[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]
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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