Video: Live demonstration of a body scanner

  1. Closed captioning of: Live demonstration of a body scanner

    >> newsroom. andrea, thanks.

    >>> let's back up to pete williams ' final point about airline security and technology . we want to spend a bit of time on this topic tonight because the president today talked about bomb detection, trying to find out if a human is carrying explosives that are not meant to be discovered. the president talked about imagery. that means these new electronic machines that can see through clothes, they can see through just about everything. for some people who are worried about privacy, their dignity, perhaps religious beliefs, these machines show way too much. while this may be a bit graphic, tonight we want to show you what these machines show. so our own tom costello is at a company that makes them in suburban virginia, outside washington. correct, we are going to see what a tsa technician would see if you walk tlud one of the many machines at work in airports.

    >> reporter: this is as close as we can get to show you. we are at smith's detection facility here in virginia. behind me mark is going to walk through in just a moment. first we need to explain. there are two types of full-body imaging technology . the first one is called back scanner. it uses minute amounts of radiation to essentially peer underneath the clothing, looking for any type of a weapon. the second type of technology is called millimeter wave technology . it bounces radio waves off individuals. right now, the tsa has about 40 of those in use around the country. this behind me is the latest generation, the next generation of radio wave , millimeter wave technology , and the tsa is testing it right now. mark is going to walk through the portal. he will stand in front of the echo screen and start doing a 360. as he does, and we'll tell new advance, he does have weapons or some replicas underneath his clothing. as he does, a screener in another room would be watching this image. let's see what the screener would see on his or her screen. stop there you can see you cannot tell what mark's face looks like because the technology blurs the face, but you can tell that this is a man. let's go ahead and continue scanning around the side. immediately, what we are going to notice is in the small of mark's back right there, it appears he has a gun. we know it's a replica, but it clearly sticks out. let's back up a little bit. did we miss something? on the right hip there is something. what mark is wearing on his right hip is a replica of plastic explosives . this machine picked it up. we'll look at something on his left hip right there. this machine picked up a plastic butter knife. scan further. stop right there you're going to see a box cutter in his left pocket. now keep scanning because what we are concerned about is what is right above his groin there. this black area would clearly be a concern. what he has right there is a plastic baggy full of flour. what's impossible to know is whether this technology would have picked up that plastic baggy full of explosives, petn in amsterdam. what we do know is this technology here picked up this white plastic baggy full of flour. back to you.

    >> tom, we tried to be jidicious because families are watching. these machines do show everything. when you walk through one of these at an airport, where are the tsa techs looking at your picture?

    >> reporter: the tsa, either male or female would be in another room. the face is obscured, but he or she would be able to peer underneath your clothing to see if you have anything at all.

    >> a lot of folks say the truly best way to sniff out explosives, especially in this new era when terrorists are trying to conceal them using all kinds of creative ways are trained sniffer dogs . others say leave it to electronics. many countries are fans of the hand patdown. are we looking at an era not far from now where you have lane choice of the method you are going to be screened en route to your flight gig?

    >> reporter: that is very possible. you may have a male lane and a female lane. a lane that allows you to go through a screen like this or a patdown and swabbing technic, swabbing hand-held luggage for any trace of explosives. you may have a lane with the option of dogs. all of that may be, as we go forward, options presented to the tsa and what they called this layered approach to security.

    >> tom costello, our thanks to the folks there and our volunteer. it's all about what the president said today, technology staying ahead of the terrorists.

    >>> we'll take a break. when

updated 1/7/2010 7:53:40 PM ET 2010-01-08T00:53:40

Fearing a rift with the United States, the European Union said Thursday it may force resistant member states to use the full-body scanners being pushed by the Obama administration in the wake of the failed Christmas Day bombing.

Britain, the Netherlands and Italy already have joined Washington in announcing plans to install more of the devices — which can "see" through clothing — in the aftermath of the attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

But there are deep divisions among European nations, with countries such as Spain and Germany calling the scanners intrusive and a potential health risk.

A trans-Atlantic divide over scanners could throw air travel on lucrative routes — already reeling from the economic downturn — into further disarray.

"The (EU) is considering an initiative on imaging technology to reinforce passenger security, while at the same time addressing the conditions for using such technology, in particular, privacy, data protection and health issues," said a statement released following a meeting of European aviation security experts.

Even if the EU decides to mandate the use of body scanners, it could take many months before the decision is turned into binding regulations all 27 member nations must comply with.

Paul Wilkinson, former director of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University in Scotland, said he hopes that a rift between the U.S. and EU can be avoided because flight safety must be the prime concern.

Wilkinson said terror groups have used flights to the United States as staging grounds for attacks. "So the danger from European airports cannot be discounted, and that should be a consideration when the EU considers its response."

U.S. officials say a Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to destroy a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day by injecting chemicals into a package of pentrite explosive. He failed to ignite the explosive.

Image: U.K. airport security
Jon Super  /  AP
Airport security staff demonstrate a new full-body security scanner at Manchester Airport in Manchester, England, on Thursday. Passengers bound for the U.S. face a hodgepodge of security measures across Europe.
Abdulmutallab, 23, was indicted Wednesday on charges including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill nearly 300 people.

In Washington, President Barack Obama declared anew Thursday that U.S. authorities had the information to prevent the botched attack but failed to piece it together. He announced a range of changes designed to fix that, including wider and quicker distribution of intelligence reports, stronger analysis of them and new terror watch list rules.

Body scanners — which some say could have detected the explosives that were reportedly hidden in Abdulmutallab's underwear — currently employ one of two imaging technologies.

The millimeter-wave version uses high-frequency radio waves that engulf the passenger to project a stylized human figure onto the computer screen. So-called backscatter technology employs very low-energy X-ray radiation to achieve a similar result.

The American College of Radiology has said a passenger flying cross-country actually is exposed to more radiation from the flight at high altitude than from either of the two types of scanners the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is using — the same systems used in Europe.

Neither technology poses concern for any health risks "since they don't penetrate into the body," said James Hevezi, head of the radiology group's medical physics commission and physics chief at Cyberknife Center of Miami, a cancer treatment center.

But that has not allayed fears among many Europeans, who consider the machines potentially dangerous for the health of passengers and airport workers. An attempt by the EU in 2008 to mandate their use floundered because European legislators opposed the move, citing possible radiation dangers and calling for more studies on the health and privacy issues involved.

As a result, the EU has until now allowed individual member states to decide whether or not to use body scanners at airport checkpoints. Both the Netherlands and Britain have conducted experiments with the machines, and have decided to procure dozens to equip their airports.

Germany has resisted and will only deploy scanners if it can be shown that they definitely improve security, do not pose a health hazard and do to not infringe upon privacy rights, Interior Ministry spokesman Stefan Paris said.

Video: Government moves to better secure air travel Spain too has expressed skepticism about the need for body scanners, and the French government remains uncommitted.

Privacy campaigners say the technology, designed to reveal concealed liquids, explosives or weapons violates European law by producing sexually explicit images of the passengers.

Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman with the Muslim Council of Britain, said the Islamic group has privacy concerns about full body scanners but is not taking a position on the issue until more details emerge.

"We have concerns for both Muslim men and Muslim women," he said. "They must be covered up in front of strangers. There are concerns about what exactly the scanners will reveal."

Some experts have questioned the effectiveness of scanners in detecting possible explosives concealed underneath a passenger's clothing, saying the expensive devices contribute only marginally to improved security.

"I'm struggling to discover the logic for adopting the scanner technology," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, an independent watchdog on surveillance issues.

"Any security expert knows this is a red herring, a diversion from the real issue," he said. "The biggest failure in this case was a failure of intelligence."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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