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What is Brain Fingerprinting Testing?

DR. FARWELL: Brain Fingerprinting testing is a scientific technique to determine whether or not specific information is stored in an individual’s brain. We do this by measuring brain-wave responses to words, phrases, sounds or pictures presented by a computer. We present details about a crime, training or other types of specific knowledge, mixed in a sequence with other, irrelevant items. We use details that the person being tested would have encountered in the course of committing a crime, but that an innocent person would have no way of knowing. We can tell by the brainwave response if a person recognizes the stimulus or not. If the suspect recognizes the details of the crime, this indicates that he has a record of the crime stored in his brain.

What is involved in setting up a Brain Fingerprinting test?

DR. FARWELL: In a criminal case, we utilize information gathered from investigations to identify those details of the crime that a perpetrator would have to have encountered in the commission of the crime; details that the brain records and remembers. There are certain kinds of crime details that are insignificant in a usual crime scene investigation, but which become very significant in a Brain Fingerprinting test. These include things a perpetrator would remember doing or encountering in the course of committing a crime, such as knocking over a pink flamingo on the lawn, running through tall grass, what type of weapon was used, etc. Once we have gathered a significant number of memorable details, we determine which of those would be known to the general public (via press reports, etc) and which would be known only to the police investigators and the perpetrator of the crime. From this information we are able to construct the actual Brain Fingerprinting test, which includes targets, probes, and irrelevant stimuli.

In counterterrorism applications we construct tests with information appropriate for the subjects, information that would identify the individual as, for instance, an Al-Qaeda-trained terrorist or a bomb maker. We define specific information that indicates whether or not a person’s brain contains the information in question. For example, we have conducted tests showing that Brain Fingerprinting can detect FBI agents and bomb-makers with over 99% accuracy, based on the unique knowledge that they have.

What does a Brain Fingerprinting test determine?

DR. FARWELL: A Brain Fingerprinting test determines scientifically whether or not specific information is stored in a brain. In the case of a crime, we use information that would be known only to the perpetrator and the investigators, and not to an innocent suspect. The system makes a determination of “information present” or “information absent,” and a statistical confidence for the determination. This is done by a mathematical algorithm, and does not depend on subjective interpretation of the data.

How accurate is a Brain Fingerprinting test?

DR. FARWELL: Brain Fingerprinting testing has proven to be highly accurate in over 200 tests, which included actual criminal cases, tests on FBI agents and tests on military medical experts. In all but six of these cases, the system produced a determination of either “information present” or “information absent.” 100% of these determinations were correct. In six cases, insufficient information was available and no determination was made. Dr. Farwell, the inventor of Brain Fingerprinting technology, discovered that the P300 was one aspect of a larger brain-wave response that he named and patented, a P300-MERMER (memory and encoding related multifaceted electroencephalographic response). The discovery of the P300-MERMER allows the results gained through the P300 testing to be even more accurate. Since the inclusion of the P300-MERMER in the brain-wave analysis algorithm, Brain Fingerprinting testing has made a definitive determination in every test.

Has Brain Fingerprinting testing been scientifically tested, peer-reviewed, and published?

DR. FARWELL: Yes. My colleagues and I have been published in the leading scientific journals in the field. Dr. Drew Richardson and I conducted a study of FBI agents in which we were able to identify FBI agents with over 99% accuracy based on their brain responses to information only FBI agents would know. Dr. Sharon Smith, an instructor at the FBI Academy, and I have published a paper on research we conducted in which the Brain Fingerprinting system was 100% accurate in determining who had participated in real-life events (Journal of Forensic Sciences, January 2001). Brain Fingerprinting testing also achieved over 99% accuracy in three studies I conducted on contract for a U.S. intelligence agency, including one that was in collaboration with Dr. Rene Hernandez of the US Navy. These studies are summarized here and listed here. See also Cognitive Neurodynamics article.

What other similar technologies are now in use?

DR. FARWELL: A Brain Fingerprinting test detects information stored in the brain. It matches information stored in the brain with information from the crime scene. This is similar to fingerprinting, which matches fingerprints from the crime scene with fingerprints on the fingers of the suspect, and DNA testing, which matches DNA from the crime scene with DNA on the person of the suspect. Fingerprints and DNA are available in only about 1% of cases. The brain is always there, planning, executing, and recording the crime. A Brain Fingerprinting test scientifically detects this record of the crime stored in the brain.

