Your tax dollars at work a la 1984

New Weapon Against Terror: A Flashlight?

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LOS ANGELES (CBS13) ”• It looks like a normal flashlight, but Homeland Security has paid close to a million dollars for it. It can stop you right in your tracks.

Law enforcement is already calling it “controversial.”

The point of this device is to disorient you, so we modified the video when we showed it on air. If you wish to see the unmodified footage of the device in action, you can click here — but be warned, you may find the experience uncomfortable.

For riots and chaotic situations, police often use tasers, rubber bullets and pepper spray to try and control the crowd. But there could soon be a new weapon in their arsenal: a hi-tech flashlight with a big punch.

“Flashblindness, the ‘Oh my gosh this light is really bright, I can’t see anything behind it.’ That effect is immediate for everybody,” said Bob Lieberman, president of Intelligent Optical Systems.

Nausea and a feeling of disorientation soon follow. The device is called the “LED Incapacitator.” Intelligent Optical Systems is the company building it right here in California, thanks to an $800,000 contract from Homeland Security.

Once Lieberman turned on the Incapacitator for us, we started feeling the effects. It can be irritating to watch the video, but in person it’s even more stunning.

According to Lieberman, the device flashes LED lights at several specific frequencies. Before your brain has time to adjust to one frequency, the Incapacitator flashes another. Add multiple colors and random pulses and the brain just can’t keep up.

“The longer you look at this, the more you don’t want to look at it,” said Lieberman. “The closer you are to it, the more intense the effect.”

The only ways to escape the effects? “Close your eyes, put your hand up, turn your head away, all of which will give the user the advantage they need,” said Lieberman.

We wanted to see just how effective the light is, so I tried it out. You see green, white, and after a while it becomes very blurry. I didn’t feel sick, but I could not tell where the operator was standing at one point.

I also saw blotches in my vision, which stayed with me for about a half hour after the test. Then, a strong headache kicked in.

David Throckmorton is a Homeland Security program manager in Washington DC. He says the government would like to arm the Coast Guard, Secret Service, Border Patrol and Air Marshals with the device.

“It doesn’t really do any damage to you,” said David. “For them, it would be a way to stop a terrorist or whoever from advancing.”

Commander Sid Hale with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department helped design the device over the last three years, and says this is something all law enforcement wants, especially at night and for crowd control, so they don’t have to pull their guns.

“They may be incorporated into existing architecture,” said Hale. “If we have a big jail riot, we just turn out the regular lights and turn on the flashing lights. This is about the safest thing you can find and still be considered some type of force. This is about one step above screaming and yelling at a guy.”

Michael Soller with the ACLU says he’s concerned.

“Let’s not pretend these are anything less than a weapon,” said Soller.

His concern is not so much with the device itself, but how officers are trained to handle it, and if they misuse it.

“Tasers were sold and police officers were trained that they’re nonlethal,” said Soller. “We have 300 deaths over the past few years that show that the claim was not true.”

Is there a possibility that someone could go blind from something like this?

“No,” said Lieberman. “We’ve been very careful to design this so the maximum permissible exposure limit for human eye safety is never exceeded.”

Medical safety tests are already underway, and law enforcement field trials will likely start later this year.

Could the public get their hands on this?

“Yes, this kind of technology could possibly be useful for someone in a situation where they’re trying to fend off an attacker,” said Lieberman.

That’s news to Homeland Security. The department says it may be restricted to just law enforcement. Still, by 2010, Intelligent Optical Systems hopes to be selling this technology on store shelves.

The whole point of this weapon is to disorient you, and it does. Some are concerned that if the public will get its hands on this, that means criminals will too.

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