September 10, 2007

Terrorist study to show better methods for linking intelligence

By Roger Highfield and Nic Fleming
Last Updated: 12:01pm BST 10/09/2007

New ways for the police to build up reliable "scent trails" to track terrorists and help prevent wrongful arrests and cases of mistaken identity are to be tested in a £900,000 project announced today.

The British Association's annual festival was told of the project, which will test a range of surveillance and psychological methods by having "treasure hunts" on a university campus in games to simulate terrorist attacks, by Prof Tom Ormerod of Lancaster University, which is leading the effort, in collaboration with the police.

He referred to the 2005 shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell Tube station after officers wrongly linked him to the attempted bombings in London a day before. "Had they had better information in real time, the tragic incident might have been avoided."

"Knowing where someone lives, what they are doing and whether what they are doing fits in with an everyday ordinary activity is useful information to provide," he told the festival in York.

But he said that it is "incredibly challenging" to do this at present, because much of the data on location, movements are all stored separately, and the amount of information can be overwhelming.

In forthcoming exercises, one team will represent terrorists, another the police and mock interviews will be conducted, aided by a range of data and under the gaze of psychologists to hone the new ways to gather information on movements and communications, and link it to other known terrorists, and combine it with forensic psychology methods to detect deception.

The three year project will knit together ways to track people, for instance by mobile phone and credit card use, or by number plate recognition, to show what they have been up to and try, using artificial intelligence software, to predict what they may do next.

Another aim is to try to "overcome biases" held by investigating police officers, he said.

"The extreme risks and rapid time frames associated with terrorist activities add to the difficulty of gathering evidence that might prevent an attack or lead to successful prosecution," said Prof Ormerod.

It is vital that the police and security services are provided with tools that help them make reliable decisions about who to treat as a suspect and whether there is sufficient evidence to secure a prosecution, since immense damage can be caused by wrongful arrests," he said.

Prof Mike Jackson and Dr Bai Li of Nottingham University, Prof Ray Bull of Leicester University, Prof Saleem Bhatti of St Andrews and Dr Elizabeth Guest of Leeds Metropolitan are also involved.

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