The Holy Grail of law enforcement is the ability to prevent a crime or terrorist attack before it happens. Precious lives and millions of dollars in damage could be saved if we could only see attacks coming and take actions to stop them before the worst happens. Reading the criminal mind has long been a subject of thought and speculation and is a popular theme in science fiction stories, such as the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report. And while “pre-crime” as seen in the movie is still nothing but a fantasy, technologies are being developed to help us see criminals and terrorists coming before they strike.
One new example of this is the Cogito Interrogation System developed by Israel-based Suspect Detection Systems Inc. The Cogito Interrogation System is an advanced and fully automated biometric interrogation system intended to detect the physiological clues to hostile intent present in criminal minds. The name stems from the old Latin saying, “Cogito ergo sum,” “I think, therefore I am.” In Cogito’s case, it would be, “I think about my future crimes, therefore I am guilty.”
Cogito Interrogation System was developed following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The hijackers who caused such death and destruction entered the United States legally, bringing with them no weapons or illicit items. The only dangerous thing they brought with them was their intent to do harm, and it is that criminal intent that the Cogito Interrogation System is intended to detect.
Cogito Technology Advances Beyond the Polygraph
Law enforcement and security professionals are aware of the technology that the polygraph offers and the ability of a qualified operator to analyze changes in physiological processes such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and respiration detected by the polygraph. From this the operator can form a conclusion if someone is lying or telling the truth. However, when it comes to the polygraph, some in the law enforcement and legal fields disagree about its application and trustworthiness. Because polygraph tests involve humans with various degrees of expertise and subjectivity in analyzing information, they are not considered reliable enough to be admissible evidence in court. The only exception is when both parties in litigation consent to admitting polygraph results, which rarely happens.
A traditional polygraph test happens like this: the investigator asks the individual being tested a variety of different questions. Some of these questions will lead to answers in which both involved parties know the right answer. The investigator then asks questions to which both parties know that the answers are obviously lies. This is to verify the accuracy of the polygraph. After this initial set of questions, the questions of interest then begin. Based on blood pleasure and electric pulses in the skin, it is possible to uncover whether a question triggers a physical reaction in the individual being questioned—a physical reaction that often accompanies a lie. Because some people are skilled at persuading themselves they are not lying and because human analysis is required, some people essentially have the ability to “beat” polygraph exams or at least produce inconclusive results.
Cogito technology, on the other hand, is constructed differently than a polygraph.
Unlike a polygraph, the Cogito Interrogation System is based upon the premise that all criminals, including members of a terrorist organization, have one thing in common: the fear of being caught. It is not dependent on human analysis and is designed to detect much more than whether a person is just telling a lie. The Cogito Interrogation System deciphers an individual's answers not only in relation to any other responses, but also those of an expansive peer group determined by a range of security factors.
How The Cogito Interrogation System Works
The entire Cogito Interrogation System is contained in a briefcase about the size of a typical laptop computer. In lieu of attaching electrodes to a person like in a polygraph, a Cogito Interrogation System interview involves the selected person simply placing their hand in a sensor, which non-invasively records biometrics such as skin conductivity and also measures sweat and salts excreted by the body of the individual in question. An automated questionnaire is utilized in which the person being questioned answers 15-20 questions on a screen.
Cogito then uses software containing a strong set of advanced and special algorithms that take various aspects of an individual’s thought process into consideration, and can even recognize patterns in a group of suspects. It includes a mixture of tailored interrogation techniques, audiovisual components, and a customized set of highly developed calculations and formulas to scrutinize outputs of a possible suspect's Parasympathetic Nervous System. Based on the responses recorded by the sensor and the computer calculations and formulas, Cogito then determines whether or not the interviewed person has criminal intent and should be considered a suspect.
Uses for the Cogito Interrogation System
While intended to prevent crimes and attacks before they happen, Cogito is not strictly a preventive measure. It can also be used on potential suspects after a crime has occurred to help determine whether or not they might have criminal culpability. Use of Cogito Interrogation System technology is often classified and shrouded in secrecy but it is known that Cogito units are used by many militaries and security agencies – such as the Israeli army, and the CIA – as well as by airports and border crossings in various locations around the world. According to reports, Cogito technology is already being used by unnamed regional and federal agencies in many countries throughout the world to avoid terrorist attacks and solve crimes after they were committed.
