You can observe a lot
by watching. --Lawrence Peter ("Yogi")
Watching and listening. 1. The
act of observing the behavior and body language of persons or groups under
suspicion. 2. Systematic observations, openly made as well as
covert, conducted in airports, at border crossings, and in other public venues,
often for reasons of national security.
Usage. As the threat of international terrorism grows, nonverbal
communication plays a vital role in the training of government, military, and
law-enforcement personnel. The ability to see danger signs in anomalous
behaviors and time patterns, in "intention" movements, clothing signals, abnormal gaze
patterns, emotional voice tones, and deception
cues--and in seemingly "meaningless" grooming habits, facial
expressions, and gestures--is essential to ensuring public security
Curiosity. The best observers tend to be those who are
naturally curious. They like to know what other people are doing--and why.
Moreover, they are able to project themselves, through empathy, into the
emotional mindset of those they observe (i.e., they can "get inside" others'
heads). Perhaps most importantly, they are able to turn off the verbal dialogue
going on inside their own heads long enough to monitor the scene. The best
observers rely on their own feelings to ask questions: "Why is that person
tense?" "Why do those two make me nervous?"
Software has been developed to interpret nonverbal behaviors, captured by closed
circuit television (CCTV) cameras, as being normal or abnormal.
Staying too long in an elevator, e.g., would be classed as an abnormal time
usage which would set off a remote alarm for security workers. Abnormal physical
movement in the elevator--e.g., a man assembling a mechanism or opening a
suitcase on the floor--also would trigger an alarm.
monitoring. Software enables personnel-identification cameras to recognize
faces in airports, ports of entry, government buildings, casinos, and stores.
Future software will enable cameras to recognize facial expressions of emotion,
as well (see MOTION ENERGY MAP). (N.B.: Research on the
human-computer interface [HCI] may result in software for interpreting postures,
body movements, and hand gestures.)
A classic example of nonverbal surveillance
was the case of Ahmed Ressam, who, presenting himself as "Benni Noris," crossed
into Washington State from British Columbia via the Port Angeles ferry.
Today magazine touted the
intercept, and praised the customs officers for responding to nonverbal
Ressam's was the last
car off the ferryboat, and something nonverbal told inspector Diana M. Dean to
take a closer look at him and his vehicle. (Ressam appeared nervous and
sweaty [Johnson 2000:B3].) She gave "Noris" a standard U.S. Customs
declaration, which he completed, and then asked him to step out of his car. In
the words of officers on the case, his hemming (speech hesitations), hawing (fumbling for words), dawdling (taking more
time than necessary), and stalling (using delay
tactics) drew inspector Mark Johnson's attention.
Ressam finally got out of his car and stood next
to Johnson, while a third inspector, Dan Clem, inspected the trunk. When Clem
found white powder hidden in the wheel well, Ressam ran away. Inspectors
intercepted him as he tried to car-jack a vehicle stopped at a nearby traffic
light. It was determined later that Ressam allegedly had ties to terrorist Osama
Bin Laden, and that he was carrying highly volatile bomb components in an
apparent plan to blow up a major U.S. target (source: U.S. Customs Today, 2000).
Nervousness I. For years, United Airlines has
provided annual training for flight attendants to help them watch closely for
unusual behavior and nervous passengers. From thousands of hours of flying,
attendants internalize an experiential blueprint for what is "normal," which
helps them spot the "abnormal" as well. Anxiety should be carefully monitored at
all times, both as a sign of abnormal intentions (e.g., in terrorists), and as a
contributing factor which may lead to abnormal behavior (by non-terrorists) in
Nervousness II. In his report to the FBI, Ken Boyer,
owner of Boyer's Tele-Com Services in Springfield, Missouri, recounted how men
of Middle East background asked to buy his turbo-prop Piper Saratoga for
$500,000. "'They wanted to buy it for cash that day. They meant business. There
were no smiles or idle talk.' Boyer said the men were unshaven, dirty and
nervous--and looked as though they had been living in their car. They told him,
in broken English, that they would pay cash on the spot for a plane. 'They
wanted it today,' said Boyer'" (Doria and Menard 2001).
