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Can Imaging Technologies Save Us From Terrorists? 480

Posted by timothy
from the trust-shorter-answers-more dept.
itwbennett writes "In the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack, full body scanning technologies such as millimeter wave and backscatter are regaining popularity, writes blogger Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols in a recent post. But, he asks, do they really work? The TSA seems to think so. It has just issued a contract to purchase more millimeter wave scanners from L3 Communications. Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary, told the New York Times that if these scanners had been in place, they would have caught the would-be bomber. Ben Wallace, the Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, disagrees, saying that the technologies can't detect the kind of low-density explosive that the would-be terrorist tried to use on December 25th."
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Can Imaging Technologies Save Us From Terrorists?

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  • ... but not if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:09AM (#30655858)

    He stuck them up his bum.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dunezone (899268)
      Don't give Tom Green any new ideas.
    • Say "Hello" to body cavity probes at the gate . . .

    • They've already used this technique successfully to kill someone. Used a cell phone to detonate.

    • by sycodon (149926)

      Takes the activity of lighting your farts to a new level.

    • Re:... but not if (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:55AM (#30656622)

      Or blew them up in the terminal before departure. What about a car bomb in Times Square? If airlines are immune to bombing, people will bomb elsewhere. Terrorism cannot be fought at this end.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        Or blew them up in the terminal before departure. What about a car bomb in Times Square? If airlines are immune to bombing, people will bomb elsewhere. Terrorism cannot be fought at this end.

        Exactly. Terrorists have clearly given up on the "hijack an airplane and use it as a giant missile" tactic since it won't work anymore, and are settling for trying to kill a plane full of people.

        Well gee, if killing people is the main goal, look at all those folks piled up in front of the rigorous security checkpoint..

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Idiomatick (976696)
        I always thought bombing planes was a prestige thing. Like... hitting the pentagon or some such. Doing it purely because it is a little difficult.

        If they wanted to do damage hit a few double-decker tour buses. The cost to the tourism industry would far outweigh w/e planes cost. Doubled up with the shit you have to go through to get to the US anyways less and less people would bother. Plus there are as many people in a mid sized plane as there are in a bus... (50~60people).

        I suppose it makes less of an ant
  • wha (Score:4, Interesting)

    by poetmatt (793785) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:11AM (#30655880) Journal

    aren't these the scanners known to have health risks and/or not work? [cnet.com]

    • Re:wha (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Tim C (15259) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:20AM (#30656028)

      Yes, but 2010 is election year here in the UK.

      • by corbettw (214229)

        What a coinkidink! [wikipedia.org] Lucky us, we'll get to see new idiots in Parliament AND Congress! What could possibly go wrong?

      • Re:wha (Score:4, Insightful)

        by mpe (36238) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:02PM (#30656744)
        Yes, but 2010 is election year here in the UK.

        Thing is that the person in question did not depart from either a UK or a US airport. Schiphol Arirport already had 15 such scanners and both the Airport's management and the Dutch Interior Minister announced yesterday they intend to get 60 more this year.
        Also it needs to be remembered that any kind of "screening" can be defeated by an "inside man". At least two other passengers noticed the terrorist in the company of an unknown man who claimed the Nigerian was from Sudan and had no passport. Such strange behaviour should at least have warrented checking with the flight crew, if not having both people arrested. Instead the witnesses say that the ticket agent refered them to a manager.
    • RTFA (Score:3, Informative)

      by Late Adopter (1492849)
      The article you linked to says no. The health risks are no greater than carrying a cell phone or spending 2 minutes in an airplane at cruising altitude (depending on the type).
      • Re:RTFA (Score:5, Informative)

        by profplump (309017) <zach-slashjunk@kotlarek.com> on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:22PM (#30657150)

        Radiation in general isn't the problem. There's some evidence that millimeter wave radiation in particular can un-zip DNA, even at its low energy, due to resonant effects.

        http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24331/ [technologyreview.com]

        Now it's not yet clear *how* damaging regular exposure to a millimeter wave scan would be -- millimeter waves already exist in the natural environment and haven't killed us all yet -- so it's entirely possible that there is no real danger. But I'd like to see some of the billions spent on these machines used to verify that before we get too far along.

