“The pores tell the story.”
That, at least, was the hope behind a short-lived Army experiment that aspired to analyze the human face for signs of stress and deception during interrogations.
RED-FLAG — the interminable acronym stands for Remote Electrodermal Detection-FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) As Guide — was a plan to use thermal cameras to watch skin pores in order to gauge “the physiological stress response of a person during questioning without contact.”
A 2009 slideshow presentation on the program, obtained by The Intercept, shows thermal photos of foreheads, fingers, and noses in “relaxed” and “upset” conditions, recalling before-and-after photos in a low-budget acne treatment infomercial. The thermal camera can pick up the opening of pores, which can be linked to signs of stress — and deception — according to the Army’s research.
The unclassified presentation claims that a “statistical correlation between pore count” and measures of nervous system activity has been “established definitively.” Tracking pore activity would help evaluate a source’s credibility or build better rapport with them, the slideshow promises.
Even better from the military’s viewpoint: Unlike a regular lie detector, where a subject is hooked up to sensors, RED-FLAG wouldn’t require the subject’s consent, or even knowledge. The device could be hidden from sight.
A patent for the setup filed in 2009 says that the aim was “to develop a system which could utilize the principles of a polygraph, or ‘lie detector,’ but would be remote and not require physical contact with the person to be tested.” A drawing shows how the equipment could be hidden in another room to watch the pores of unsuspecting subjects.
RED-FLAG never made it out of the development stage, according to a Kashia Simmons, a spokesperson for the Army’s Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center. He did not elaborate why the program was scrapped.
A private company, EIOR technologies, received a grant for nearly $100,000 from a different Pentagon office in 2012, to build on RED-FLAG and develop a hand-held system to “accurately determine truthfulness/creditability of subjects undergoing questioning,” using not just pore count, but also “breathing rate and microfacial expressions.” That project wasn’t funded after the initial research phase either, said Simmons. (EOIR did not respond to interview requests.)