Today, as the House Aviation Subcommittee examines the Transportation Security Administration’s efforts to improve aviation security since 9-11 – and particularly its calls for more money – some experts are contending the issue is not sufficient funding, but rather, funding so badly misspent that air traveler safety hasn’t appreciably improved since Sept. 11.
In an eventful week leading up to the hearing:
- John Magaw, who has headed up the newly created agency since Jan. 28, resigned, to be replaced by TSA Deputy Undersecretary and former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard James M. Loy.
- Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, has advocated exploring better technologies and has put forth a proposal to extend the Dec. 31 deadline by which date screening of 100 percent of passenger baggage must be in force at U.S. airports.
- Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta recently testified before Congress that the TSA has run out of money, and that air traveler security may be adversely affected if more money is not quickly appropriated.
But on the eve of the TSA hearings, world-renowned aviation security expert Isaac Yeffet – former director of global security for El Al Israel Airlines, Ltd. and a former director of the Israeli Secret Service – is sounding the alarm.
“Since 9-11, unfortunately nothing has been changed to increase the security of airliners,” Yeffet told WorldNetDaily. “If there are not major changes, we will have to face another tragedy, God forbid.”
“It’s not smart to compromise by spending millions just so the TSA can say they’re doing what the politicians and legislators wanted them to do,” Yeffet said, “Do not state that there is a high level of security when we know it’s not true. Let us tell the American people the truth.”
At the center of the controversy is the contention that over $100 million has been spent on baggage-screening machines – as large as trucks, each costing some $1 million – that are not capable of detecting explosives. Some experts contend the high-priced machinery is soon destined for obsolescence, and serves only as a psychological deterrent for terrorists and a “save-face” for politicians.
“Don’t use x-ray machines when you know it won’t work,” Yeffet warns.
Michael Boyd, CEO of the Boyd Group, an aviation research, consulting and forecasting company, was even more blunt: “The state of baggage-screening right now is chaos. It’s a shambles, a complete shambles.”
Boyd, who has testified before Congress several times, said, “It’s congressional negligence. The DOT [Department of Transportation] has picked the wrong equipment to do the job and Congress has allowed them to make these decisions.” Boyd also told WorldNetDaily that “Congress does not have the moral fortitude to say, ‘We made a mistake,’ the moral fortitude to go in a different direction, or to fire the people responsible.”
Charles Slepian, CEO of the Forseeable Risk Analysis Center, said: “The technology they’re using does not work, that much we do know.” His company analyzes safety and security event data in an effort to identify how future incidents can be avoided.
“They’re too slow, and they mistake tubs of jam for explosives. Credible evidence indicates they can’t find explosives very well,” he added.
Slepian was referring to the latest terminal evacuation due to CTX-machine related problems, on July 15 at Los Angeles International Airport. Officials ordered the partial evacuation of a terminal for about an hour. Harold Johnson, spokeman for LAX told WorldNetDaily the evacuation was caused by an InVision CTX scanning machine that mistook tubs of jam for explosives. It was the fourth such incident.
Baggage-screening is an important component of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, signed by President Bush on Nov. 19, 2001. The legislation removed responsibility for aviation security from the FAA and established the Transportation Security Administration within the Department of Transportation, to handle all transportation security matters, including aviation security.
The law requires that TSA deploy enough explosive detection systems by the end of this year to screen all checked baggage. TSA first had planned to order 2,000 machines, but now has ordered about 1,100 bulk detection machines, such as the CTX or L3, and about 5,000 trace detection machines.
Some airports have complained that they will not be able to reconstruct their terminals by the end of the year to accommodate all the large bulk detection machines. Also problematic is the sheer weight of some machines, which will require floor reinforcement. Space is also a critical issue, with some airport managers claiming there will be practically no room left for passengers. Although the law provides flexibility in such cases, some airports are seeking an extension of the deadline.
According to the DOT Inspector General, of the 1,100 explosive detection machines that DOT says are needed by the end of the year, 1,025 have been ordered, 114 were supposed to be delivered by the end of June, 86 were delivered, and 29 have been installed. With the equipment installed under previous contracts, there are now 215 bomb detection machines operating at airports.
CT scans for baggage
The machines currently certified are made by InVision Technologies and L-3 Technologies. Both use technology derived from medical Computed Tomography (CT) to scan checked baggage. As the conveyor moves each bag through the machine, the system produces a scan projection X-ray image. From this image, the onboard computer determines which areas need “slice” images, taken by the rotating X-ray source. Using computer algorithms, the CTX system analyzes these 3-D slice images and compares their properties with those of known explosives. If a match is found, the system alarms and displays the object on the screen. An operator is then required to decipher the screen display.
The X-ray machines are able to produce precise 3-D images of dense objects, but cannot tell their chemical contents. This is true even of the most precise X-ray detectors, the ones that FAA certified as “Explosive Detection System” or EDS. In the jargon of the security professionals, X-rays, like the metal detectors, are only “anomaly detectors.” They flag the suspicious objects as “possible explosives” which triggers an alarm and, in turn, the manual inspection of the luggage.
Common items such as magazines, chocolate and peanut butter can register as having the “density” of an explosive and thus trigger an alarm. This can cause costly evacuation. In addition, some experts contend that opening questionable luggage could be dangerous, as terrorists may have “booby-trapped” the bag to explode.