    • Re:wha (Score:5, Interesting)

      by ILikeRed (141848) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:53AM (#30656576) Journal

      This is a better link to information on the damage to DNA from Terahertz scanners [technologyreview.com]. It was covered in Slashdot earlier [slashdot.org], don't know why it is not a related story.

      Quoting the earlier story:
      "Now a team led by Los Alamos National Labs thinks it knows why. They say that although the forces that terahertz waves exert on double-stranded DNA are tiny, in certain circumstances resonant effects can unzip the DNA strands, tearing them apart. This creates bubbles in the strands that can significantly interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. With terahertz scanners already appearing in airports and hospitals, the question that now urgently needs answering is what level of exposure is safe."

  • yeah, and? (Score:5, Funny)

    by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:12AM (#30655894)

    Ben Wallace, the Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, disagrees, saying that the technologies can't detect the kind of low-density explosive that the would-be terrorist tried to use on December 25th."

    Since when has a technology that doesn't work deterred the US from using it anyway? :(

    • by Tridus (79566)

      If it works or not is a minor detail. It creates more security theatre, is incredibly invasive, and no doubt costs a fortune.

      Those are the three things the security bureaucracy cares about. Actual security is kind of a side thing that's nice if you achieve it.

    • Re:yeah, and? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by afxgrin (208686) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:11PM (#30656950)

      Well - sounds better than the magic wand [nytimes.com] the Iraqis are using.

      Even so - the millimeter wave approach would probably identify any wiring or fuses that are secondary to the explosives in the crotch. In the end though, the only real solution is full body X-ray scans.

      Maybe they can offer the option to send the scan to your Doctor's office if requested. Probably catch all sorts of undiagnosed medical problems for every person who gets on a plane. You're probably going to get a similar dose on a high altitude flight anyway...

      The idea of having a huge database of full body x-ray scans could be a medical researchers dream. I'd start with making a visual recognition system for tumours, pneumonia, spinal issues - the results could be pretty awesome.

      X-ray densities just need to be kept really low, and with modern digital detectors, it's likely to be easily achieved.

  • by mishehu (712452) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:13AM (#30655908)
    ...until some terrorist manages to get his underwear bomb past the millimeter wave. After that, will we all be required to fly in the nude? (If so, I refuse to fly unless I'm flying in a plane full of nothing but attractive young female swimsuit models)
    • Re:Just wait... (Score:5, Informative)

      by willy_me (212994) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:31AM (#30656230)

      As soon as these scanners are deployed terrorists will simply start to carry the explosives in an internal cavity. 80g of explosives - the amount used on the 25th - only has a volume of 36x36x36 mm^3. There are plenty of places where this could be hidden - just look at the drug mules..

      So you will still need to be searched, even if you are travelling in the nude. But at least the searches would take less time.

      • Re:Just wait... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:23PM (#30657166)

        As soon as these scanners are deployed terrorists will simply start to carry the explosives in an internal cavity. 80g of explosives - the amount used on the 25th - only has a volume of 36x36x36 mm^3. There are plenty of places where this could be hidden - just look at the drug mules..

        So you will still need to be searched, even if you are travelling in the nude. But at least the searches would take less time.

        Do they inspect false limbs? If you're blowing yourself up for Allah anyway, why not give up your leg a few months early? Martyrdom candidate gets leg amputated below knee, heals up, is fitted with prosthetic. Interior of prosthetic is filled with explosive and is completely sealed. Cell phone is the wireless detonator for the bomb. Take seat in plane, wait until cruising altitude is reached so breaching the pressure vessel will cause maximum damage, detonate leg. How do you check for that? And what if the guy has a wheelchair. That's chock full of metal. What if the tubes that make it up were packed and sealed with plastique?

