The Department for Transport and Transport for London are continuing with a second phase of their dubious anti-terrorist bomb technology "trials". A month's trial started today at the Canary Wharf Tube station, with a later trial due at Greenford.
The Government should not be wasting public money on going through the motions of pretending to "vigourously test" explosive detectors of any sort at ticket barriers or platforms. Even they admit the obvious, that the disruption to the rail and tube systems which this would cause, if widely deployed, would be intolerable.
Instead, they should be devoting resources to portable equipment for speeding up the examination of "suspicious" abandoned parcels, packages and bags which lead to so many false alarms. There are literally thousands of disruptions of public transport caused either by a few delibarate "bomb hoaxes" or, mostly, by the idiotic thoughlessness of members of the public.
Perhaps there is a case for trained staff and such equipment, including bomb disposal "robots" etc. to be pre-deployed at every Tube and Railway station, to speed up the response to such incidents, so that they can be dealt with in minutes rather than hours, as at present.
Trying to report a suspicious package at even a supposedly well staffed Station can be a frustrating experience, as the Reverend Rat testifies
Ministerial Statement by Douglas Alexander the Minister for Transport, and, peculiarly, like his predecessor before the re-shuffle, also the Minister for Scotland, on Tuesday 16th May 2006:
Transport London Underground and National Railways (LUNR) Passenger Screening Trials
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Douglas Alexander): We announced in November last year that the Department for Transport will be undertaking a small number of trials at stations on London's surface and underground rail networks, to test the effectiveness of passenger screening equipment in an operational environment.
16 May 2006 : Column 56WS
The first trial took place on the platforms for the Heathrow Express at Paddington station over a four-week period during January and February of this year. The data from the trial have been analysed and will be included in the final trial report.
The next phase of the project will be held at stations on the London Underground and will test equipment that can detect traces of explosives on passengers and their belongings.
Following consultation with London Underground, the British Transport Police and other stakeholders, Canary Wharf and Greenford have been chosen to host the next series of trials.
Consultation with "other stakeholders" does not mean actually consulting the travelling public in any meaningful way, does it ?
The trial at Canary Wharf will begin on Wednesday 17 May and will also run for a period of around four weeks. The trial will test the use of a document scanner, a finger scanner and a cabin baggage X-ray machine. Each day a small number of randomly selected passengers will be invited to take part, although any participation will be entirely voluntary.
Rubbish ! The Operation Shield metal detector "trials" on London Transport stations were claimed as a success, because several knives were confiscated from people who had refused to go through the "voluntary" metal detectors, and who were therefore deemed correctly to be "acting suspiciously", which then allowed the attendant Police officers to do their normal job and stop and search them.
Howver, this is exactly the same result as one would expect from simply having Police visibly on duty at a Tube Station in the first place. - an exceedingly rare sight, even during times of alert !
The Police are entirely capable of stopping "suspicious" looking people, even the innocent ones like David Mery, without any "magic technology" as an excuse.
The only reason that there will be any Police at Canary Wharf or Greenford will be, presumably, to see that nobody steals or vandalises tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds of prototype security equipment !
There will be minimal disturbance to the station's operations and the flow of passengers throughout the day will not be affected.
Once the trial at Canary Wharf trial has been completed, a similar trial at Greenford station will begin in which equipment that can analyse explosive traces on clothing and bags using swabbing and air samples will be tested.
Furthermore, in conjunction with the British Transport Police, we shall be trialling the use of explosives-sniffing dogs at a main London station and a major regional station, also for a limited period.
The sole purpose of these trials that we are undertaking is purely to test their application in a genuine rail environment.
This Canary Wharf "trial" is not a "genuine rail environment" ! Canary Wharf's huge ticket hall is much roomier than most Tube Stations
They are not direct measures to enhance security at these stations.
When are we going to have some real security measures then ?
No decisions have been taken on the future use of this equipment, all the data and feedback we can gain during the tests is merely to help inform any future judgments.
The UK's railway system is a network made up of 2,500 stations and 11,000 miles of track. It carries one billion passengers a year. The British public understand that a closed security system on a rail network of this size is unworkable.
However we must still aim to cut down the risks as much as possible, whilst still allowing people to go about their day to day business.
No single security measure is either foolproof or capable of mitigating every threat so we need to keep a range of measures available. It is therefore important that we not only consider both existing and emerging technologies, but that we subject them to vigorous tests in a mix of authentic environments to see just how effectively they can contribute towards keeping our networks as safe and efficient as possible.
