Company pushes name recognition

An inspector general says screeners at airports aren't trained well, but officials at a Virginia company hope to convince transportation officials that their software can help remedy some of the security shortfall.

Officials for Language Analysis Systems Inc., based in Herndon, Va., believe their software can help airport workers do a better job of screening passenger names against terrorist watch lists. The company provides name-recognition technologies to law enforcement agencies, and many federal counterterrorism programs use the multicultural name search suite, said Jack Hermansen, chief executive officer of the company.

"We certify three levels of name search operators," Hermansen said. "There is an art and a science to this. You can't just sit down and somehow know how to do a thorough search for a Thai name or a Greek name."

Now Language Analysis officials want to make inroads at airports. "In general, training has been underappreciated in the government until very recently," Hermansen added.

The report released this week by the office of the Transportation Security Administration inspector general says checked baggage screeners receive less hands-on training than passenger checkpoint screeners because of insufficient practice equipment.

The first tool the government needs is much more sophisticated name search mechanisms, Hermansen said, adding that the older systems now in use, derived from an archaic algorithm called Soundex, rely on crude keys for consonants and vowels. Better search engines, database maintenance and user support would help, Hermansen said.

He cited the entry of Mir Amal Kansi into the country as one of the most notable failures of the current system. On his passport and business visa, Kansi -- an FBI top ten fugitive -- dropped the N in his family name, confusing the Soundex-like key systems. Because of the mix-up, he was able to get a visa and enter the country; in 1993, he shot five people in front of the CIA.

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