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Correction to This Article
This article about airport screening technologies misspelled the name of Amsterdam's Schiphol International Airport.
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Equipment to detect explosives is available

Available equipment more sophisticated than metal detectors can detect explosives.
Available equipment more sophisticated than metal detectors can detect explosives. (Tom Pennington/getty Images)
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Michael Chertoff, homeland security secretary from 2005 to last January, said terrorists are exploiting a long-known vulnerability that has been extended by politicians' reluctance to spend the money and political capital needed to make imaging technology more widespread, and travelers' resistance to undergo thorough pat-down searches.

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"While the technology does exist to detect such threats, it is not fully deployed," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.

According to the TSA's Web site, the agency is using 40 radio wave imaging units at 19 airports nationwide, and in most cases, the units are used for passengers requiring added scrutiny. At six of those airports, the machines are used for primary, or first-level, screening in one security line. TSA has announced plans to field 878 units by 2014.

Privacy groups say whole-body imaging scanners conduct a "virtual strip search," and have mounted a campaign to stop what they predict will be the abuse of electronic images of naked individuals. In a nonbinding vote in June, the House overwhelmingly approved a measure to prevent scanners from being used for primary screening.

The International Air Transport Association, a trade group of 230 airlines, is urging U.S. and European regulators to re-engineer the aviation security system, noting that the volume of data that governments collect on travelers has mushroomed.

"We've spent eight years looking for little scissors and toenail clippers," said Ken Dunlap, IATA's director of security in North America. "Perhaps the emphasis should be looking for bad people."

Jacques Duchesneau, head of Canada's Air Transport Security Authority from 2002 to 2008, and Bergerbest-Eilon said that instead of trying to push virtually all travelers through similar screening processes, authorities should improve and expand the use of intelligence and behavioral assessments to cull out those deemed to pose the greatest risk, and target improved technology to find them.

While such methods have been "wrongly perceived as racial profiling," Bergerbest-Eilon said, "past events have taught us that we cannot rely on intelligence alone to thwart major terror attacks."


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