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The Trump Era

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Protecting America from Ill-intended Refugees

January 29th 2017

Syrian Refugees

President Donald Trump’s draft executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Attacks by Foreign Nationals,” which was leaked on Wednesday, has been met, as anticipated, with alarm by opponents at home and abroad who resent the new American president and his actions to protect the country, as he promised to do.

His executive order proclaims (emphasis added): “The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism. In order to protect Americans, we must ensure that those admitted to this country do not bear hostile attitudes towards our country and its founding principles.

Section 2 of the active order states that the policy of the U.S. is “(a) protect our citizens from foreign nationals who intend to commit terrorist attacks in the United States; and b) prevent the admission of foreign nationals who intend to exploit United States immigration laws for malevolent purposes.”

To prevent such individuals from entering the U.S., the executive order requests the development of a uniform screening program, which in fact would reinforce requirements that have been deliberately ignored by the Obama administration. But even if the screening is done by the book, and all necessary documentation has been obtained and verified, and the applicant declares he holds no ill intentions toward America and Americans, nothing available to the screeners today would easily reveal that he is lying.

An effective way to find out the applicant’s intentions would be screening through an efficient, unbiased, and non-intrusive system. Such a system was developed by an Israeli company with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, which the Obama administration refused to utilize.

The Suspect Detection System (SDS) has developed counter-terrorist and insider threat detection technology named COGITO. This technology enables law enforcement agencies to rapidly investigate U.S. visa applicants (and other travelers) entering the country, insider threats among employees, etc.

COGITO technology is an automated interrogation system that can determine in 5-7 minutes if an individual is harboring hostile intent. The system interviews the examinee with up to 36 questions while measuring the psychophysical signals of the human body. The system has 95% accuracy and has helped security agencies globally to catch terrorists and solve crimes.

According to the company’s website, the SDS allows the screening of a large number of people in a short time. It “does not require operator training. One operator can handle simultaneously ten stations. It has a central management and database system that allows storing all tests results, analysis, and data mining, and is deployed and integrated with governmental agencies.” Using this system would eliminate the need to use often biased U.S. Consulate employees. Moreover, the SDS uses an automated decision-making system, which is “adaptable to a variety of different questioning contexts, different cultures, and languages. The examination lasts 5 minutes when there are no indications of harmful intent, and 7 minutes to ascertain it (with only 4% false positive, and 10% false negative).”

The COGITO is used in 15 countries including Israel, Singapore, China, India, and Mexico. U.S. airlines operating in Latin America are using COGITO to check their employees.

But last year DHS refused to use the SDS, claiming that it “would constitute an intrusion on the privacy of those screened by the system” and “[i]t may reflect on VISA applicants or Immigrant's civil rights.” However, foreigners applying for a U.S. visa are not protected by American laws.

SDS capability to detect intent seems to fit President Trump’s promise of “extreme vetting” of Muslim refugees from high-risk regions. This and other similarly objective systems would not only assist in making America safer, but also be in keeping its policy and tradition of accepting refugees who do not wish us harm.

Rachel Ehrenfeld is director of the New York-based American Center for Democracy.


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