        I never understood the appeal of suicide bombings but I guess it makes things simpler on the operational end. There's the old saying about making the hit is easy, getting out alive is the hard part. A shoulder-fired SAM is hard to buy, hard to smuggle, and even if you blow up the plane, now there's an operative on the ground trying to evade the cops. The suicide bomber will be dead unless the bomb fails, nobody to interrogate, much harder to find his support people. But if bombs are simpler than missiles, why not just do what the Libyans did with Pan-Am 103 and check luggage with the bomb in it, then not get on the plane? Even if the bomb is caught in scanning, your guy presumably used a false ID and won't be caught.

        The only thing that's really encouraging throughout all of this is that the terrorists don't appear to be really smart. This country is full of gaping vulnerabilities that would be frightfully easy to exploit but aren't just because there aren't as many terrorists out there as we think and they don't have the Lex Luthor plotting skills we give them credit for. Just look at our power grid. Terrorists knocking down a few long-haul towers could make the country go crazier than 9-11. Even if they didn't manage to replicate that giant New York blackout from a few years back, just imagine the expense of patrolling all the lines now, especially through remote areas. It would cost a fortune. How difficult would it be to get a dozen crews modeled after the DC Snipers running around the country? We'd lose our minds. But they aren't doing this, are they?

      • Re:Just wait... (Score:4, Informative)

        by shutdown -p now (807394) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @01:34PM (#30658364) Journal

        I've read a newspaper article on just this - the controversy over installing better 3D imaging scanners to "catch more terrorists" (though that one was dealing specifically with Canada). There was an interesting take on the problem there offered by an Israeli airport security expert.

        What he said was that, basically, extreme tech measures are still not good enough to battle the really creative terrorists, and, broadly speaking, only make things worse because they slow down processing, resulting in large numbers of people accumulating before security checkpoints. Which means that a would-be terrorist suicide bomber doesn't need to get to the plane anymore - if he detonates an explosive in the crowd, it's likely to have a very damaging effect already; and, since he didn't have to go through any screening yet, he can easily get a much more powerful explosive device that what he could otherwise smuggle on-board. In other words, instead of a theoretical minor increase in security and safety, we get a very real decrease!

        He went on to explain that in Israel, they instead require all passengers to go through a brief interview (which, he claims, is faster with trained personnel than a proper - that is, actually able to thwart most attempts to conceal explosives - device scan), check the person's background file (collected beforehand), and look for certain cues (speech irregularities, facial expressions, and other similar signs) of instability when relevant topics are touched. He further claims that this has an extremely high detection rate for real threats, and a very marginal false positive rate, so a full scan using advanced imaging machinery has to be done on very few people in practice. In particular, from the description of the recent terrorist's behavior in the airport during departure, he is confident that the terrorist wouldn't have gotten past security in any Israeli airport.

        Considering how Israelis generally have much more of a headache with terrorism, and their extremely good success rate at preventing it specifically on their airline and in their airports (there was precisely one successful hijacking of El Al airplane, for example), I would definitely trust them on this matter.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by BrokenHalo (565198)
      If so, I refuse to fly...

      Good idea. Actually, it would be a better idea if everybody refused to fly until the airlines recognised that their customers deserve a modicum of respect. The whole business of flying anywhere has become so universally unpleasant, there's no point bothering any more, and it's high time the airlines realised that.
    • by corbettw (214229)

      If that happens, I predict Hooters Air will become hugely successful. No pun intended.

    • Addendum (Score:4, Funny)

      by hellfire (86129) <deviladv@gmaMONETil.com minus painter> on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:21PM (#30657130) Homepage

      If so, I refuse to fly unless I'm flying in a plane full of nothing but attractive young female swimsuit models who become nymphomaniacs when they see a slightly rotund computer nerd.

      There, fixed it for you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:14AM (#30655912)

    Had DHS not been so secretive about their processes and people actually bothered to listened when the guy's father walked into the US embassy and said "I think my son is a terrorist" and actually looked into the matter it wouldn't have happened.

    Right now I don't think I know if anybody without an TS-SCI clearance actually knows how to get on of off the list.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:14AM (#30655938)

    New scanners break child porn laws [guardian.co.uk]

    The rapid introduction of full body scanners at British airports threatens to breach child protection laws which ban the creation of indecent images of children, the Guardian has learned.

