workers. Abnormal physical movement in the elevator--e.g., a man assembling a mechanism or opening a suitcase on the floor--also would trigger an alarm.

Facial monitoring. Software enables personnel-identification cameras to recognize faces in airports, ports of entry, government buildings, casinos, and stores. Future software will enable cameras to recognize facial expressions of emotion, as well (see MOTION ENERGY MAP). (N.B.: Research on the human-computer interface [HCI] may result in software for interpreting postures, body movements, and hand gestures.)

A classic example of nonverbal surveillance was the case of Ahmed Ressam, who, presenting himself as "Benni Noris," crossed into Washington State from British Columbia via the Port Angeles ferry. U.S. Customs Today magazine touted the intercept, and praised the customs officers for responding to nonverbal cues.

Ressam's was the last car off the ferryboat, and something nonverbal told inspector Diana M. Dean to take a closer look at him and his vehicle. (Ressam appeared nervous and sweaty [Johnson 2000:B3].) She gave "Noris" a standard U.S. Customs declaration, which he completed, and then asked him to step out of his car. In the words of officers on the case, his hemming (speech hesitations), hawing (fumbling for words), dawdling (taking more time than necessary), and stalling (using delay tactics) drew inspector Mark Johnson's attention.

Ressam finally got out of his car and stood next to Johnson, while a third inspector, Dan Clem, inspected the trunk. When Clem found white powder hidden in the wheel well, Ressam ran away. Inspectors intercepted him as he tried to car-jack a vehicle stopped at a nearby traffic light. It was determined later that Ressam allegedly had ties to terrorist Osama Bin Laden, and that he was carrying highly volatile bomb components in an apparent plan to blow up a major U.S. target (source: U.S. Customs Today, © 2000).

Nervousness I. For years, United Airlines has provided annual training for flight attendants to help them watch closely for unusual behavior and nervous passengers. From thousands of hours of flying, attendants internalize an experiential blueprint for what is "normal," which helps them spot the "abnormal" as well. Anxiety should be carefully monitored at all times, both as a sign of abnormal intentions (e.g., in terrorists), and as a contributing factor which may lead to abnormal behavior (by non-terrorists) in the cabin.

Nervousness II. In his report to the FBI, Ken Boyer, owner of Boyer's Tele-Com Services in Springfield, Missouri, recounted how men of Middle East background asked to buy his turbo-prop Piper Saratoga for $500,000. "'They wanted to buy it for cash that day. They meant business. There were no smiles or idle talk.' Boyer said the men were unshaven, dirty and nervous--and looked as though they had been living in their car. They told him, in broken English, that they would pay cash on the spot for a plane. 'They wanted it today,' said Boyer'" (Doria and Menard 2001).

Suspicious behavior. From Reuters (July 27, 2001, 10:05 a.m. PT): "Singapore scientists have created new software that may beef up future surveillance efforts by distinguishing between people's normal activities and suspicious behavior. The software, created by researchers at the Nanyang Technological University, can tell the difference between people walking, talking and acting normally, and abnormal behavior such as a fight or someone collapsing. The Singapore team recorded and classified 73 features of human movement, such as speed, direction, shape and pattern. The features were then used with existing 'neural network' software, which can learn and remember patterns, to create a new program. 'Each of the features is actually generated from a formula . . . then the learning software will be able to classify certain motion as normal or abnormal,' associate professor Maylor Leung told Reuters on Friday. 'It's something new. No one has tried (developing it), and so far we are successful,' he said. Images fed to the software, from a surveillance camera, for example, are analyzed almost instantly and with 96 percent accuracy, Leung said. The software can trigger an alarm when unusual movements are detected, making it well suited for surveillance." (Copyright © Reuters 2001)

Together, then apart. Two or more individuals interacting as a cohesive group who subsequently split up and act individually, each on his or her own agenda, and following his or her own pathways, may be considered an unusual behavior pattern. People seen huddling together upon entering an airport terminal, e.g., who then enter ticket lines or screening checkpoints apart from colleagues, may be trying to disguise their affiliation as a group.

Unusual behavior. Though not always suspicious, unusual behavior is often disturbing: "LOS ANGELES (October 1, 2001 9:58 a.m. EDT) - A group of seven people were escorted by armed guards off a plane at Los Angeles International Airport after one man's actions made other passengers nervous. The FBI released them shortly afterward and no arrests were made, officials said. The travelers did not return to the flight. The America West flight from Los Angeles to Phoenix was preparing to taxi from the gate Saturday when passengers noticed a man, whom they believed to be Middle Eastern, stand up and pass his travel itinerary to an older man, said Nancy Castles, airport spokeswoman. He then asked a flight attendant if he could get off the airplane to retrieve other documents, said . . . Castles. 'Where was he going to get these documents?' Castles said. 'That's why it was considered suspicious behavior'" (Copyright © by Associated Press 2001).

Visual monitoring. Unusual behavior may also include the act of watching a check station, security door, or food-delivery system at an airport, especially from areas not usually frequented by passengers, friends and family, or airport staff. (Recording routine airport activities with a video camera should be considered highly unusual.)

Walking-in-line. Two men walking side-by-side together in an airport may be benign. But two men walking in line together (i.e., one following closely behind the other) may represent a single-minded mission in pursuit of unsavory goals. Border patrol officers have identified walking-in-line as an unwitting sign given by persons intending to cross the U.S. border, illegally, as a team.

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