The Washington Post

Airport body scanners may not have thwarted Christmas Day bombing
The Washington Post

President Obama’s push to deploy body-imaging scanners at airports will cost U.S. taxpayers roughly $3 billion over eight years, congressional investigators report, but it is unclear whether the controversial devices would have caught the man who allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound jetliner with explosives hidden in his underwear.

The administration has cited the Christmas Day bombing attempt, with which alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is charged, in pushing to double its planned deployment of scanners at U.S. airports by 2014, when it hopes to have 1,800 of the machines in place. It also has cited the case to encourage foreign governments to use the same new technologies at airports that send flights to the United States.

But security experts say the advanced imaging technology has limits: The « backscatter » rays can be obscured by body parts, may not readily detect thin items seen « edge-on » or objects hidden inside the body, and require a human operator to decide whether to conduct additional questioning or a physical search.

« While officials said [the scanners] performed as well as physical pat downs in operational tests, it remains unclear whether the scanner would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident, » the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s audit arm, said Wednesday in written testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee.