WASHINGTON – The Transportation Security Administration yesterday ordered 100 of the same models of bomb-scanners blamed for false-alarm evacuations at major California airports in the last week, WorldNetDaily has learned.
On Monday, an InVision CTX 5500 scanner spotted the image of what looked to be a live explosive in a passenger’s luggage at Los Angeles International Airport, a TSA official at LAX says. Security guards cleared thousands of passengers from the airport,
It turned out to be a dummy grenade, but the
million-dollar machine – which detects densities, not
chemicals – couldn’t tell the difference.
A similar bomb scare took place Feb. 26 at Sacramento International Airport. An aviation-security expert says a $700,000 CTX 2500 mistook a snow globe containing a Mickey Mouse figurine for a bomb.
Before an explosives team determined the bomb was actually a harmless toy, nearly 200 passengers were evacuated and five American and United Airlines flights were delayed.
Critics of the machines say such hassles and delays will become routine as the government orders and installs more of the machines at airports to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to scan all checked bags for explosives.
There are more than 161 bomb scanners installed in the nation’s 429 commercial airports. About 150 are the CTX brand made by Newark, Calif.-based InVision Technologies Inc., one of only two companies certified by the government to supply such equipment.
The government needs to buy and install about 2,200 more of the machines by the end of the year to comply with the new aviation-security law.
InVision announced Tuesday that the TSA has ordered 100 more of its CTX 5500 and CTX 2500 models. The newly created federal agency also placed an order to buy parts kits sufficient to build an additional 300 of the units. Total contract value: $170 million.
CTX uses advanced CT, or computed tomography,
technology to detect densities of various bombs and
explosives. Simply put, the truck-sized scanners take
a series of cross-sections of bags and their contents
and display the images on a computer screen monitored
by security personnel.
But critics say the machines can’t tell a block of cheese or chocolate from a plastic explosive, since both have similar densities. They also are fooled by blood sausage and some sneaker soles. That leads to chronic false positives.
In fact, Defense Department official James O’Bryon recently testified to a House aviation subcommittee that he monitored InVision’s CTX machines at two Washington airports just two weeks before the Sept. 11 hijackings and found they had twice as many false bomb detections as allowed by federal standards.
At San Francisco International Airport, United Airlines says the CTX set off false alarms 30 percent of the time.
“It is a density sensitive, but chemically blind technology,” said Bogdan Castle Maglich, who claims his Irvine, Calif.-based HiEnergy Microdevices Inc. has developed a chemically sensitive device that can accurately ID explosives hidden in bags in just seconds.
Michael Boyd, an independent aviation-security consultant, contends the CTX “doesn’t work.” He notes that the machines have failed on three out of four tries with the New York Port Authority to test for C-4 explosives.
“High false positives result in time-wasting hand searches, which do more to massage dirty underwear than discover explosives,” said Boyd, vice president of BoydForbes Inc. of Evergreen, Colo.
Federal agents who have tested the bomb scanners during airport security stings also say they are unreliable.
In the 1990s, it wasn’t uncommon for “a screener (at the airport checkpoint) to pick out an FAA test bomb on the X-ray monitor that the CTX missed,” said former Federal Aviation Administration special agent Steve Elson.
Bogdan “John” Dzakovic, another FAA security inspector, agrees.
“In 1999, our testing results of the CTX bomb-detection machine were so poor that my boss ordered the Red Team (of undercover inspectors) to start notifying local FAA management several days before we were to conduct tests at a given airport,” he said.
“Our government is now poised to spend $2 billion on these machines,” he added.
In fact, the figure may run as high as $10 billion, because of the added airport cost of housing and maintaining the machines, which weigh 4 to 8 tons and are highly sensitive to dust, heat and humidity.
Oddly enough, the White House and Capitol use a cheaper bomb-detecting device made by American Science and Engineering Inc. of Billerica, Mass.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said at a Monday press conference that he would consider licensing other companies.
He also said he wants a mix of so-called “sniffers” and scanners to check the bags that go in the belly of jetliners. That means also procuring “explosives trace detectors,” or ETDs, which “sniff” chemical residue on bags and are currently used by checkpoint screeners to randomly test carry-on bags for explosives.
The sniffers are small, portable and a lot cheaper than scanners, running about $40,000 a unit.
However, they are a lot slower than the automated scanners, which use conveyor belts to run through luggage.
With ETDs, screeners have to swab the exterior of a bag with a piece of cloth or paper. Then a machine “sniffs” the sample for explosives residue.