What if the person knows about the crime because he was there as a witness and not a perpetrator?

Dr. FARWELL: Brain Fingerprinting testing will determine if specific information is in the brain, but will not tell us how it got there. It is like having fingerprints at the crime scene. Someone’s fingerprints could be there because he was there witnessing the crime and not because he committed it. In a case where there are two people at a crime scene and only one committed the crime, Brain Fingerprinting testing can narrow the search down to the two suspects. It cannot be used to distinguish why a person was at the crime scene. Like DNA and fingerprinting, Brain Fingerprinting testing matches evidence at a crime scene with evidence on the person of the perpetrator or suspect. It can place a person at the crime scene or exonerate someone who was not there. If specific information is available about the planning or execution of a crime that a witness would not know, then Brain Fingerprinting testing may be able to distinguish between a witness and a perpetrator.

What if a suspect read about the crime in the newspaper?

DR. FARWELL: General knowledge gained from a newspaper or television does not interfere with Brain Fingerprinting testing. A suspect is tested for details of the crime that only the perpetrator and investigators would know. In structuring a Brain Fingerprinting test, we only use information that has not been publicly released.

What if an innocent suspect knows many details about the crime from the trial or interrogations, or if the police told a suspect details about the crime during interrogation?

DR. FARWELL: The best scenario in which to apply Brain Fingerprinting testing is one where the crime is recent and the suspect has not been exposed to information about it. Then the suspect can easily be tested for knowledge about the crime that only the perpetrator would know.

In cases where the suspect has already been tried and convicted, the suspect knows many of the details of the crime from the trial, whether he is innocent or guilty. In such a case, details about the crime that have not been presented in court and that an innocent suspect would not know need to be identified. In some cases this involves considerable investigation. Information can be obtained from court documents, police reports, alleged witnesses, crime scene photos and the crime scene itself. Often, as in the Terry Harrington case, which occurred 20 years before the Brain Fingerprinting test, and in which there had been several appeals in addition to the original trial, it is still possible to discover details about the crime that the suspect was never directly exposed to at the trial or in interrogation, but that he would have to know if he had committed the crime.

In what kinds of cases does Brain Fingerprinting testing not apply?

DR. FARWELL: There are several types of cases where this technology does not apply. For example, in a disappearance, all the authorities may know is that someone disappeared. They may not know if any crime has been committed. Another situation where Brain Fingerprinting testing is not applicable is when everyone agrees on what happened, but there is disagreement as to the intent of the parties. For example, in a sexual assault case the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator may agree exactly on what happened, but disagree on whether or not it was consensual.

Where in the criminal justice system does Brain Fingerprinting testing apply?

DR. FARWELL: Brain Fingerprinting testing solves major problems in both pre- and post-conviction areas and can be a great asset to both prosecutors and defense attorneys. There are 14 million crimes reported by police to the FBI annually in the U.S. in the seven major categories that are included in the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. The National Crime Victimization Survey, which is conducted by the US Census Bureau and includes additional categories of crimes, estimates that over 34 million crimes are committed annually in the U.S. In only 35% of the cases is an arrest made.

Additionally, there are approximately 6 million individuals in the US either in prison, jail or under some form of state supervision such as parole or work release. Of those who are imprisoned, an estimated 5% to 10 % are innocent. This means that over 300,000 inmates, and possibly more than 600,000, may be wrongfully imprisoned. In total, U.S. federal, state and local governments spend over $150 billion annually on crime. This does not include the costs to victims, innocent suspects and to society. The worldwide costs are significantly higher than this amount.

Brain Fingerprinting testing can address many of these critical areas, helping to identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent. Crimes often go unsolved and unpunished because the authorities cannot accurately determine if a suspect has knowledge about the details of a crime that only the perpetrator would know. In the absence of fingerprints or DNA evidence the criminal justice system often does not have scientific methods of identifying those involved in crimes. Circumstantial evidence is often not sufficient to convict a suspect or even to prosecute a case. Brain Fingerprinting testing can determine if a suspect has detailed, specific knowledge of a crime and provide scientific evidence where none existed previously.

