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I Spy, with My Little Eye

To check out the passengers, airports are testing body-scanning technologies:

  • Backscatter X-ray detects reflected X-ray energy, highlighting organic materials such as explosives. This technology, which is very slow, is used for forensics or looking at a high-mass object such as a car. It is not useful for high-volume airport scanning.
  • Millimeter wave-energy analysis, known as ultrasound, provides a 360-degree image of the human body to detect weapons and explosives.
  • Terahertz imaging, which utilizes electromagnetic waves in the area between visible light and x-rays to reveal not only the shape but also the composition of hidden objects, including explosives. Security personnel can literally see you beneath your clothes (but not your bones).

A company called Smith's Detection has just commenced field-testing a walkthrough portal for chemical-testing passenger screening at JFK International Airport. The company licensed technology called ion mobility spectrometry, developed at Sandia National Laboratories back in the early 1990s. Based on the airflow modeling that Sandia developed on its supercomputers, nozzles puff air at passengers passing through the portal. Any heavy organics from the air sample are collected on a filter and then heated. The organics are then reviewed in a smaller air sample, making them easier to detect.

According to the General Accounting Office's aviation security report of February 2004, despite all this technology we still don't have 100 percent efficiency in baggage checks. It's hard to find good help these days, and the equipment keeps breaking down. However, the report says that if all else fails, K-9 units will do.

Daisy won't be quitting her day job any time soon.

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