A 4 week trial using one single piece of equipment, from only one of the competing manufacturers of such equipment, in one location is definately not the same as vigorous tests in a mix of authentic environments" which the Ministerial statement claims !
This is far too short a period to demontrate the reliability and ruggedness of any equipment which has to survive the wear and tear and grubby environment of the London Underground system, in deifferent wether conditions, with contamination from millions of people etc.
Why is it that trials of such security scanning equipment in the much more benign envirnonment of airports take 6 months to a year, but these trial are only 4 weeks at most ?
Since it seems unlikely that any terrorists will obliginingly reveal thenmselves to such a system, then are Government employees or private sector contractors going to be smuggling samples of explosives through the system, like is done in closed security environments such as airports ?
So what, exactly, are any of these so called "trials" meant to achieve ?
Is this all just the result of lobbying by defence and security industry companies to pitch their products to technologically inept bureaucrats and politicians, at taxpayers expense ?
Is it just the usual "must pretend to be seen to be doing something" attitude which results in so much "security theatre" media spin and disinformation by this Labour Government ?
At least this time they are not mucking around with "see through your clothes" scanners (although Smiths Industries do have a rival active millimetre wave radar imager product called Tadar Stand Off Scanning).
Explosive detection technology being tested at Canary Wharf Dave Friedlos, Computing 16 May 2006
London Underground has started the second stage of a trial of passenger screening with the introduction of equipment capable of detecting traces of explosives at Canary Wharf station.
The Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL) are testing high-speed explosives ticket scanner and an x-ray system from Smiths Detection.
The scanner can detect and identify traces of over 40 different explosive substances in up to eight seconds when a ticket is swiped over a sampling scanner.
8 seconds !! Even if this is achieved, it is far too slow for a mass transit system. Any explosve detection has to be done within the normal automated ticket barrier cycle i.e. in under 2 seconds for the whole cycle - anything longer will lead to queues at the barriers.
Queues of people at ticket or security barriers are themselves, a prime suicide bomber target, as has been demonstrated in Israel and Iraq, so anything that contibutes to them forming increases the security risk overall.
The HI-Scan 6046si x-ray system produces detailed x-ray images and can distinguish between organic and non-organic items. A trial of equipment that can detect traces of explosives on clothing will follow at Greenford station.
: ‘Passengers are randomly selected and asked to be scanned, including fingerprint scanning, in a quick process,' a DfT spokesman told Computing.
Is this just a Freudian slip or a misquote by the DfT bureaucrat ?
On what legal basis is fingerprint scanning rather than vouluntary chemical analysis of fingers being done ?
Who will have access to this fingerprint data afterwards, and how long will it be retained for ?
If such a system is ever deployed, what will be the consequence to you , even of a "false postive" false alarm ? Will you be stopped and searched under anti-terrorism powers, and have an black mark on your Police National Computer or other database, retained until until your 100th birthday ?
Following the trials, which have a budget of half a million pounds, the DfT and TfL will assess the results and examine any issues.
Is this "budget of half a million pounds" coming from the DfT or from TfL ?
Has this the document "sniffer" device really been ruggedised and built into an automated Tube ticket barrier ?
Presumably it is based on this model the IONSCAN® Document Scanner, which looks to be more suited to a forensics laboratory:
Note the latex gloved hand, which is an obvious precaution against cross-contamination of samples for this "highly sensitive" machine.
How on earth can cross contamination be avoided in a mass transit system application of such highly sensitive technology ? How are the
the "false alarms" such as when similar techonology was demonstrated to Members of the Welsh Assembly to be avoided ?
- Explosives detected include RDX, PETN, TNT, Semtex, NG, Nitrates, HMX, TATP and others
- Drugs detected include Cocaine, Heroin, THC (Cannabis), Methamphetamine, PCP, LSD, Esctasy and others
- 6-8 second analysis time
So will this system be used more for the arrests of illegal drug users, rather than for terrorists bomb makers ?
Actual suicide bombers or or bomb planters or bomb couriers may never have actually handled the raw explosives, only carried them sealed in a rucksack etc. and so they would not be detected by either a ticket sniffer or a finger sniffer device.
Note how the manufacturers claim to detect TATP. which is the sort of explosive which the July 7th 2005 Tube and Bus bombers used.
Really ? Since this is basically made up from undetectable hydrogen peroxide (measuring "suspicious" concentrations of water vapour or oxygen is impossible) and acetone.
How many of the millions of passengers wearing nail polish, or having recently used nail polish remover will trigger false alarms from such a system ?