Can Brain Fingerprinting testing find the truth in long-term cold cases?

DR. FARWELL. Yes, it can and it has. We conducted a Brain Fingerprinting test on Terry Harrington, who is serving a life sentence in Iowa for a 1977 murder. The test showed that the record stored in Harrington’s brain did not match the crime scene and did match the alibi. Harrington filed a petition for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, including the Brain Fingerprinting test. On February 26, 2003 the Iowa Supreme Court reversed his murder conviction and ordered a new trial. In October 2003, the State of Iowa elected not to re-try Mr. Harrington.

Brain Fingerprinting testing also helped to bring serial killer J. B. Grinder to justice fifteen years after the commission of the crime. The Brain Fingerprinting test administered to Grinder found that the specific details of the crime were recorded in his brain as “information present,” with a statistical confidence level of 99.9%. This means that the record stored in Grinder’s brain matched the details of the crime scene of the murder of Julie Helton. Following the test results, Grinder faced an almost certain conviction and probable death sentence. Grinder pled guilty to the rape and murder of Julie Helton in exchange for a life sentence without parole. He is currently serving that sentence. In addition, Grinder confessed to the murders of several other young women.

Some people say it is too soon to apply Brain Fingerprinting technology in actual criminal cases. What is your response?

DR. FARWELL: We have tested Brain Fingerprinting technology in over 170 cases. More than 80 of these were in real-life situations, and the rest were laboratory studies. Brain Fingerprinting testing has not made a single error in all of these cases. Terry Harrington waited 23 years for a Brain Fingerprinting test. How much longer should he wait? A year? Five years? I have a letter on my desk, one of many from inmates on death row who claim innocence and are asking for help from Brain Fingerprinting Laboratories. This particular letter is from an inmate who is scheduled to be executed. How long should we ask him to wait?

I believe it is a serious human rights violation to deny access to Brain Fingerprinting testing to anyone who is accused of a crime and maintains his innocence.

On the law enforcement side, a Brain Fingerprinting test helped to bring serial killer J. B. Grinder to justice fifteen years after he murdered Julie Helton. There are other serial killers out there. How long should we wait, and how many more murders shall we tolerate, before using this technology to bring them to justice?

Brain Fingerprinting testing works. It is accurate, scientific, thoroughly tested and proven. Brain Fingerprinting testing is based on well-established science. It is well established that from a scientific standpoint a Brain Fingerprinting test can help to determine the truth regarding what information is stored in a suspect’s brain. Along with other evidence, this can help to free the innocent, and bring the guilty to justice. We have the technology now. I think it would be a crime not to make use of it.

Some scientists have questioned your taking your scientific discoveries out into the criminal justice and business world, rather than remaining solely in the world of academia. What is your response?

DR. FARWELL: Some of my colleagues prefer to remain in academia and pursue pure science in the laboratory alone, and I respect that choice. For me, I believe it is my duty to apply my discoveries to help people in the real world. It’s a question of whether you’d rather be the Wright brothers or a professor of aeronautical engineering. It’s a matter of personal preference. My preference is to take my discoveries out into the world, to get the thing off the ground and fly with it, to produce something that can be helpful to real people in real-life situations.

If Brain Fingerprinting technology is so effective, why has it not been more widely applied and accepted?

DR. FARWELL: It’s interesting that some say we should have applied Brain Fingerprinting testing more quickly and more widely, and some say we should have waited longer and applied it more slowly. My colleagues and I are educating the criminal justice community and the public as quickly as we can, but any time you make fundamental improvements in the way people do anything, the process takes time.

New discoveries always take some time to be accepted. In 1903, the Wright brothers flew. For several years, very few believed it, even though they had photos of the first flight. In 1923, 20 years later, US Army General Billy Mitchell proved that airplanes had military value. He said that airplanes could be used to sink ships. He actually conducted a test where he flew planes at 10,000 feet and sank some old junk ships. He advocated the development of an air force. He predicted that if we did not develop an air force, the Japanese would, and they would fly over and sink our ships in Pearl Harbor. We now know that they did just that a couple decades later. What was General Mitchell’s reward for his clear and accurate vision regarding the value of new technology? He was court martialed in 1925 for his views on the airplane, and thrown out of the Army.

