New tools to counter risks at borders, online

Officers at Singapore's border checkpoints, such as Woodlands Checkpoint (above), will have an enhanced set of questions to interview visitors.
Officers at Singapore's border checkpoints, such as Woodlands Checkpoint (above), will have an enhanced set of questions to interview visitors.PHOTO: ST FILE

Officers at Singapore's border checkpoints will have an enhanced set of questions to interview visitors, in an effort to better detect those who pose a risk to the country and, if needed, prevent them from entering the island.

This Security Screening Questionnaire is being developed by psychologists from the Home Team Behavioural Sciences Centre working with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and academics from the Portsmouth University in Britain.

The questionnaire was announced by Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Desmond Lee at the opening of the third Asian Conference of Criminal and Operations Psychology yesterday.

It is one of two new measures drawing on knowledge of human behaviour to detect and address threats to Singapore early.

The other is an Online Violent Extremism Screening Tool, being worked on by Home Team psychologists. This tool includes a checklist to help officers identify those who engage in violent radical activity online, and intervene early before they do harm.

No further details were available on the two initiatives. The Home Affairs Ministry said they are still in the early stages and more details will be revealed in future.

Professor Rohan Gunaratna, head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, Nanyang Technological University, believes they are necessary.

"It is essential to develop tools to detect radicalisation and militarisation by tracking those visiting extremist and terrorist sites," he said.

In a speech, Mr Lee said the terror threat has made the work of frontline officers more complex and challenging, and officers must be given the right tools to do their job well.

Law enforcement agencies have been seeking to better understand how potential offenders and their own officers think, behave and act.

Said Mr Lee: "This has helped us in the profiling of persons and the early detection of threats to Singapore."

The announcements come as terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continue to inspire violent attacks across the globe. Over the past year, a number of foreigners seeking to join ISIS have been detected at Singapore's borders and deported.

Others who are radicalised, many online, have been detected and detained.

On Tuesday, four Bangladeshi workers were sentenced to two to five years in jail for raising funds to finance terror back home, and last month, ISIS launched its first Malay language newsletter online in a bid to grow its support in the region.

Said Mr Lee: "We are living in dangerous times. To keep our people secure, our security and law enforcement agencies have to maintain a constant high state of vigilance.

"Applying psychology and behavioural science principles can optimise our security and law enforcement operations, and maximise our scarce resources," he added.

Psychological tools are also used to train and support Home Team officers, and help prepare the wider public to respond to a terror attack.

Said Mr Lee: "Law enforcement and security agencies are unable to respond and deal with terrorist attacks alone. We need the community to play a part."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'New tools to counter risks at borders, online'. Print Edition | Subscribe