    Privacy campaigners claim the images created by the machines are so graphic they amount to "virtual strip-searching" and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved.

    Ministers now face having to exempt under 18s from the scans or face the delays of introducing new legislation to ensure airport security staff do not commit offences under child pornography laws.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Maxmin (921568)
      The defining moment for airport body scanners will arrive with a news flash that scanner operators had been secretly trading "nude" images of celebrity women. Expect it.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:14AM (#30655940) Homepage Journal

    because child porn laws are already being considered with these new machines, in the UK I believe no one under 18 can be scanned with one.

    So, lets just hand them our playbook again. Instead of looking for terrorist we are looking to naughty bits.

    We are nearly suicidal in our attempts to not offend anyone. What will it take to realize that feelings heal over time but death does not?

  • no it can't save us (Score:2, Interesting)

    by marcuz (752480)
    The government likes this war on terrorism so they will keep it going so they can do in the name of anti-terrorism whatever they like to do. Its like the neverending war from orwell's 1984.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Spatial (1235392)
      You know, if I were a terrorist with aims to damage the USA, I think I'd pass out in delight at this point.

      Not only was the initial attack a success beyond all reasonable expectation, the USA's own response has dealt even more significant damage.

      To begin with, the fall of the towers to a pair of airliners made for an extremely effective, dramatic and memorable piece of terrorism. Around 3,000 US citizens died in that attack. It caused somewhere in the region of a hundred billion dollars worth of imm
  • in Holland! However they weren't used to avoid embarrassment to US passengers.

    Also, having them in place in US airports won't scan someone flying in from Timbuktu, now would they?
    • by Pieroxy (222434)

      I guess they plan to forbid planes from destinations where passengers weren't scanned before entering the plane.

      • Excellent idea, unless of course they fly from [insert forbidden embarkation country here]via somewhere like Schipol or CDG.

        Or maybe drive to another country, then fly.
    • Unless they have nukes or something, terrorists are not much of a threat to the country. Recognize that governments never assume an actual responsibility to say protect you from crime. So what is happening here?

      I suggest we are having a wave of terrorism to change the subject from the collapse of copenhagen. Some psych warfare.

      Here is something to think about. There is a lot of talk about Yemen. So they talk about the underware bomber and Yemen. But the obvious factoid that he was recruited in Londoni

  • Expensive new imaging devices generate fees. Tax dollars FTW!

  • by scorp1us (235526) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:20AM (#30656040) Journal

    There was an article [guardian.co.uk] that mentioned that use of these scanners violated GB laws on child porn. So now you have kids (up to 17) - very impressionable and angsty kids - that will become the target of recruitment by terrorist organizations. Epic FAIL.

    What we need to do now is to accept that airline travel is not safe, and can never be safe. Everything in life that has the best rewards also has the greatest risks. Why can't we just factor risk into airline travel for the reward of being a timezone away in an hour? I would still fly. And those who wouldn't would push for a transcontinental high-speed train (Mag-Lev?) which would have a lower risk/reward, but just as cost effective.

       

    • by sean.peters (568334) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:38AM (#30656356) Homepage
      Hear, hear. Your chances of dying in an aircraft terrorism incident are really, really tiny [reason.com]. People need to stop wetting their pants every time they get a whiff of some kind of terrorist activity - it only encourages more of the same. You are far more likely to die in an auto accident, from some other form of murder, by slipping in your bathtub, or even by being struck by lightning, than you are to be killed by a terrorist. So enough with the inane security bullshit, already.
  • by Jhon (241832) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:22AM (#30656068) Homepage Journal

    In the aftermath of the failed Christmas Day terrorist attack

    It promoted "terror". It's making the enemy (us) scramble, expend resources and showed the jihadies that the enemy (us) is still vulnerable.