In the history of science, whenever there is a new discovery, at first there is inertia and disbelief on the part of many and active resistance from the beneficiaries of the status quo. Many take the attitude that “If this were really so great, everyone would already be doing it, and I would already have heard about it.” Also, there are always those whose status or finances depend on the old ways of doing things, and these people often oppose progress because they see it as a threat. Brain Fingerprinting technology is no exception.

Fortunately, science always moves forward, not backward, and the truth always wins in the end. The truth in this case is that Brain Fingerprinting technology is accurate and scientific and is of demonstrable practical value in discovering the truth regarding crimes. In view of the large number of unsolved crimes, plus the large number of people in prison and even on death row who may be innocent, Brain Fingerprinting technology is also something that is greatly needed in the present society. The task at hand is to educate the public and the criminal justice community and to make the technology available where it is needed. We’re making every effort to do both of these things as quickly as possible.

Is Brain Fingerprinting technology based on science that is generally accepted in the scientific community?

DR. FARWELL: Yes. There is widespread agreement among the experts that we can accurately and scientifically measure information-processing brain activity using electrical brain signals, and that when we apply this science appropriately we can determine whether or not specific information is stored in a person’s brain. This has been well-established science for many years. When I say “experts” here, I’m talking about legitimate experts, scientists who have training, expertise, and experience in cognitive psychophysiology and in measuring brain waves for the detection of concealed information. You can always find or buy a self-styled expert to express any opinion on anything, but here I’m talking about legitimate experts in this specific field.

The P300 electrical brain wave response, one aspect of the larger P300-MERMER response, is widely known and accepted in the scientific community and there have been hundreds of studies conducted and articles published on it over the past thirty plus years. The P300-MERMER, a longer and more complex response than the P300, comprises a P300 response, which is electrical events occurring 300 to 800 milliseconds after the stimulus, and additional data occurring more than 800 milliseconds after the stimulus. While a P300 shows only a peak electrical response, a P300-MERMER has both a peak and a valley.

Who are some experts in the field?

DR. FARWELL: A list of experts is available on the Brain Fingerprinting website (see Research). Some of the experts include Dr. Drew Richardson, Dr. Sharon Smith of the FBI, Dr. Rene Hernandez of the US Navy. Another distinguished expert is Dr. William Iacono of the University of Minnesota, who testified in the Harrington case. Dr. Iacono has conducted and published research on the use of brain waves in the detection of concealed information in the brain and other related brain research.

Do all experts agree about Brain Fingerprinting technology?

DR. FARWELL: I don’t think all experts will ever agree entirely about anything. There is, however, a widespread consensus among the legitimate experts that the science behind Brain Fingerprinting technology is excellent. It’s been thoroughly tested, peer reviewed, and published in the best journals. It is extremely accurate. It is generally accepted in the scientific community. Experts, like everyone else, have their own opinions regarding the non-scientific issues, like where and when this science should be applied, and how much legal weight should be given to its results in any particular application. I think there is room for varying opinions on these issues.

Does Brain Fingerprinting testing provide a scientific answer to legal questions?

DR. FARWELL: No. A Brain Fingerprinting test can provide scientific evidence in answer to a scientific question: does a person have particular crime-relevant information stored in his brain, or not? This evidence must be evaluated, along with other available evidence, by a judge or jury to reach legal decisions such as whether a person is innocent or guilty of a crime. The legal issues — like whether a person is innocent or guilty — are decided not by science but by the judgment of the people empowered to make such decisions, the judges and juries, who take into account not only this science but also all the other evidence at hand.

What is the difference between polygraphy and Brain Fingerprinting technology?

DR FARWELL: The distinctions between these two technologies are substantial. The polygraph is a lie-detection device. It attempts to detect deception in response to probing questions, by measuring sweat on the palms, heart rate, etc, which could register changes for a variety of reasons other than because the subject is lying. Brain Fingerprinting testing, in contrast, allows an investigator to determine whether certain specific information is stored in an individual’s brain — for example, the details of a crime known only to the perpetrator and investigators. Brain Fingerprinting testing works regardless of whether or not the subject is lying.

