The National Center for Border Security and Immigration
A DHS Center of Excellence Newsletter - December 2013


Tucson, AZ -- BORDERS
On December 9-13, 2013, the AVATAR was at the Henri Coandâ International Airport in Bucharest, Romania to run a field test alongside EU border guards. This activity was sponsored and coordinated by Frontex, the EU border-control agency who has been working with BORDERS researchers since 2010.

AVATAR is being developed by BORDERS and is a kiosk-based automated screening system for credibility assessment. AVATAR automatically conducts natural, brief interviews in a number of screening contexts, such as trusted traveler application programs, personnel reinvestigations, visa application reviews, or similar scenarios where truth assessment is a key concern. AVATAR uses non-invasive sensors to identify suspicious or irregular behavior that deserves further investigation.

The objective of this field trial was to allow actual airport travelers from around the world to interact and be interviewed by the AVATAR after disembarking their flights and entering Romanian passport control. The AVATAR was able to tailor its interview to their language and ask country specific visa questions while measuring behavior, physiology, and verbal responses. After the interview, EU border guards were provided behavioral interview summaries on remote tablets that are designed to inform entry decision making for the future of border control.

In addition, the study hopes to better understand how the AVATAR system will be used and can be integrated into future operations, both from the passenger and border agent perspectives. "We are thrilled to get the AVATAR into a real-world testing scenario and to see how people interact with the technology in an airport setting," said BORDERS Director and AVATAR Principal Investigator, Dr. Jay Nunamaker.

Border security experts (e.g., guards, fraudulent document detection, anti-trafficking) from EU Member States and students from the "A.I. Cuza" Police Academy participated in the study and gave feedback on the AVATAR, providing unique operational perspectives and requirements.

"The Romanian Border Police have been invaluable by providing access to their facilities, officers and cadets. We appreciate their willingness and foresight in allowing us to test the passport security of the future at their airport," says BORDERS Executive Director, Dr. Elyse Golob.

To date, the AVATAR has been tested at the US-Mexico border and in several simulation exercises, some of which were carried out in cooperation with Frontex. This is the first field test that has been carried out in a European operational environment.

In This Issue

  • AVATAR Workshop

  • Optimized Patrol Strategies

  • AVATAR in Bucharest

  • Homeland Security Seminar Series

  • About Us

  • Contact Information


Development of Optimized Patrol Strategies Based on Change Detection Capabilities

El Paso, TX -- NCBSI

Figure 1: An example of one possible remote area to be analyzed
Border security has evolved significantly since the days when no more than 75 Mounted Guards patrolled the U.S. border in the early 1900's. Today, Border Patrol Agents encounter a much wider variety of illegal activity, and much more sophisticated criminal elements. Since 9/11, the United States has committed to increasing the security presence along the border, including new investments in infrastructure (e.g., fences and checkpoints), technology (e.g., sensors, different types of vehicles, and aerial surveillance), and manpower. However, even with this investment, there is still a robust flow of illegal activity on the border. It is clear that the complexity of border security is driven by the diversity and volume of illegal activities that must be controlled, and the variety of resources that can be deployed to secure the border. There are many factors that go into the patrolling policy for a particular area, including the type of terrain, the proximity to cities or major transportation arteries, the types of resources and infrastructure available in the area, the historical traffic pattern and apprehension rates, and so forth. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency has recently introduced a new National Strategy. This risk-based strategy emphasizes information, integration and rapid response. The U.S. Border Patrol's National Strategy emerged as a key element for the improvement of border security, between the ports of entry. The strategy's overarching premise is that the U.S. Border Patrol would require the appropriate mix of personnel, technology, and border infrastructure -operational pillars- to gain, maintain, and expand operational control of the border. The appropriate mix would be determined by one of the different operational enforcement environments that exist along the southwest border. Currently, the U.S. Border Patrol operates in three operational border enforcement environments (urban, rural, and remote) that are delineated by the time an Agent has to detect the entry, classify the type of entry, respond to the cross-border intrusion, and bring the event to the appropriate law enforcement resolution. The "urban" environment requires the U.S. Border Patrol to maintain a persistent presence of law enforcement resources (personnel and technology) in a manner which affords the agency a constant situational awareness of the area. The "rural" environment provides an agent minutes to hours to detect, classify, respond, and successfully resolve the intrusion. The "rural" environment requires a persistent presence of resources, but these resources need not be as dense as with an "urban" environment in order to provide an effective level of situational awareness. The third operational domain is called the "remote" environment where agents may range from hours to days to detect, classify, respond, and bring the cross-border intrusion to an appropriate resolution before the intrusion reaches a 'vanishing point' where the chance of achieving an appropriate resolution significantly diminishes. It is in this environment and in many cases low-risk areas, that the U.S. Border Patrol does not have a persistent law enforcement presence and therefore seeks to increase its situational awareness without applying the same density of resources.

