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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 Solandri on 1/4/2010 3:46:31 PM , Rating: 2
Profiling works. It's simple math. Concentrate your search on a smaller subset, and you increase your odds of catching the one anomaly. If the terrorists attempt to thwart your profiling by using race/age/gender groups not profiled, it seriously decreases their potential pool of suicide bombers. Either way, it achieves the desired goal of reducing successful terrorist incidents.

The question is not one of whether or not it works. The question is one of principle. Do we give up our principles against racial discrimination to gain the advantage racial profiling would provide?

The problem here is not catching the terrorists it's really determining why they keep attacking us.

The problem with that thinking is that no matter what you do, someone, somewhere in the world will not like it. There are just too many different peoples and viewpoints in the world to allow otherwise. So your dream of a world where there are no terrorists wishing to attack us is just that - an impossible dream. True you can minimize the number of people willing to attack us by making some smart decisions. But basing foreign policy entirely upon whether a tiny group of people would be really pissed off by your actions is just silly. At some point you have to draw the line, and say that the number of people opposing what you're doing is too small to override the wishes of the majority in the region.

In fact, the biggest difference I see among Western democracies and other political systems is that the people on the losing end of a vote are less likely to resort to violent means to protest their loss. I've been pondering how/why that is for many years now.

The problem with that is we know why but our governments wont stop causing it. All these terrorists that are created want the same thing for Western and European powers to leave them alone. Whether your and IRA, Al Qaeda, or Hamas. All they want is self determination and for others to leave their lands. I'm sorry but I don't see what is so hard about that.

And therein is the problem. Nobody elected Al Qaeda or the IRA as legitimate representatives for their people, so it's wrong to treat their wants and desires as representative of the nations in the region as a whole. (Hamas was elected to represent the Gaza Strip, so I give them more leeway despite their history.)

You're trying to make it sound like everyone in that area wants to be left alone. That's simply not true. Some do, some don't. I would reckon most actually want some form of trade with the West, as opposed to Al Qaeda which wants the region to be totally isolated.

Political relations with foreign non-democratic countries raise some sticky issues of principle. On the one hand, you don't want to support a brutal dictator. On the other hand, because of the political structure of the country, trading with him may in fact be the only way you can exert any influence in the region. I'm not too keen on the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia (basically a royal monarchy), but said relationship is the only thing which gives any weight to our protests when they oppress their citizens.

You seem to be asking for international relations to be limited to perfectly legitimate and perfectly representative democracies. The real world isn't that simple. Sometimes you have to choose between a bad option and a worse option.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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