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  (Source: Cynthia Boll/AP)

Pricey new "millimeter-wave" full body scanners may seem promising, but in reality they do little to detect liquids, plastics, or chemical explosives, say UK government officials.  (Source: IOS Graphics)
Turns out we might really not be any safer with new semi-nude scans

On Christmas Day Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, attempted an audacious terrorist attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.  Fortunately, the Nigerian native's scheme failed due to faulty explosives and he was taken into custody after being restrained by passengers.  However, in the wake of the attacks, U.S. President Barack Obama is considering rolling out current test-phase 3D scanners on a national basis.

Privacy advocates are outraged as the scanners show basically a nude image of the passenger -- with genitals and breasts blurred by software (though the raw image is fully nude).  However, there may be a far greater problem with the scanners. According to British government officials -- they don't work.

The British Department for Transport (DfT) and the Home Office tested the new 3D scanners thoroughly and found that while they were relatively accurate in catching high-density materials that pat-downs missed (such as knives, box-cutters, or other problem items), they failed to detect most low-density items, including bags of liquid.

The Christmas Day bomber used a 3 oz. package of the chemical powder PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate), disguised in his crotch.  Hard to detect in a pat down, British politicians familiar with the country's internal research say that "millimeter-wave" scanners would also likely fail to spot the bag of low-density chemical explosives.

According to Ben Wallace, the UK Conservative MP, tests showed that the new scanners failed to detect a variety of low-density materials, including, plastic, chemicals and liquids.  The waves pass through these materials, hitting the body and then bouncing back, revealing only the underlying skin.

Like the U.S., the UK is now considering adopting the scanners on a broad basis.  However, emerging evidence from government studies on the scanners indicates that the rollout may be nothing more than a pricey game of "security theater" designed to make people feel safe, while doing little in reality.  This is significant, considering the investment may amount to hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars, an expense that will surely be passed on to taxpayers.

Mr. Wallace comments, "[UK Prime Minister] Gordon Brown is grasping at headlines if he thinks buying a couple of scanners will make us safer. It is too little, too late. Under his leadership, he starved the defence research budget that could have funded a comprehensive solution while at the same time he has weakened our border security.  Scanners cannot provide a comprehensive solution on their own. We must now start to ask if national security demands the use of profiling."

Mr. Wallace is among the politicians in the U.S., UK, and abroad that's suggesting some sort of profiling system as an alternative to more effectively increase security.  Such a system might involve additional searches of foreign nationals, particularly from volatile regions like the Middle East and Africa, while potentially lightening the searches on certain groups, like the elderly.

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Terrorists have won
By 3minence on 1/4/2010 11:23:45 AM , Rating: 2
The purpose of the terrorist is to effect political change by spreading fear. Even though that idiot Nigerian "failed", he actually succeeded, just not as well as he hoped. Even in his failure he has made people afraid and governments are spending a lot of time and money as a result of him. And he has won with me, because I refuse to fly (partially) because of him.

I refuse to surrender my rights as a person in the name of security. I can't have a blanket? I can't get up an hour before landing to go to the bathroom? I get to be irradiated and "virtually" striped searched every time I get on a plane? And all to provide the illusion of security?

I would probably be more willing to put up with this treatment if the plane travel was worth it, but it isn't. They stick you in a tiny seat with the next seat inches away from you face. They serve crappy food if they serve food at all. They charge you for every bag, the flight attendants treat you like cattle, they are frequently late, etc. Airlines themselves simply have no concept of customer service any more. They never were that good to start with and it's gotten worse over time.

Bullshit service combined with unpleasant and mostly futile security has made me decide to just drive anywhere I go. If the airlines begin to fail and ask for a bailout, I shall write my representatives arguing against it. The terrorists have won, but not because of terror, but because of the stupidity the government and airlines put us through because of it.

RE: Terrorists have won
By AEvangel on 1/4/2010 11:53:30 AM , Rating: 2
If the airlines begin to fail and ask for a bailout, I shall write my representatives arguing against it.

They already are failing almost all the major Airlines have been posting losses each year for the last 10 years.

The terrorists have won, but not because of terror, but because of the stupidity the government and airlines put us through because of it.

Exactly, then when you add to it our Government in the US keeps giving them more reasons to hate us it's hard not to have this belief.

"Mac OS X is like living in a farmhouse in the country with no locks, and Windows is living in a house with bars on the windows in the bad part of town." -- Charlie Miller

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