behavior. From Reuters (July 27, 2001, 10:05 a.m. PT): "Singapore scientists
have created new software that may beef up future surveillance efforts by
distinguishing between people's normal activities and suspicious behavior. The
software, created by researchers at the Nanyang Technological University, can
tell the difference between people walking, talking and acting normally, and
abnormal behavior such as a fight or someone collapsing. The Singapore team
recorded and classified 73 features of human movement, such as speed, direction,
shape and pattern. The features were then used with existing 'neural network'
software, which can learn and remember patterns, to create a new program. 'Each
of the features is actually generated from a formula . . . then the learning
software will be able to classify certain motion as normal or abnormal,'
associate professor Maylor Leung told Reuters on Friday. 'It's something new. No
one has tried (developing it), and so far we are successful,' he said. Images
fed to the software, from a surveillance camera, for example, are analyzed
almost instantly and with 96 percent accuracy, Leung said. The software can
trigger an alarm when unusual movements are detected, making it well suited for
surveillance." (Copyright Reuters 2001)
Together, then apart. Two or more individuals interacting as a
cohesive group who subsequently split up and act individually, each on his or
her own agenda, and following his or her own pathways, may be considered an
unusual behavior pattern. People seen huddling together upon entering an airport
terminal, e.g., who then enter ticket lines or screening checkpoints apart from
colleagues, may be trying to disguise their affiliation as a
Unusual behavior. Though not always suspicious, unusual
behavior is often disturbing: "LOS ANGELES (October 1, 2001 9:58 a.m. EDT) - A
group of seven people were escorted by armed guards off a plane at Los Angeles
International Airport after one man's actions made other passengers nervous. The
FBI released them shortly afterward and no arrests were made, officials said.
The travelers did not return to the flight. The America West flight from Los
Angeles to Phoenix was preparing to taxi from the gate Saturday when passengers
noticed a man, whom they believed to be Middle Eastern, stand up and
pass his travel itinerary to an older man, said Nancy Castles, airport
spokeswoman. He then asked a flight attendant if he could get off the airplane
to retrieve other documents, said . . . Castles. 'Where was he going to get
these documents?' Castles said. 'That's why it was considered suspicious
behavior'" (Copyright by Associated
Visual monitoring. Unusual behavior may also include
the act of watching a check station, security door, or food-delivery system at
an airport, especially from areas not usually frequented by passengers, friends
and family, or airport staff. (Recording routine airport activities with a video
camera should be considered highly unusual.)
Two men walking side-by-side together in an airport may be benign. But two men
walking in line together (i.e., one following closely behind the other) may
represent a single-minded mission in pursuit of unsavory goals. Border patrol
officers have identified walking-in-line as an unwitting sign given by persons
intending to cross the U.S. border, illegally, as a team.
Inspector "Scores" Quick Return on Training Investment
By Patrick Martin, Supervisory Customs Inspector/Class
U.S. Customs Today, August 2000 (Excerpts)
Michael Phillips, who recently graduated from the
Basic Inspector Training Course at the U.S. Customs Service Academy, wasted
little time in putting acquired skills to use in the field. Little did he know
that within hours of donning his uniform for the first time, he would be
involved in a five-pound heroin seizure.
departed the Training Center for his duty station at Atlanta International
On one particular flight, Inspector Phillips
gave all passengers an extra level of scrutiny because it had originated from a
narcotics source country. With his new inspector title literally only hours old,
Phillips noticed that a female passenger on the flight looked particularly bulky
around her midsection. She was also wearing a blazer, which caught Phillips'
attention because of the warm climate from which she had departed, as well as
the warm Atlanta weather.
Phillips' newly-acquired training and natural
instincts led him to suspect that passenger was using the blazer as a
concealment device. As he began to question the traveler, his suspicions grew
She claimed to be destined for a one-week visit
with a friend in New York, yet could provide no details about the friend beyond
his first name. She also said that she would be staying at a hotel, but had no
reservations. Phillips thought it unusual that she would not be staying with the
friend. She claimed to be employed as a travel agent, but was unable to answer
basic questions about information on her airline ticket.
Nonverbal clues mount
As Phillips questioned the passenger, she became increasingly nervous. Her voice began to tremble, she began to fidget,
and she no longer made eye contact with him. Inspector Phillips felt that
further examination would be productive, so he referred the passenger to
secondary, where she was asked to remove the blazer.
Bulges under the woman's blouse were quite
apparent. A patdown--authorized and performed by a supervisor -- was positive.
The supervisor authorized a partial body search, which revealed a girdle
containing rows of pellets which tested positive for heroin, with a combined
weight of 2.2 kilograms. The heroin was seized and the passenger was
When Inspector Phillips heard the results of the
personal search, he was already back at the checkpoint, trying to ferret out
other smugglers. He responded with a broad smile of satisfaction.
"Inspector Phillips knew, as do all graduates of
the Customs Academy, that we're not 'guessing' when we perform a personal search
on a passenger," says Robert Olson, assistant director for Field Operations
Training. "The inspector must present the supervisor with sufficient articulable
facts that will lead the supervisor to believe there is a good chance that the
passenger has possession of contraband.
Copyright 2000 by
U.S. Customs Department
Copyright 1998 - 2016
(David B. Givens/Center for Nonverbal Studies)
Drawing of "Showing My Nonverbal Side" by my son Aaron Huffman (copyright 2012 by Aaron M. Huffman)