NBC News

Nightly News   |  January 07, 2010

Live demonstration of a body scanner

Jan. 7: NBC’s Tom Costello helps demonstrate how an advanced imaging scanner is supposed to work.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> 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