December 30, 2009

IF YOU PREFER YOUR PRIVACY TO FLYING THAT'S YOUR RIGHT:

The Terrorists' Secret Weapon: Intelligence experts have heard chatter for months about the explosive allegedly used by the underwear bomber. So why has the U.S. cut back on machines that detect it? ( Gerald Posner, 12/30/09, Daily Beast))

U.S. security officials had become increasingly worried in the months leading up to the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day about terrorists using the explosive agent concealed by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, several counterterrorism experts tell The Daily Beast. Internet chatter about PETN spiked over the summer, as monitored by U.S. intelligence services, the sources add.

Yet over the past 18 months, a Transportation Security Administration employee tells me, the U.S. has stopped using more than half of the Explosive Trace Portals that have capability of detecting PETN. These are dubbed “puffer” machines because they release several puffs of air to shake loose trace explosive particles as passengers walk through. The TSA employee, who spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity and does not agree with the reduced use of puffers, says that there are fewer than 40 machines deployed today, down from 94 in service (and more than 200 purchased).

Deployment of even more effective, and far more expensive, screening devices—full-body scanners—has been slowed by political wrangling, primarily over privacy concerns because the scans reveal passengers "naked" to the operators and anyone else passing by the machine's screen. One frustrating note: The U.S. had purchased and installed in 2008 full-body scanners for the Lagos airport, where Abdulmutallab began his journey. Rep. Peter King (R-NY) has told reporters that Abdulmattallab was not subjected to a full-body scan either at Lagos or subsequently at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where Dutch have made the scanner’s use “voluntary.”


They should be voluntary, but required to board a plane.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 30, 2009 6:36 AM
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