Monday, December 28, 2009

Full Body Scans and Other Fun Flying Events!

As I entered the passenger screening area of the Indianapolis Airport, I noticed devices I thought were the infamous "puffer" machines. Puffers or whiffers or whatever supposedly smell explosives on a person and wonder of wonder, they don't work very well. Still some airports spent millions to buy the fluky machines and now most sit idle because of problems.

Nope, these were not what I thought, instead these were the body scanner machines called "millimeter wave scanners" and essentially they are a virtual strip search. Images from these can see details including a person's gender and just about every detail of what is beneath your clothing.

I stepped into a booth and was told to spread my legs and hold my hands over my head. A device swung around me and then I was asked to do the same facing a different direction. It was painless, but mysterious in that no one told me what it was doing.

To my surprise not everyone was asked to go through this gadget and that is what bothers me. The TSA is playing an odds game. They figure a random screening will either deter or catch any suspected bad guys, but as has been shown over and over it doesn't work. The man with the bomb on the plane to Detroit when through screening both in Nigeria and the Netherlands and still managed to get explosives on the plane. Perhaps these body scanners would have seen the material he carried in his crotch, maybe not.

The whole point is, there is no such thing as absolute safety. If we are going to screen passengers, then screen them all, otherwise it's a coin toss. My partner and I wondered if a few good old-fashioned bomb sniffing dogs would have been more efficient. Probably so, but they don't make millions for technology companies and in the end I still think it's all about money.

Airports may end up looking like armed camps and passengers may be asked to submit to body cavity searches and still a clever terrorist will figure a way to disrupt things. They might simply switch to car bombs or something not related to transportation at all. The point is Terrorism is something we are going to have to live with unless someone figures a way to get at the root cause. That is not a simple solution and one that may have no answers.

Meanwhile, the Obama administrations statement that the system worked is silly, almost as silly as the Bush administration's assurances that we would defeat the terrorists by attacking Iraq.

This one is going to take real strategy and most likely its solution will not involve warfare and bluster, but negotiations and PR. The terrorists have already won, but we don't realize it. We are a nation that seems to be pretty much terrified, and unless we get over that and start dealing with our fears, you can count on more high tech gadgets that make our lives less enjoyable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not to add to the scariness of it, but the chemical used by the Nigerian bomber on Christmas day is know as "PETN". A few searches on Google produced a simple website which explained step by step how to formulate it. A few more searches showed that all the ingredients are easily available and at low cost. I figure the net cost of the chemicals this nut case had cost was no more than around US $10, and a few hours of careful bomb cooking will produce quite a few of these liquid bombs. Something which now scares the willies out of me. Beware the near future!!!

richard h.
fort worth, texas, usa