    That there were no dead bodies or a mile-wide debris trail in downtown Detroit is trivial -- because there COULD have been.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:26AM (#30656140)

      That there were no dead bodies or a mile-wide debris trail in downtown Detroit is trivial

      Because that stuff is already in Detroit.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Loadmaster (720754)

      A free society will always be vulnerable in some way. This didn't prove anything except that the American people will need to give up more freedom if they want to feel safer. I don't, but I guess I'm not the one the terrorists are trying to influence.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      That there were no dead bodies or a mile-wide debris trail in downtown Detroit is trivial -- because there COULD have been.

      Could there? Has this actually been looked at? Because this guy wasn't carrying that much explosive. It may be that the worst case is a few people die and the cabin decompresses.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "because there COULD have been."

      No, because people believe there could have been.

  • No. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:23AM (#30656086) Homepage Journal

    The only thing that will save us from terrorists is to refuse to be terrorized. When we go through all this bullshit, giving up our liberties, conviniences, travel, the terrorists win.

    It's just more security theater. There are a whole lot of ways to kill large numbers of people, and no way to protect all of them.

    Why are you so afraid of terrorists when only 3,000 people have died from terrorism in the US this century, while there are five times as many Americans murdered every single year [fbi.gov] in non-terrorist murders?

    Murder is murder, why should political murder scare you more than some thug doing a drive-by shooting?

    • by Jhon (241832)

      Why are you so afraid of terrorists when only 3,000 people have died from terrorism in the US this century, while there are five times as many Americans murdered every single year [fbi.gov] in non-terrorist murders?

      It's not a just dead-body-numbers game. Of those "5 times as many Amercians" murdered, how much capital did they take out of the US and world economy? In a single day, 20 some odd yahoos cost the US economy several hundred billions of dollars. This doesn't include Afghanistan and Iraq. And

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zippthorne (748122)

        In a single day, 20 some odd yahoos cost the US economy several hundred billions of dollars. This doesn't include Afghanistan and Iraq. And the fall of global markets after 911?

        You're making an argument for spreading out operations and using telepresence to connect the movers and shakers from the golf courses of their choice. Possibly you're making an argument for capping the size of aircraft (the market seems to be doing that on it's own though. Look at the popularity of SouthWest and the orders for the Dreamliner that held fast despite slipping deadlines compared to the A380)

        You have not made a valid argument for harassing everyone and making travel difficult and slower.

    • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:56AM (#30656624)

      Murder is murder, why should political murder scare you more than some thug doing a drive-by shooting?

      Liberals have hate crimes, conservatives have terrorists. They're essentially the same thing - a crime thought to be worse due to the motive.

      IMHO, what does distinguish these crimes from the garden variety is if the attack was sponsored by a larger organization (whether a homegrown militia or Al Qaeda), since that means further attacks are likely in the offing.

    • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:06PM (#30656826) Journal

      I think Janet Napolitano (inadvertently) got it right when she said immediately after the event that "the system worked". That is, if by system she meant "relying on the post-9/11 understanding of passengers to use force to subdue suspected terrorists". You can't stop everyone from getting through, and you don't even need to since the people on the plane know that their lives are on the line. They'll take care of the problem much more effectively than some government agency chock full of ne'er-do-wells and morons.

  • why won't somebody think of the children now!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:26AM (#30656130)
    Disclaimer: I am an expert in millimeter-wave and terahertz imaging technology, both passive and active. I have posted here many times before, also as AC, for obvious reasons.

    The short answer is a qualified YES. All imaging technologies can (help) save us from (some) terrorists. Specifically, those individuals carrying dangerous/unknown objects or materials outside their body, whether integrated with their clothes or simply bound to their body. The proof is in the images. I will provide examples if asked.

    As far as safety concerns, the active millimeter-wave systems are safer than your cell phone or laptop wifi. The x-ray backscatter systems give you a dose of radiation that is far less than what you receive while flying over a few states at 39,000'.

    The ultimate issue for most people is privacy. I won't get into that here; I just know the phenomenology and implementation side. I will answer any questions now, so please respond.
    • The proof is in the images. I will provide examples if asked.

