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"Report: Airport X-ray machines don't detect explosives in shoes"
Monday, August 14, 2006
Report: X-ray machines don't detect explosives in shoes
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - X-ray machines that screen airline passengers' shoes
cannot detect explosives, according to a Homeland Security Department report
on aviation screening.
Findings from the report, obtained by The Associated Press, did not stop the
Transportation Security Administration from announcing Sunday that all
airline passengers must remove their shoes and run them through X-ray
machines before boarding commercial aircraft.
The shoe-scanning requirement was ordered as the government fine-tunes new
security procedures since British police last week broke up a terrorist plot
to assemble and detonate bombs aboard as many as 10 airliners crossing the
Atlantic Ocean from Britain to the United States.
Among the new procedures are a ban on liquids and gels in airline passenger
cabins, more hand searches of carryon luggage, and random double screening
of passengers at boarding gates.
On Sunday, the TSA made it mandatory for shoes to be run through X-ray
machines as passengers go through metal detectors. They were begun in late
2001, after the arrest of Richard Reid aboard a trans-Atlantic flight when
he tried to ignite an explosive device hidden in his shoe. The shoe scans
have been optional for several years.
In its April 2005 report, "Systems Engineering Study of Civil Aviation
Security - Phase I," the Homeland Security Department concluded that images
on X-ray machines don't provide the information necessary to detect
Machines used at most airports to scan hand-held luggage, purses, briefcases
and shoes have not been upgraded to detect explosives since the report was
TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark said putting shoes on the X-ray machines makes
the screening process more efficient and eliminates confusion. "We do not
have a specific threat regarding shoes," Clark said. "In an abundance of
caution we require all shoes to be removed and X-rayed to mitigate a variety
The Homeland Security report said that "even a .25-inch insole of sheet
explosive" could create the kind of blast that reportedly brought down Pan
Am flight 103, the airliner that blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in
December 1988, killing 270 people in the air and on the ground.
"To help close this gap, the percentage of shoes subjected to explosives
inspection should be significantly increased," the report said.
The Homeland Security report recommends that explosives trace detection, or
ETD, be used on the shoes and hands of passengers when the screeners
determine they must be checked more thoroughly.
"Within the current state of the art, they afford the only meaningful
explosives detection capability at the checkpoint," the report said.
ETD involves a screener using a dry pad on the end of a wand to wipe a
surface - baggage, shoes, clothing - and then putting the pad into a machine
called an ion mobility spectrometer. The machine can detect tiny particles,
or traces, of explosives.
Screeners do use ETD on passengers who have been selected to be screened a
second time after going through the checkpoint.
TSA chief Kip Hawley recently acknowledged that the threat from liquid
explosives isn't going away - and new security measures designed to thwart
the threat may be around for awhile.
The agency is testing equipment to detect liquid explosives at six airports,
Hawley said, and he called the technology "very promising."
But, he said, "with a million and a half to 2 million passengers every day,
it is not practical to think that we are going to take every bottle and scan
it through these liquid scanners."
"We are not going to wait for the perfect device to be deployable," Hawley
said in an interview Friday. "We're going to look for a total system to be
at the level to make us comfortable."
The agency wants to make better use of a limited resource - airport
screeners, whose numbers have been capped by Congress at 45,000. The TSA
handles security for 450 commercial airports.
Among the changes the TSA is considering, according to TSA spokeswoman Ellen
. Hire more people to take baggage-handling responsibilities from
screeners so the screeners can focus on security responsibilities.
. Have screeners, instead of contract employees hired by airlines, check
IDs and boarding passes.
. Expand a program that trains screeners to look for unusual behavior in
passengers that might indicate malicious intent. Called SPOT - Screening
Passengers by Observation Technique - it's used in at least 12 airports,
Those changes may require approval by Congress and agreement with airports
and the airline industry, which might have to bear some of the cost, Howe
The airlines might go along with the plan, an industry spokesman said.
"We favor this proposal provided it doesn't add costs to the carriers," said
David Castelveter, spokesman for the Air Transport Association.
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