Brain Fingerprinting technology and polygraphy have their foundations in totally separate fields of science. Brain Fingerprinting technology is rooted in cognitive psychophysiology, the measurement of information processing activity in the brain. The polygraph measures emotion-driven autonomic responses. Brain Fingerprinting testing and polygraphy are also applicable in different situations. The polygraph may be used for general screening, when the investigator does not know specifically what he is looking for. Brain Fingerprinting testing is applicable in criminal investigations and for specific screening. It is useful when investigators know the specific details of the crime or specific training under investigation.

In how many cases like the Harrington case can Brain Fingerprinting technology help to discover the truth? In what other kinds of cases can it be applied, and how many such cases are there?

DR. FARWELL: There are about 5,000 people on death row in this country. Educated estimates of how many of these people are innocent run from a few percent to 40%. Until I’ve run the Brain Fingerprinting tests, I can’t make a scientific estimate. In any case it’s certain that some of these people are innocent, and Brain Fingerprinting testing can provide evidence in many of these cases. In the cases where people are indeed guilty, Brain Fingerprinting testing can provide evidence of that as well.

There are several hundred thousand people serving long-term prison sentences, and again we don’t know how many of these people are innocent. It could be anywhere from a few thousand to over a hundred thousand. All of those who claim innocence have a right to Brain Fingerprinting tests to provide evidence one-way or the other.

In the USA, there are about 14 million crimes per year where a suspect is apprehended. Brain Fingerprinting testing can provide crucial evidence in many, perhaps most of these cases. It doesn’t matter what kind of crime has been committed. The brain of the perpetrator is always there. We can test the suspect’s brain for knowledge of the crime, as long as we can discover some information about what actually took place so we will know what information to test him on. There are some limitations to the circumstances in which Brain Fingerprinting technology can be applied, for example, in a disappearance, all the authorities may know is that someone disappeared. They may not know if any crime has been committed. Another situation where Brain Fingerprinting testing is not applicable is when everyone agrees on what happened, but there is disagreement as to the intent of the parties. For example, in a sexual assault case the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator may agree exactly what happened, but disagree about whether or not it was consensual. There may also be crimes for which not enough evidence is available to construct a Brain Fingerprinting test.

I believe that every person who claims innocence has a right to use Brain Fingerprinting technology, where applicable, to provide evidence for that claim. In cases where the authorities want to use Brain Fingerprinting testing to either exonerate innocent suspects or to provide evidence against the guilty, I believe this new scientific technology should be made available as quickly and as widely as possible. This will help those responsible for administering justice distinguish between the innocent and guilty as quickly, accurately and efficiently as possible.

What do you see as the future for Brain Fingerprinting testing?

DR. FARWELL: Currently, many crimes remain unsolved, while apparently many innocent people are convicted and go to prison, and some innocent people are even executed. Science can help. Many innocent suspects, some already convicted, and some on death row, have been exonerated by the newly discovered science of DNA testing. Fingerprints are also highly accurate. Unfortunately, DNA and fingerprints are found in only about 1% of cases. The brain, on the other hand, is always there, planning, executing, and recording the crime. Now Brain Fingerprinting technology is available to determine accurately and scientifically whether the record of the crime is stored in the brain of a suspect or not. As has been the case with DNA testing, I expect that Brain Fingerprinting testing will help to release many innocent people from false imprisonment, and save many innocent people from the death penalty.

When applied by law enforcement agencies and by defendants in criminal cases, Brain Fingerprinting tests can eliminate many innocent suspects at the very beginning of the investigation. Innocent suspects can avoid false prosecution and possible false conviction and punishment, and get on with their lives. Authorities can focus their efforts on the suspects who actually committed the crime, and Brain Fingerprinting technology can help to convict them. Brain Fingerprinting technology can reduce crime by helping to bring perpetrators to justice, so that they will no longer be out there committing crimes. Knowing that such an accurate and scientific technique is available may also prove to be an effective deterrent.

The overall effect of Brain Fingerprinting testing will be that many innocent people will be exonerated and will be free from false prosecution, imprisonment, and execution, while many more actual criminals will be brought to justice.

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