      OK, I'll bite -- I'm asking. Will you please provide a link to the images to support your assertion?

      My main concern is that we're spending god-awful amounts of cash and wasted effort using these systems to detect items which are detectable via other, cheaper, less invasive, means.

      Bonus points if you explain each of the images with that in mind -- how did the mm-wave/THz scanner detect something indetectable by other means?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Hi, thanks for biting. Here [nationalgeographic.com] is a passive broadband millimeter-wave/terahertz (100-2000 GHz) image of a subject with two items beneath several layers of clothing. One is a metal gun, and you're right, a magnetometer would detect that easily.

        The object on the left, however, is a very thin piece of foam. Its overall weight is much less than the 3 oz of PETN the underpants bomber had. It is thin for obvious reasons that I do not need to explain here.

        By the way, low vapor pressure of explosives is a serious

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:54PM (#30657746)

      The ultimate issue for most people is privacy. I won't get into that here; I just know the phenomenology and implementation side. I will answer any questions now, so please respond.

      Safety interlock design -- is the operator capable of increasing the radiation dosage, and if so what interlocks are present to prevent the person being scanned from being exposed multiple times or at a higher level than intended? The medical field learned from the therac-25 incident, but this is an airport scanner, not a medical scanner. Are the safety standards and review process comparable? How tamper-evident is the system, and what are the possible failure modes that could endanger the operator or person being scanned? Is there a sound or visual indicator the person being scanned can hear to indicate when it is in-use or when it is being activated multiple times?

      I have read these scanners are capable of covertly scanning large crowds in real-time. That implies a steady-state emission -- while a single use of this device may be quite low, what are the risks to continual exposure over, say, a 45 minute timeframe? What about frequent travelers -- at what point are the safety margins compromised?

      There are statements that the device will not be enabled for the transmission/storage of images -- but while those devices may be shipped with that disabled by default, it makes no sense from an employee-training perspective not to have records and auditing in place. Is it safe to assume this is just hyperbole to reassure people and the machines can be easily configured to do this?

      Why millimeter wave over other frequencies in the RF spectrum? Is this just a shortcut from a computational standpoint, or is there an advantage here that can only be realized by this technology? Why not use IR scanners? They can see through many types of clothing as well: and have the added benefit of being a lot safer.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:36PM (#30659210)
        Hi, original AC here.

        Active systems, as they exist now, are portal only. Thus there is only the exposure to several seconds of either millimeter-wave or x-ray radiation while in the portal. Also, the operators have no control over the emitted power. It is constant, person to person. The SNR of active systems is incredible even at such low radiation levels; increasing it would do nothing useful.

        Regarding your comment of crowd scanning; this is how some passive systems work, but (currently) no active systems. Passive, i.e., picture a CCD. Visible or IR currently, right? Well, imagine a millimeter-wave/terahertz one. Still passive, but can see through clothing at decreased spatial resolution (diffraction limited). No harm done by standing in front of a passive sensor all day long.

        About the transmission/storage of images: That is determined by the final system manufacturer and the TSA. I work only on the imaging hardware and initial display. I tend to agree with you, however.

        Why millimeter-wave over IR? IR cannot penetrate clothing as well as you think [aip.org]. And IR sensors are no more 'safe' than passive millimeter-wave/terahertz sensors: both are 100% safe.
    • Observing the lines at the airport, I've noticed that the imaging machines are much slower than the rest of the line. They were only pulling 1 in 5 people out of the regular line to go into the imaging machine and the machine was still at full capacity. Is there anything in the works to make these machines process people faster?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Yes, buying more of them. It's also important to pay for optimization, professional calibration, and an extended warranty.
    • by infalliable (1239578) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @02:34PM (#30659176)

      The biggest issue is the special scanners will stop what they did last time. It's the same issue the TSA and their counterparts have with each iteration of security practices.

      They all assume the terrorist will use the same method as they have already done. What happens when they don't? You get what happened over the holiday. The heightened security fights the last attack, not the upcoming one.

