The "security theater" of pretending that We Must Be Seen To Be Doing Something seems to have afflicted the Netherlands government, which is obviously embarrassed by the recent security failure at Schipol airport.
The Daily Telegraph appears to be hyping up "see through your clothes" / perv scans, as if they were some sort of magical solution to the perceived problem, even though there is no guarantee that the presence of such equipment would actually have prevented the attempted attack.
Ministers have been accused of putting lives at risk by failing to order X-ray style body scanners at British airports despite fears that al-Qaeda is planning a wave of syringe bomb attacks on planes.
By Gordon Rayner and David Millward
Published: 10:00PM GMT 30 Dec 2009
The scanners, which could have thwarted the attack by the Detroit bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, are already in use in countries including America and Germany, and yesterday the Netherlands and Nigeria announced they would follow suit.
But the Government said it had "no immediate plans" to deploy them, leading to accusations that ministers had been "caught napping".
Note the weasel words "leading to accusations that..." - accusations by which authoritative source, exactly ? Only this Daily Telegraph article and / or briefings by people who stand to make a lot of money out of the debacle.
The Daily Telegraph has learned that four of the £100,000 full body scanners are in storage at Heathrow Airport, following a previous trial, but airport staff are not authorised to use them.
That is because they do not work anywhere nearly fast enough - it takes over 10 seconds per person, per scan, to be used at airports without creating massive, vulnerable, queues or crowds of passengers
The United Kingdom's stupidly inflexible and catch-all without exceptions laws on Child Pornography also apply to such imaging scanners, when they are used on your children - defined as anyone under Eighteen years of age.
It emerged yesterday that a Somali man was arrested in Mogadishu last month as he tried to board an aircraft bound for Dubai carrying powdered chemicals and a syringe, in what appears to be an almost identical method to the one used by Abdulmutallab.
The Dutch government announced yesterday that full body scanners, which are already being trialled there with EU approval, will be introduced on US-bound flights within three weeks at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, where Abdulmutallab caught his connecting flight to Detroit on Christmas Day.
Even Nigeria, where Abdulmutallab began his journey, is to introduce them within weeks.
The company which makes the scanners told The Daily Telegraph that it could have 50 scanners installed at UK airports within three months.
The mainstream media really should examine the claims of companies with a large financial interest in selling such expensive and imperfect equipment to Governments and transport monopolies, at the taxpayer and general public's expense, with more than a pinch of salt.
Remember that US companies such as Rapiscan Systems which make Back Scatter X-Ray imagers, or US subsidiaries of UK companies like Qinetiq plc or the Smiths Detection division of Smiths Industries plc, which make Passive Milimetre Wave imagers etc., are immune from criminal or civil prosecution in the USA, if they are registered with the Department of Homeland Security, and their "security products" or "qualified anti-terrorism technologies" fail to detect a bomb, or if their devices actually harm the health of passengers or security staff, under the "Subtitle G" part of the misleadingly, Orwellian newspeak named "PATRIOT Act law, called the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002 (SAFETY Act)
Within Whitehall, officials believe that the Nigerian and Dutch authorities have announced the use of scanners in an attempt to mask security failings which enabled the syringe-bomber to board two aircraft without the device being detected.
Since even these imaging scanners are only a sop to the US media and authorities, and will not be used on every flight or on every passenger on a selected flight, this is more, expensive "security theatre".
Guns and explosives and illegal drugs are far more easily available in the USA, than anywhere in the European Union, so what measures are in place to protect the United Kingdom from United States originated flights ?
At the very least , the security measures should be reciprocal and identical at both ends of the transatlantic route.
The Times has more details on this November 13th incident.
December 31, 2009
Sean O'Neill, Rory Watson, Michael Evans, Philip Pank
A man was arrested last month when he attempted to board an aircraft in Somalia carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and a syringe, in a potential forerunner of the Christmas Day bomb plot.
Somali police said yesterday that they were still holding the man who was arrested by African Union troops at Mogadishu airport on November 13. He was trying to board a Daallo Airlines flight that was bound for the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then Djibouti before landing in Dubai, which is a hub for international travel.
He tried to bribe his way on to the aircraft after being stopped.
Abdulahi Hassan Barise, a police spokesman in Mogadishu, said: "We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaeda or other foreign organisations but his actions were the acts of a terrorist. We caught him red-handed."
If even Mogadishu airport security can catch someone "red handed" like this, obviously without access to any expensive "see through your clothes" image scanners, then what additional safety margin does such an imaging scanner actually provide, at vast expense and unnecessary privacy intrusion ? None.
The technology actually exists to exploit the "see through your clothes" parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, but without the "child porn" / adult privacy intrusion aspects of image scanners e.g. the QInetiq SPO-7 Standoff Passive Object Detector.
This device simply detects, at a distance, that a certain threshold amount of "something suspicious" has been detected on a person, without the unnecessary and intrusive step of creating an pseudo image of the person's naked body. It does take a "normal" video image for identification purposes, and is manually controlled via a joystick, providing a simple Red / Amber / Green score for the operator.
There is no extra security to be gained, and no reduction in queues at checkpoints, by knowing whether an airline passenger seems to be carrying something suspicious, in their left hand trouser pocket Any sane, and professional security system, will then have a human guard pat down and check both the left and the right hand side, exactly as they do with "old fashioned" metal detectors. Even the Qinetiq OP-7 device is not wholly benign, as the company claims it can work at a stand off distances of 10 to 50 metres and that • High Value Infrastructure Protection (embassies, nuclear facilities, etc.) - Scan personnel from a distance using go/no-go criteria. Protect staff by maintaining a 165-ft (50-meter) distance from the subject until they are cleared to proceed. [...] • Crime Prevention - Vehicle-borne SPO-7R units can be deployed in high-crime and school zones at a standoff of 10 to 15 meters. Most worryingly for millions of innocent people is the claim that: A subject does not have to be aware of the scan and cooperation from a subject is not necessary for screening to be effective.
Any sane, and professional security system, will then have a human guard pat down and check both the left and the right hand side, exactly as they do with "old fashioned" metal detectors.
Even the Qinetiq OP-7 device is not wholly benign, as the company claims it can work at a stand off distances of 10 to 50 metres and that
• High Value Infrastructure Protection (embassies, nuclear facilities, etc.) - Scan personnel from a distance using go/no-go criteria. Protect staff by maintaining a 165-ft (50-meter) distance from the subject until they are cleared to proceed.
• Crime Prevention - Vehicle-borne SPO-7R units can be deployed in high-crime and school zones at a standoff of 10 to 15 meters.
Most worryingly for millions of innocent people is the claim that:
A subject does not have to be aware of the scan and cooperation from a subject is not necessary for screening to be effective.
This is something which is definitely open to abuse, and which could be positively life threatening to innocent people, if trigger happy armed security guards are ever given access to such devices, and open fire on someone they incorrectly suspect as a "suicide bomber", or even if they "only" appear to be carrying concealed weapons.
It should also be remembered, that what seems to work ok in the deserts of the USA or the Middle East, or inside air conditioned or centrally heated buildings, will not necessarily work nearly so well outside in cold wet winter weather in the UK.
Water molecules - rain or snow or ice, do tend to absorb TeraHerz and Millimetre Wave microwave electromagnetic signals, so the effective distance or accuracy of Passive devices will be reduced. Such winter weather also causes people wear thicker and extra layers of (potentially wet) clothing, which will also limit the effectiveness of such devices.