Cogito is being utilized at length in Mexico and India, two countries with an abundance of terrorism threats and criminal acts. In India, a memorandum of understanding was signed with the Gujarat Forensic Science University (GFSU). The college will teach the methodology and implementation of the Cogito system to students and forensics specialists throughout the country. More than 150 cases surrounding murder, rape, terrorism, drug crimes, and kidnapping have been successfully detected in India with the use of the technology. At a nuclear power plant in India, the system was able to detect crimes of technology theft, design theft and corporate data theft.
A recent sale of the Cogito software to a major Federal Agency operating in a large, unnamed Latin American country has also become public knowledge. The Cogito technology will be used by federal agents to fight the abundance of criminal activity in the country. The first Cogito units have already been effectively installed and it is anticipated that more units will be sold to the agency in the future. Additionally, the successful incorporation of the Cogito system by this agency is projected to result in sales at other agencies operating in the same country.
Recent Deal in the United States
In July 2011, it was announced that Gans & Pugh Associates—a fifty-five year-old company based in Herdon, Virginia that sells surveillance equipment to state and federal clients throughout the United States entered into an agreement with Suspect Detections Systems. Under the conditions of the agreement, Gans & Pugh Associates will market the Cogito Interrogation System throughout the United States, targeting the federal homeland security market.
How Accurate Is It?
Cogito has an impressively high accuracy rate in testing, with less than four percent of positive (criminal) readings being false, and only ten percent being false negatives. In layman’s terms, this means that if the nineteen 9/11 hijackers had been screened by Cogito, no more than two of them would have slipped through – at least according to statistical averages.
A jail in Bergen County, New Jersey, a large facility that employs more than 300 corrections officers and contains 1,250 beds, was the first jail in the United States to test out the Cogito automated rapid interrogation technology. The system was tested on its ability to expose illegal activity amongst prison inmates, and for its ability to add extra security and protection for both officers and prisoners.
The testing procedure was simple and painless: A detainee was asked to sit comfortably at the Cogito station and place her or his palm in a sensor cradle. She or he was then given a set of headphones and a five to seven minute test was conducted, which consisted of a series of questions (approximately 24 questions are asked in four sets of six.) The questions were presented by the software in both audio and by text. The sensor then measured the detainee’s psycho-physiological reactions, which produced an output of test results.
According to the preliminary results, the Cogito software was able to successfully identify guilty associations in addition to being able to discover the hostile intentions of inmates to commit illegal acts while inside the jail. Cogito technology also proved to be helpful in uncovering whether detainees were in possession of drugs, were currently on any type of drugs, were involved in illegal gang activity, or may be attempting to smuggle contraband into the jail.
Although there are no official statements regarding Cogito technology on the Bergen County Jail website, news reports claim that the Bergen County Jail is eager to continue its partnership with Suspect Detection Systems in order to discover the full potential of the cutting-edge technology.
Cogito Technology Raises Concerns
The Cogito Interrogation System has raised concerns among human rights groups and civil libertarians who see it as another example of rights and freedoms being impinged upon in the name of public safety. Many people are uncomfortable with the idea of a “mind-reading” device, and the fact that it is being used by private companies as well as secretive governmental agencies. The possibility of private companies requiring Cogito interviews of prospective employees as part of their background check raises additional concerns. No matter how harmlessly it is intended, an interrogation by an automated machine can make some people feel like a criminal, and for many, this is far too invasive for the job application process. Defenders would argue that if you are not planning a crime and you are not hiding incriminating or deceitful information, you have nothing to fear, but that does little to allay concerns.
The Cogito Interrogation System automated rapid interrogation technology offers law enforcement and private security entities the unparalleled ability to proactively prevent crime or terrorist attack and offers private employers the ability to more thoroughly evaluate prospective employees. It has also proven to be very valuable in criminal investigations and in managing prison populations. As with all new technology, Cogito Interrogation System automated rapid interrogation technology is not perfect. The use of a sophisticated software system cannot be relied upon completely but it can serve to be an effective tool in conjunction with other investigative methods.