      - The original 9/11 plot had terrorists taking over the plane, so the put in super doors and other measures to keep people out of the cockpit.
      - A potential attack had liquid explosives, so no more liquids over 3.4 oz (which is a joke measure anyway)
      - Next attack used a shoe bomb, so we take off our shoes
      - Next attack used a underpants bomb...

      No security method will keep you perfectly safe. All methods have their weaknesses and it is ultimately up to the passengers to assist in combating those wishing to do harm to them.

  • Body Paint (Score:5, Funny)

    by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:29AM (#30656194) Homepage
    Next time I fly I am going to use a paint-pen to write something clever on my ass and see if they notice. Maybe something like "open other end".
  • The real danger... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Verteiron (224042) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:30AM (#30656210) Homepage

    ... is to the airline industry. My wife and I have flown once since 9/11. After being pulled out and "randomly" scanned at every single stop, we decided it wasn't worth the hassle anymore. Now we drive to where we want to be. It's amazing how pretty parts this country are from the ground. We don't really have any plans to fly again until this whole security theater thing has blown over.

    Apparently we're not alone; general travel was up 2.2% over the holidays yet air travel was down 6.4%. This security nonsense only hurts the airlines. Soon we won't have a robust air travel system in the USA.

    • Do those figures include the period after Dec. 25th? Cause another explanation could be that people are pussies and didn't fly because "the terrorists are detonating their underpants on planes". People are pathetic and easily scared; the number who opt out on personal dignity grounds is probably far less than those who are literally giving in to terror.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rotide (1015173)

        I'm planning a trip back out east to attend a friends wedding in the spring (It's in MA and I live in OH).

        First I thought about driving, it's roughly a 13 hour drive, straight through, not a quick jaunt.

        Then I started thinking about flying. Lets see, the airport is 45 minutes away from where I live, plus it's a busy delta hub (Cincinnati) so you want to arrive early to make sure you get through security, so figure 90 minutes before flight. We're talking leaving 2 hours and fifteen minutes before my flight

  • All this "security theater" does little, and does so at the cost of a massive violation of our Constitution's 4th Amendment (to wit: privacy of person and possessions not otherwise subject to individualized judge-signed warrant). The right to such privacy is enumerated for a reason, and this wholesale ignoring of it will backfire badly.

  • by geekoid (135745) <`moc.oohay' `ta' `dnaltropnidad'> on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:37AM (#30656322) Homepage Journal

    Michael Chertoff, makes money from full body scanners. So he isn't exactly unbiased.

    Also, he is kind of a jack ass who really doesn't seem to care for the constitution.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:43AM (#30656426) Homepage
    1. You can not under ANY circumstances provide 100% security for an airplane for a blow it up scenario. Remember, the terrorist can always buy a Rocket launchers and set it up in the parking lot. They might even manage to get away alive. The incredibly excessive and stupid idea of stopping people from taking explosive devices onto a plane is moronic. So you force the terrorists to spend $20,000 instead of $5,000 for an underware bomb. Big deal, you do it by spending billions on scanners. Worse, the terrorists can afford it. They paid more than that to teach all the 911 pilots how to fly. But they don't need to do that, there are a hundred other ways to sneak explosives on board a plane and there is nothing anyone can do about several of them. To stop that we would require excessive measures - passengers traveling without any luggage, using loaner clothing, phone and PC provided by the airline - at a profit - for the duration of their trip, travelling while sedated by airline provided drugs.

    2. The real problem is stopping another hijacking, not an explosion. Hijacking is much CHEAPER to defend against with a reinforced titanium door (light weight and strong) and the willingness to blow up the plane ourselves rather than let terrorists turn it into a weapon against a ground target.

    The moronic TSA crap does not and can never stop terrorists, but it can delay, annoy and cost the flying public huge amounts of cash in an attempt to 'look like we are doing something'.

    In my opinion, the terrorists have won. They destroyed our airline industry and convinced too many scared fools to willing give up their freedom in the 5 years directly after 9/11.