To respond to this need, change detection has emerged as a necessary strategy in the protection of America's national security. Change detection is considered a strategy in which various techniques are used to gather information and intelligence in, what was previously considered, low risk areas. Given the complexity of the CBP patrolling problem, it is clear that computational decision support tools have the potential to greatly improve resource allocation policies, and to reduce the burden on human schedulers. Models developed to protect urban areas do not necessarily perform well when applied to the protection of remote areas. Securing remote areas presents different challenges due to a wide range of terrain conditions, large areas to be covered and limited resources available. This work proposes the development of a decision support model to optimize resource allocation in remotes areas and therefore maximize the probability of a cross-border intruder of being detected.

Figure 2: Example of an area divided in three different risk zones: red for high risk, yellow for medium risk, and green for low risk
The model is based on change detection capabilities as a strategy to monitor change in the physical environment in remote areas of the border to efficiently and effectively respond when change is detected. The proposed model is called Automated Decision Support (ADS) Model for Remote Patrolling. The model will get information from the detected change, along with the characteristics of both the type of alarm, and the resources available to respond to the particular threat. The program will then process all the information and dispatch the optimal type and number of resources to the site. The ADS Model for Remote patrolling implements learning techniques based on feedback provided by the agents and past data. These learning capabilities allow the user to make future decisions based on the success or failure of each past intrusion.

AVATAR Workshop Convenes Top Subject Matter Experts in Credibility Assessment

Tucson, AZ -- BORDERS
On November 5-7, BORDERS hosted a workshop in Tucson, Arizona regarding the Center's AVATAR research project. This workshop convened Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in credibility assessment from around the world, in addition to DHS practitioners from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Science and Technology (S&T), and management personnel from the Office of University Programs at DHS.

The purpose of this workshop was to review the research that has been done to date and to identify possible next steps for moving the project forward. "The workshop successfully completed these goals and more, and the feedback from the participants will serve as an instrumental tool for moving the project forward into the future" says BORDERS Director and project Principal Investigator, Dr. Jay Nunamaker.

The SMEs consisted of a diverse group of senior and young scholars from a variety of disciplines, all specializing in some aspect of deception detection and credibility assessment. Attendees included Dr. John Kircher, psychologist at the University of Utah, who has combined knowledge in psychology, bioengineering, polygraph, and oculometrics to make advancements in the field of deception detection. He has received several contracts and grants from DoD and NSF, and is widely acclaimed as the leading expert in oculometrics. Dr. Giorgio Ganis, faculty member in Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Plymouth, is one of the leading experts on deception detection in Europe. Dr. Jennifer Vendemia, cognitive neuroscientist in the Department of Psychology at the University of South Carolina, studies the relationship of stress to brain activation during cognitive performance. She is frequently consulted by government agencies including the Office of Scientific Technology of the President, CIA, NSA, DHS and DoD.

"It was truly an amazing group to assemble in one place," says Dr. Jay Nunamaker, "and we were extremely pleased to have the opportunity to engage with such a distinguished group of scientists."

The additional SMEs in attendance were: Leanne ten Brinke - UC-Berkeley; Dan Baxter, NSA; Siegfried Sporer, University of Giessen; Richard Lempert, RLempert Consulting, LLC; and Leanne Hirshfield, Syracuse University.

Homeland Security Seminar Series

El Paso, TX -- NCBSI
The National Center for Border Security and Immigration at the University of Texas, El Paso has gotten their 2013-2104 Homeland Security Seminar Series underway. This endeavor is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate. The intention of the seminar series is to increase the amount of education and training on DHS related issues and relevant security subject matter provided to homeland and border security related personnel. These seminars are open to individuals affiliated with the Department of Homeland Security as well as localized agencies such as various fire departments and emergency services practitioners, all of which would benefit from the information provided. All of the seminars are centered on topics that are requested and pertinent to NCBSI's Homeland Security stakeholders. So far, NCBSI has conducted three seminars pertaining to terrorism trends on the southwest border, cyber threats and bioterrorism each of which incorporating presentations from individuals with specialization in the subjects covered.

