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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Why aren’t we brain scanning for Baathists?

Several of the most vexing problems we face in the war on terror have a ready solution. How to determine which battlefield detainees are fighters and which are innocents? How to know when captured fighters are giving reliable information? How to get information out of recalcitrant suspects without torturing them? How to distinguish honest members of the Iraqi defense forces from Baathist/terrorist infiltrators? Use brain scanning lie detection.

Brain researchers using PET scanners (Positron Emission Tomography) discovered years ago that recalling the truth and concocting a lie use very different parts of the brain and can be distinguished in a PET scan with a high degree of reliability. But PET scanning is not a very practical technology. It requires administering radioactive trace elements into the bloodstream in order to locate bloodflow in the brain (a proxy for brain activity). It is also expensive. The practical breakthrough was fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), which can map ordinary bloodflow, and is much cheaper. (See here.)

fMRI has been used to map brain activity for about five years. We could certainly be using it now in the war on terror. Questionees would not even have to open their mouths for us to get information out of them. Show them a picture of a face and fMRI will show whether there is a facial recognition response or not. But it is quite clear that we are not using this technology. If we were using it on anybody, we would certainly be using it on the “20th hijacker,” but the detailed Time Magazine account of 20th’s questioning seems to reveal that we are relying on air conditioners and Christine Aguilera music instead.

What sense does this make, when we have the technology to look directly inside of detainees’ brains? Possibly the Time Magazine leak was a ruse, but there would be no way to hide it if we were using fMRI to weed out infiltrators from the Iraqi Defense Forces, so we are certainly not doing what we could with the technology.

The only plausible explanation is that the Military is holding back because it knows that the Democrats and the ACLU would scream bloody murder, and the libertarian half of the conservative coalition might go berserk as well. Let’s clear the air then. Let’s clarify where right lies here, and urge our military to start using this necessary tool to win the war on terror, before a dozen nukes go off in American cities.

We don’t have to grapple with any thorny questions about the probative value of brain scanning evidence for criminal prosecutions. Criminal prosecutions are the Democrat approach to the war on terror, not the military approach. There is no need to go there. Brain scans are not going to be used in court in any immediate future. As for the justice of using it on detainees, it would allow the innocent to be released. Yes, there could be errors, and some innocents might scan out as fighters and not get released, but present safeguards would still be in place. Prisoner scans need only be conducted on prisoners: people who have been detained on the field of battle, and have gone before a military tribunal to determine that they have been properly detained (our present procedure). A 95% or 99% accurate way of distinguishing the fighters from the innocents would allow us to release a lot more of the innocents, which is obviously a huge improvement for the innocent.

What to do with Iraqi Defense Force applicants who scan out as infiltrators? Investigate, and only hold as prisoners of war or criminally prosecute those who are found by physical evidence to be involved in insurrection. No forcible application of fMRI would be involved. No one is forced to volunteer for the Iraqi Defense Force. Of course the infiltrators will quickly STOP volunteering, which achieves the primary objective.

Scanning all who are already in the defense forces and wish to retain their membership would also be volunteer. Any infiltrators would be free to quit rather get scanned. Whether quitting should be considered probable cause for forcing quitters to submit to scans is an interesting question. One can actually make a logical civil rights argument that they should not be. There certainly is no logical argument until that point is reached.

Our military should not be afraid of this debate. Libertarians may have paranoid instincts, but what distinguishes them from Democrats is that they are logical. TRUST the conservative coalition. Everybody is sane. The military should just do what it needs to do. Let the Democrats try to make a stink. They will be charging into concertina wire. At every point the logic will cut against them. Once enmeshed, they will have to try to extricate themselves, or spend the last of their force.

As advancing technology brings weapons of mass destruction within the grasp of ever smaller groups and even individuals, brain scanning lie detection will soon enough have to be applied universally if civilization is to survive. For those who want to look ahead, I have written extensively on how we can unleash law enforcement to the permanent extremes necessary to make use of techniques like universal brain search, while greatly INCREASING protection for individual liberty. Just protect liberty directly rather than indirectly. Don’t tie the hands of the police. Specify what is not to be criminalized. Then no matter what the police do, no one will ever be prosecuted for anything that no one should be prosecuted for. I am writing a book on the subject now. You can read an article on it here.

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