  • by sean.peters (568334) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:45AM (#30656446) Homepage

    Could it be because he has a financial interest in selling them? Why, yes. Yes it could [gawker.com]. Not that he ever mentioned any of that in his numerous television interviews extolling the virtues of the things - you're meant to think that he's flogging them because he's genuinely convinced of their effectiveness.

    To be clear: I'm not opposed to the former DHS secretary taking a post-politics job in the security industry. I'm not even against him appearing on my teevee to flog his products. What stinks, though, is when he doesn't make it clear that his words amount to an advertisement rather than news.

  • nope. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ephemeriis (315124) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:47AM (#30656478)

    Can Imaging Technologies Save Us From Terrorists?

    Short answer: No.

    Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary, told the New York Times, that if these scanners had been in place, they would have caught the would-be bomber. Ben Wallace, the Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, disagrees, saying that the technologies can't detect the kind of low-density explosive that the would-be terrorist tried to use on December 25th.

    Whether or not these scanners can actually detect such explosives is largely irrelevant.

    This specific bomber was on watch lists, bought a one-way ticket with cash, and had worried his father enough for him to contact authorities. There are plenty of things already in-place that could have caught the would-be bomber, but didn't.

    These new gadgets might very well help catch terrorists... But they aren't going to magically eliminate all terrorism.

    They'll find an explosive that isn't detected. Or they'll carry it on in some way that isn't detected. Or they'll bribe the right people to get past security un-screened. Or they'll get people hired in the right places to bypass security entirely. Or maybe they'll blow up something instead of a plane - another building, or a train, or a boat.

    We're still looking at treating the symptoms, rather than the disease itself. We're addressing specific actions - he tried to blow up a plane with a bomb in his underwear - rather than the root cause of these actions - religious extremism that's willing to sacrifice plenty of lives to make a statement.

    As long as that extremism exists... And especially when we're willing to give their statements so much attention... Terrorism will persist, regardless of what technological gadgetry we put in place.

  • by d474 (695126) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @11:50AM (#30656520)
    ...or at least, there is witness testimony strongly suggesting the bomber had inside help in the airport to get him past normal security, the answer is "No, full body scanners will not stop terrorists." What good is a full body scan if you have people on the inside that can get you past the scanner?

    Don't take my word for it, listen to this NPR interview: Attorney witnessed bomber before flight had already bypassed security with no Passport [npr.org]
  • by assertation (1255714) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:03PM (#30656764)

    I see this situation as paying for federal government incompetence with my civil liberties.

    I read in the news that various security & intelligence networks had red flags about the Nigerian terrorist but decided not to act.

    The way to prevent future problems is to fix the broken process whereby a red flag can come up and be ignored.

    Not by trampling on people's civil liberties and right to privacy.

    This isn't the first time this bullshit happened.

    Prior to 9/11 one of the terrorists told a flight instructor that he didn't need to know how to land. Reports about the hijackers were lodged in several intelligence/security agencies. They were ignored the way red flags about the Nigerian terrorist was ignored.

    President Bush created an entire new Federal agency because he felt he couldn't fix the dysfunctional culture at the FBI.

    Today I read that there was 3rd gate crasher at the White House.

    It is time to start visibly firing people.

    The private sector fires people for serious screw ups. Putting the lives of the President and other Americans at risk is of far more importance than a network admin downloading malware.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @12:07PM (#30656870)

    Send mirrors to everyone supporting the TSA, anti-terror overreaction and hysteria. Look in the mirror. You're the people who are helping terrorists win. When the terrorists give it their best shot, kill a few thousand and we shrug it off like nothing and go about our lives with no change, THAT is winning the war on terror. Turning ourselves into a police state while bombing the fuck out of random civilians in their country is giving them everything they could ask for short of sodomizing ourselves with a lit stick of dynamite.

  • Disgusting (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anorlunda (311253) on Tuesday January 05, 2010 @05:17PM (#30661644) Homepage

    I heard that the full body scanners can not detect an explosive device hidden by rolls of fat in an obese person. I can't picture those rolls being searched by hand either. Yuck.

    Why wouldn't terrorists recruit fat people?

    Why don't we just admit that airport security is futile?

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