The series began with the, "Trends in Terrorism on the Southwest Border" seminar on the 23rd of August, with a total 85 attendees representing over 16 different agencies. The seminar, which covered several topics, one of which was, "Transnational Criminal Organizations and Gangs and their Links to Current Terrorism Trends", led by Mr. Louis Barragan, described the impact of the Mexican cartels and their involvement in violent acts of terrorism. Former FBI agent Thomas Lott also presented the seminar attendees with the topic of, "Trends in Terrorism Tactics and Weapons" where he noted the methods and tactics that are being used to create violent terroristic acts and the weapons being used by cartels and other international terrorists. Another highlight of the seminar was the, "Foreign Polity Trends in Mexico and Cyber Terrorism" presentation conducted by Mr. Ralph Chiocco who later presented at the Cyber Threats Seminar on the 14th of November. With surveys conducted after the seminar was complete, the NCBSI was able to evaluate how impactful the seminar was to its attendees. Over 85 percent of the people in attendance noted that the quality of the seminar was above expectations and 80 percent relied that the information provided to them was useful and relevant in their varied areas of work.

The following seminar, "Cyber Threats: Crimes, Security and Critical Infrastructure Protection", was conducted on the 14th of November. It was attended by 76 people from 18 agencies which included local, state and federal agencies. This seminar was a more in-depth look into the subject of cyber-terrorism which was mentioned in the first seminar of the series. It covered a vast array of topics from cyber capabilities of transnational cartels and criminal organizations to internet facilitated smuggling, proliferation and money laundering and many others. It enlisted the help of presenters Ralph and Grace Chiocco, Special Agent Jeffrey Brannigan, Raymond Rapisand, business innovation manager for the Regional Cyber & Energy Security Center (RCES), Luis Perez, acting director of RCES and Dr. Irbis Gallegos, a research assistant in the National Science Foundation-Sponsored CyberShARE Center of Excellence. Feedback from the seminar resulted in over 97 percent of the people who participated saying that they would attend another more in-depth seminar.

The most recent seminar conducted in the series was entitled, "Bioterrorism: Principles of Bioterrorism, Threat Agents, Countermeasures and Response Capabilities". It was held on November 21st and covered topics like history and principles of bioterrorism, characteristics of biological threat agents, BioWatch program descriptions, lessons learned from the 2001 anthrax attack and a presentation on the National Guard WMD Civil Support Team. In attendance were 70 people from 35 total agencies, 16 of them based locally, that included emergency management forces and Center for Disease Control agents among many others. The overall feedback from the attendees provided to NCBSI was overwhelmingly positive with the seminar having met the expectations of 97% of those in attendance. 90% of the participants stated that they were interested in attending another more in-depth conference on the subject of bioterrorism.

The NCBSI plans to continue its 2013-2014 seminar series with future in-depth conferences on subjects that reflect on the current needs and requests of its Department of Homeland Security stakeholders. With hopes to provide an increased amount of opportunities of education for Homeland Security personnel, as well as community, state and local law enforcement, emergency services and first responders, the NCBSI will continue to conduct these seminars for the benefit of others.

For more information on the NCBSI Seminar Series, send an email to


The National Center for Border Security and Immigration, co-led by the University of Arizona in Tucson and the University of Texas at El Paso, is developing technologies, tools and advanced methods to balance immigration and trade with effective border security, as well as assess threats and vulnerabilities, improve surveillance and screening, analyze immigration trends, and enhance policy and law enforcement efforts.

Questions and Comments

For inquiries regarding the Center, please contact: Elyse Golob, Executive Director, BORDERS or Victor Manjarrez, Associate Director, NCBSI:

- Elyse Golob, University of Arizona, Executive Director,
- Victor M. Manjarrez, Jr., University of Texas at El Paso, Associate Director,

If you wish to UNSUBSCRIBE from this newsletter click here.

If you wish to FORWARD this newsletter click here.


500 West University Ave, Kelly Hall, Rm 203, El Paso, TX 79968

McClelland Hall, Room 427, P.O. Box 210108, Tucson, AZ 85721-0108

Copyright 2013 The National Center for Border Security and Immigration. All rights reserved.