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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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RE: Finally some common sense
By blowfish on 1/4/2010 3:08:37 PM , Rating: 2
This kind of rubbish is based on Israeli experiences. Now it's obviously very easy for an Arabic person to impersonate a Jewish person - they are pretty much genetically the same thing.

When was the last attack carried out by a regular Joe or a little old white lady?

All sensible people know that the problem is with ultra-religious Islamic losers. You have to believe in a rewarding afterlife to consider being a suicide bomber. One of the ironies is that the promised virgins for the "martyrs" (losers) are actually white raisins, not virgins. Just an error in translation of that wonderful, peaceful book. You know the one, the one that talks of cutting off unbelievers' heads and pouring boiling oil down their necks. Primitive mumbo-jumbo at the same sort of level as the Old Testament, another hodge-podge of tribal documents.

Instead of trying to use machines to detect these losers, a few simple questions would suffice. Sure, some of them will adopt Western ways to try to fool the security services, but you can't disguise fanaticism with short hair and a few bar tabs.

Now of course the government wouldn't be spending huge amounts of money on security improvements that don't work, would they?

Oh, wait a minute, the much touted TSA screeners consistently perform well below - perhaps an order of magnitude below - the supposedly unqualified lowly paid workers they took over from. That, despite the TSA getting advance warning of any "random" tests. And not only do the TSA screeners cost more - like a factor of ten times more than the scape-goated private screening services they replaced - they also add insult to injury by having one of the highest rates of absenteeism of any government employees.

So more madness, more expensive machines, more delays, more stupidity, no common sense.


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