Techie and terrorist behavioural profiles are the same

Sari Horwitz writes on 2005-08-04, a few days after my arrest, in the Washington Post:

‘After the July 7 attacks on the London transit system by suicide bombers, the international police chiefs organization produced a detailed training guide for dealing with suicide bombers [that] recommends [...] an officer needs to use lethal force to stop someone who fits a certain behavioral profile.’ (link found via Bruce Schneier's blog.)

Here are some more details from the (American) International Association of Chiefs of Police training guide on profiling suicide bombers:

Behavior. Does the individual act oddly, appear fearful, or use mannerisms that do not fit in? Examples include repeatedly circling an area on foot or in a car, pacing back and forth in front of a venue, glancing left and right while walking slowly, fidgeting with something under his or her clothes, exhibiting an unwillingness to make eye contact, mumbling (prayer), or repeatedly checking a watch or cell phone. [...]

Appearance. Is the clothing, grooming, gender, or age of an individual out of place within the context of the environment? Examples include someone wearing a heavy coat or jacket in warm weather [...]

Equipment. Does a briefcase, duffle bag, or backpack seem extra heavy or have protrusions or visible wires? When the individual sits down, is he or she overly protective of this item or preoccupied with it? [...]’

The National Centre for Policing Excellence on behalf of the British Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) is more succinct in its Interim practice advice on Stop and Search in relation to the Terrorism Act 2000:

Behaviour – is the person acting in a way which gives rise to concern?

Clothing – could the clothing conceal a weapon or other terrorist paraphernalia?

Carried items – could an item being carried conceal a weapon or any terrorist paraphernalia? This can include maps, plans, photographs and financial information.’

In 2007, the Metropolitan Police Service launches its new counter-terrorism ad campaign ‘if you suspect it, report it’ in London. The Met relapses in 2008 still asking untrained people ‘to look out for the unusual - some activity or behaviour [...] not quite right and out of place in their normal day to day lives’. Here's part of the script for the 2007 radio ad:

‘How d’you tell the difference between someone just video-ing crowded place and someone who’s checking it out for a terrorist attack?

How can you tell if someone’s buying unusual quantities of stuff for a good reason or if they’re planning to make a bomb?

What’s the difference between someone just hanging around and someone behaving suspiciously?

How can you tell if they’re a normal everyday person, or a terrorist?’

How many computer and telecoms enthusiasts – basically techies – fit the Police terrorist behavioural profile so well and are not only wrongly detained but wrongly arrested every week in similar circumstances to mine?

From September 2001-09-11 upto 2006-12-31, more than half of the 1,166 persons arrested by the UK Police for a terrorist investigation were released without charge (652 out of 1166); and as of 2007-03-05, only 40 were convicted for terrorism related offences.

You can then also be done under the thought crime of Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 Collection of information just for what's on your computer (or the photographs you've taken and doodles you've made). During my Police interview, I was asked about my laptop:

‘Has it got anything on there about the public underground, has it got anything on there about plans to cause any terrorism acts, has it got anything on there about plans for bomb hoaxes or anything like that, anything on there that can be construed to cause a public nuisance, has it got anything on there about plans to delay people...’

Is there anything on your computer that can be construed to be ‘a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’?

UPDATE: An MI5 report into terrorism in Britain concludes that ‘it is not possible to draw up a typical profile of the “British terrorist” as most are “demographically unremarkable” and simply reflect the communities in which they live’.

(Note: British airport screeners, following American ones themselves getting their inspiration from Israeli ones, are being trained to spot ‘so-called “micro-facial expressions” [that] appear on a person’s face for 1/25th of a second’. Techies must refrain from expressing their joy at the possibility of studying a new toy promised soon for Heathrow and Gatwick: ‘a lie-detector test before they board’.)


David Mery
Document first published: 2005-09-22
Document last modified: 2008-08-22