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January 1st, 2010
09:56 PM ET

Former homeland security chief argues for whole-body imaging

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/TRAVEL/12/30/airline.terror.scanners/t1larg.scanner.afp.gi.jpg caption="A staff member demonstrates a full body scan at Manchester Airport in the UK" width=300 height=169]

Michael Chertoff
Former Homeland Security Secretary

Since the uncomfortably close attempted attack on Northwest Flight 253 last week, many have focused on why the alleged terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not placed on a watch list that would have prevented him from flying, even though the government had received information that he was a potential extremist. We should focus on a more fundamental question: How can we keep explosive materials off planes?

Most airport security checkpoints use metal detectors. Al-Qaeda has shown that it knows how to avoid detection by using an explosive device that contains little or no metal, such as PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate, used by Abdulmutallab and "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in 2001.

During my time as secretary of homeland security, the Transportation Security Administration began working to replace the 1970s-era metal detectors used at airports across America with modern technology able to detect non-metal weapons concealed by terrorists on their bodies - even in their underwear, where Abdulmutallab allegedly hid his bomb. The latest versions of these machines - sometimes called whole-body imagers - are deployed at 19 airports, and the TSA is attempting to place them throughout the nation.

From the onset, deployment of the machines has been vigorously opposed by some groups. In June, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent the TSA from using the new systems in most cases. If the House bill were to become law, the TSA would be limited to using the new technology only after a passenger had been selected for additional scrutiny.

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Filed under: Airline Safety • Terrorism
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Frank

    The government seems to be good at spending taxpayers money, $800 billion bailout here, unlimited compensation to their GSAs Fannie and Freddie there, $1.1 trillion dollar health care bill, $800 billion jobs bill, not to mention the billions spent on military spending to protect other countries, but yet they're actually debating over incorporating these 6 figure scanners? The government is already over $12 tillion in debt – what's another billion to invest in strengthening the protection of American citizens? They've made a mockery of 9/11 – its obvious they've learned nothing, those peoples lives were not lost in vain! The government owes it to them and the citizens of this country that every measure should be taken to ensure that the lives of the American people are protected, especially for such a long term investment as this.

    January 1, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  2. goettl

    It is a privilege not a right to fly on a plane. If you disagree with the screening process it would be your choice not to fly.

    January 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  3. Wendie Aamot

    REALLY! There are so many obsure little airports throughout the world that have direct flights into the united states. Do you think the bad guys won't be able to find them and inturn take them if they have evil intentions.And what about the evil within our borders? Just hop a plane anywhere anytime..How can we have scanners at every airport? Bottom line you can stop some of it some of the time but we can't stop all of it all the time..it's too big and we have too many enemies.Plugging up one hole in the dam that has many is not going to stop the flood from occuring.

    January 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  4. Tim Gibson

    In the climate we now find ourselves, anyone who is against full body scans are more than welcome to travel by bus or ship if they are opposed to making our air travel more safe.

    As well, why were the many other planes in the skies not notified of this attempted terrorist attack on Christmas day, or was it assumed that the passengers would also come to the rescue on any other flights if possible and that if an attack resulted in success for the terrorist, what then?

    January 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  5. Debbie, Union, New Jersey

    The million dollar question is: how the Department of Home Land Security finds out who must appears on a "watch list" that required a closer scrutiny? Who makes the decision? Are they the American Embassy Intelligence's officials in the visitor's country of origin? or, the United States consular staff? How do they determine who deserve to be placed on that list or not?

    It is not a secret that in United States of America, there are people ( I do not know how many) from some countries whom have been granted a visa or political asylum, based on faked documents. Intelligence failed? How can they detect a terrorist if they can not detect a liar?

    The "virtual strip search" is not going to change this reality. Additionally, the machine could be dangerous because of the radiation in screening. Besides, it (the procedure), will open a door that could not be closed easily. While government works protecting American people, all of us, including visitors will have to face the dilemma between security and privacy.

    January 1, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  6. k sneider

    What potential hazards are there,particulary for frequent fliers? Radiation exposure?

    January 1, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  7. Chris StJohn

    Of course he recommends it. One of his consulting clients manufactures those machines. (source: huffington post)

    January 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  8. Darryl McDonald

    I am all for better ways to stop TERRORISM...and these machines seem to add a better level of security. What the TSA has to do is make sure they have enough machines and the process improved so it doesn’t double the time for each person to get screened. I have used the new full body screening machines and it took 2-3x more time to get through it. So let’s not make a half of a decision let’s make a terrorist decision and a non-terrorist decision and do it right.

    January 1, 2010 at 1:46 pm |

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