Thu, Feb 18, 2010
Think Again. TSA Is Taking Random Explosive Swabs From
Whew! You've made it through security ... put your belt and
shoes back on, re-packed your laptop, checked the bin to be sure
you weren't leaving your wallet, watch, spare change or phone ...
you think you can now go quietly to your gate to be boarded onto an
overbooked aircraft in an hour or so. Well, maybe not so much.
Saying the current technology is unable to spot the kinds of
explosives allegedly used by Farouk Abdulmutallab in an attempt to
bring down an airliner on Christmas Day, TSA has been testing a
program in five airports in which they roll an explosives detection
machine around the gate area, randomly selecting passengers for an
additional test of their persons and luggage.
According to USA Today, TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne says
screeners will be randomly checking the hands and carry-on bags of
passengers in gate areas for explosives residue. The program has
already been tested at five airports around the country, and Rand
corporation analyst Brian Jenkins said if Abdulmutallab had been
checked in such a way, there is a "high probability" that the
explosives he had in his underwear would have been detected.
The machines are already in use at some security checkpoints.
They are so sensitive they can detect when a person has taken heart
medication containing nitroglycerin, or if they have recently fired
a gun. The test involves taking a swab of the person or their
luggage and submitting it for analysis in the microwave-oven-sized
Checked luggage is also screened in a similar way.
TSA's budget for 2011 includes $40 million next year to buy 800
new briefcase-size bomb sensors that are even more portable.
TSA's Payne called the sensors "flexible screening technology"
that can be used on passengers "throughout the airport." Passengers
so far seem to be tolerant of the increased screening. Jenkins said
it creates another layer of unpredictability for the terrorists,
and even the ACLU has said the method is not as bad as the
full-body scanners being deployed in Europe and planned for the
U.S. "That's less invasive," said ACLU policy counsel Mike
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