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New Calls for Body Scans at Airports

WASHINGTON - Days after a Nigerian man allegedly tried to ignite plastic explosives on an airplane over Detroit, security companies say they have new body-scanning machines capable of screening passengers for such material in seconds that could replace the metal detectors used for decades at airports around the world.

The machines could be a central part of a security review President Obama ordered Monday. The review will cover "all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel," Obama said in Hawaii.

"This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face," Obama said.

Before Obama spoke, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for Friday's attempted attack in an Internet posting that said it was retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Yemen. The group said it gave explosives to accused attacker Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Associated Press reported.

Experts urged the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to accelerate the installation of the body scanners that can spot hidden plastic explosives such as those Abdulmutallab apparently got past security at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport as he boarded a flight to Detroit.

"This is the only type of machine that is capable of detecting the kind of device that was part of the attempted Christmas bombing," former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff said.

Manufacturers say they are close to removing a major obstacle by building machines that can scan under passengers' clothing in a few seconds. Machines now used at 19 U.S. airports take up to 30 seconds because passengers must stand inside a glass portal with arms raised as a scanner rotates around them.

A machine being tested at a federal lab is "as quick as going through a metal detector," said Peter Kant, a vice president of Rapiscan Systems, the manufacturer. "You don't even stop walking."

A scanner built by Smiths Detection is being tested at a TSA lab and could be in airports next year, said Hasbrouck Miller, a vice president at Smiths.

The TSA plans to install 150 scanners at airports in 2010 and buy another 300 scanners during the year, spokeswoman Kristin Lee said. The machines are considered an alternative to pat-downs.

Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and some members of Congress call the scanners overly invasive. Chertoff said opposition slowed the installation of the technology. He predicted "a renewed call to deploy it."

European airports also are likely to use the machines more, said Schiphol spokeswoman Marianne De Bie. The airport has 17 scanners scattered among 90 gates but "they are not used for U.S. flights," De Bie said without explaining why.

Obama also announced a review of federal watch lists. Abdulmutallab was in a database with names of 550,000 people with suspected terrorist ties, but not on a "no-fly list" of people barred from boarding U.S.-bound airplanes. Chertoff said last year that 2,500 people were on the no-fly list.

1 Responses »

  1. Do I need this. I don't think so. Why would most people even want to fly anymore. You'd have to be crazy to even consider.