I posted this to ZDNET re the story: <http://www.zdnet.com/anchordesk/stories/story/0,10738,2816429,00.html>
There is a utopian novel entitled "The Truth Machine," which I had a minor role in creating, long ago. I suggest that those who want to look at a detailed exposition of the upside to technologies like "brain fingerprinting" might want to check it out. Having a technology that can reliably pick out dangerous or dishonest individuals could have major social implications - for good and/or bad, depending upon how responsibly we handle it. By itself, as described, "brain fingerprinting" is not quite there, but it comes pretty darn close, especially when combined with other known "lie detector" type technology.
There are quite reliable techniques for getting at the truth - or at least at what someone believes to be the truth. For centuries, perhaps thousands of years, scopalomine has been used in S. America, where the tree from which it is derived grows naturally, as a mind-control drug. The native Indians used it, and modern gangs use it.
Typically a businessman wakes up in a taxi with no memory of how he got there. He then discovers that the previous three days are missing from his memory, but of course that's not all that's gone. His bank balance is zero, his stocks have been sold, his home is looted and the safe is empty, etc.
Scopalomine is a very crude drug. It can kill its victims if the dose is a little too high, and it causes long term memory damage. Rhohypnol - roofies - is pretty similar, both in effect and side-effect, as any number of date-rapist could tell you.
The CIA, I would guarantee you, has much better stuff in stock. They worked on developing mind-control drug technology in conjunction with other friendly security services, including the Canadian secret service, among others, for several decades. Remember the LSD they slipped to unwitting customers in the San Francisco brothels in the '60's? That's a tiny piece of what they were up to, based on the various little leaks that keep appearing every few years in the news.
I personally suspect that such drugs are occasionally used by our intelligence community today, and are certainly in the arsenal. As for terrorism now, and the difficulty of picking out the "sleepers," I have suggested in several forums that one way to get around problems relating to civil liberties might be to offer people a "clean card." To get one, you agree to allow any level of non-damaging surveillance or interrogation to be used as deemed necessary to determine your threat level.
Having such a card would get you through check points or airport security much faster, might even get you discounts on various services that otherwise required stringent security, etc. Plus, it would be sold as a patriotic measure. If you're not a terrorist, why not get one?
In practice, to make this palatable, the actual use of the options you agreed to by law enforcement would itself have to be under VERY stringent oversight, plus legal delimitation as to the subject and scope of any inquiry and what happens to the information afterwards. Probably, a provision would have to be included to compensate you for time, damages and the unlikely possibility of injury or even death, due to unforseen idiosyncratic drug reactions, for example.
Very few people would ever be subject to the maximum interrogation or surveillance, of course. The mere fact of applying for and getting a "Clean Card" would be prima facia evidence against one being a likely terrorist. What it would accomplish, however, would be to further isolate those who could not pass an interrogation.
For people with "suspicious" backgrounds, having a "Clean Card" might make life a lot easier. Some people would of course object on principle and refuse to get one. Fine. If enough people get one, it cuts the security load and allows our security systems to focus on more likely threats.
This may seem like overkill, but in reality, as any professional in the security community can tell you, we have been incredibly lucky so far. The earlier attempt to topple the World Trade Center Towers with a truck bomb would have likely resulted in 200,000 deaths, if it had worked. Or, if the terrorists had flown one of the jetliners into a nuclear power plant, similar casualties immediately and possibly millions more downstream could have resulted. And I haven't even touched upon bio-weapons...
The use of weapons of mass destruction has gotten progressively, exponentially cheaper. An experienced biologist can do recombinent DNA at home with $10,000 in equipment. You don't need a cruize missile for delivery. Just slave the autopilot of a Cesna to GPS and parachute. That aspect - the exponentially declining cost of destruction - is not likely to get better, and there are few good answers. This might be one of them, however.
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