Wednesday, May 09, 2012

New Underwear Terrorist Bomb II -- What About Those Body Scanners?

In further proof, as if we needed it, of Bill Moyer's axiom that "Reporters are people who are paid to explain things they don't understand," we have the following brilliant assertion in the Wall Street Journal today about the much-typed "new type" of non-metallic terrorist body-bomb that can be concealed in the underwear:

"Investigators are closely scrutinizing the construction of the bomb for clues that would lead to its makers and would also help aviation security experts improve and adjust airport detection systems. Investigators say the bomb contained no metal, meaning would have likely evaded detection by airport screeners."

Hang on there just a minute, Scoop! Ignore how that passage demonstrates the Journal's appalling decline in copy-editing standards under the regime of the odious Rupert Murdoch (you need an "it" after "meaning" in that sentence). Instead, consider: The TSA has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to install these new-fangled "strip search" machines to replace metal-detecting magnetometers at airport checkpoints. You know, the machines the TSA initially called "whole-body imagers," but then changed the name to "advanced imaging technology" when it became apparent that "whole-body" was an infelicitous, if nevertheless accurate, description of what the machines focus on.

The point of these machines, as the Wall Street Journal seems not to recall, is to remove dependence on metal detectors in favor of machines that see through clothing and, supposedly, detect any anomalous item on the body. The old metal detectors, of course, would not detect any non-metallic underwear bomb, which would likely be noticed only by an alert screener wondering why that terrorist-looking person has droopy pants like some baby with a load in its diaper.

So why, exactly, would these invasive whole-body imaging machines not detect whatever mass this latest model of the underwear bomb presented?

By the way, in the New York Post newspaper today there's a breathless headline over an even more half-assed story in which the reporter seems to think that the body-imagers would be thwarted because the they can't detect the chemical properties of a possible explosive. But that has never been the point of the body-imagers, whose sole function is to detect foreign objects on the body or in the clothes, which are shown as mass. The mass could be a stick of chewing gum or a wad of plastic explosives, the machine only knows shape, not chemical makeup.

That story also makes the ludicrous assertion that the only way to insure real security against chemical bombs is to use "bomb sniffing dogs." Absolutely no security expert in the world would depend on bomb-sniffing dogs -- which can be diverted by a ham sandwich (hey, they're dogs!) -- for anything other than an extra backup check on security. They are not a first-line of defense. The New York Post, of course, is another newspaper owned by the odious Mr. Murdoch.

Meanwhile, a little less fluttering around about the "double-agent" aspect of this strange story is required of all news media covering the story. How about a little more focus on the threat and the evident holes in the system posed by "whole body imaging" strip-search machines that seem not to be able to do what their well-paid manufacturers claim they can do?


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