Although the machines are currently operating with a 17-30 percent false positive rate, a spokesman for InVision Technologies defended the technology as acceptable based on the fact that it was FAA certified.
But some have questioned the weight of FAA certification, saying that much of the criteria for certification was shaped around the CTX technology. Also, critics argue that since the certification was performed in 1994, and could only be accomplished by using two machines in tandem, such certification is not as impressive as it may sound. Further calls for elaboration and comment from InVision Technologies and the TSA were not returned.
“Here’s the issue,” said Boyd. “They’re trying to make air transportation safer, with acceptable efficiency – but it isn’t any safer, and they’re killing efficiency.” The analyst blames much of the problem on “strong political intervention.”
“I have to say there are political agendas being pushed,” he said. “Daschle is pushing for full disclosure of Bush’s dealings 10 years ago, but he won’t disclose what his wife made from lobbying for these companies.”
Linda Daschle, wife of Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, is a lobbyist for L-3 Technologies. In addition, Fred Roder, a former executive with InVision Technologies, is currently with the FAA, and has been accused by some of blocking the competition.
Says Yeffet, “If we can’t have an X-ray machine we can rely on, how can we tell passengers with American air carriers that they are safe and secure?” He adds, “All it takes is one piece of baggage with explosives not seen and we’ll be facing a tragedy with hundreds of people killed in an air explosion.”
Boyd also contends that the FAA dragged feet looking into new technologies.
Yeffet is not just sounding an alarm, however, but believes he has found part of the solution to the problem. Yeffet has done research into what he contends is a revolutionary new technology that, if given a fair hearing, will transform aviation security in the United States. And Yeffet aims to take this information to government authorities.
The technology is the first stoichiometric detection and imaging technology. Stoichiometry refers to the deciphering of the chemical formulas of unknown substances. The technology can retrieve from 3 feet away, in a matter of seconds, the chemical formula and 3-D image of explosives through steel or soil; of cocaine through rice; or of anthrax through paper. The empirical chemical formulas of substances and their locations are obtained non-invasively, trans-barrier and online.
HiEnergy Technologies is the developer of the technology. Currently they are unaware of any other stoichiometric detector on the market or in the laboratory stages. Dr. Maglich, developer of the technology, explained that the physics involved in the process has been named Atometry.
He explained that the agents being sought are “first irradiated with fast neutrons tagged with alpha particles”
“The neutrons, in turn, cause the agents to emit prompt gamma rays back to the ‘SuperSenzor,'” he added. The radiation involved is far less than that currently used in the CTX machines.
By electronically processing the alpha and gamma signals, formulas are obtained revealing the atomic proportions of carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen – key elements for deciphering explosives and organic compounds.
Ever since the early 1990s, experiments at four governmental laboratories – Naval Research Lab, Argonne National Lab, Los Alamos Scientific Lab and particularly the small Special Technologies Lab in Santa Barbara – have demonstrated the ability of online identification of both chemical elements and their imaging. This has been accomplished remotely (from 3 feet or more), through metal. The technique is called Associated Particle Imaging (API).
In 1999, a California research collaboration consisting of industrial and governmental laboratories reported further advance with API method at a White House Symposium on illicit substance detection. They were able to decipher – remotely and non-invasively, through ? inch of steel – not only the presence of all certain chemical elements in the concealed samples, but the accurate chemical formulas of explosives.
HiEnergy Technology’s “SuperSenzor” is based on this atometery, which was developed in the period 1997-2002 at a cost of over $4 million, by the California Atometry Collaboration, a joint private sector-government-university research consortium led by HiEnergy. Private investors, tech industry and six governmental contracts (four Department of Defense, one Department of Energy, one U.S. Customs) have all contributed to the development of the project. HiEnergy has received no research and development funds from the TSA as yet.
HiEnergy Microdevices, whose product was originally linked to the detection of land mines (reviewed in Jane’s International Defense Review in April 1998) subsequently held tests at the Santa Barbara laboratories of the Special Technologies Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy where anthrax simulant spores inside a sealed steel container were successfully identified.
The man responsible for these new developments, who also recently registered a patent for a revolutionary neutron microscope in 50 countries, is Dr. Bogdan Maglich, chief scientist and chairman of the board of HiEnergy Microdevices Inc. With a Ph.D. in high energy physics and nuclear engineering from MIT, Maglich worked closely with Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez and Vladimir Zworykin of RCA, known as the “Father of TV.”
Maglich, the discoverer of the omega meson (the shortest-lived subatomic particle), has had work on particle physics, particle instrumentations as well as sub-atomic detection devices result in several major inventions. These include neutron photometry and the film-less spark chamber used in laboratories worldwide.
Closely associated on the current project are Dr Albert Beyerle, a physicist formerly with the Department of Energy as well as British-born radiation chemist Dr. George E. Miller, director of the nuclear reactor laboratory, University of California, Irvine. Both men have done pioneering work in related technologies.
Unlike the aforementioned, politically well-connected technologies, HiEnergy Technology has no inside political connections. The 1994 guidelines of the Gore Aviation Commission precluded even considering the technology. Then in 1998, the FAA Technical Center turned down the proposal to build a prototype of such a confirmation sensor. The reason given was that chemical identification of explosives to reduce the false alarm rates was “not in the FAA program priorities.” The implication was that X-rays alone can detect explosives.
In response to what he believed were improprieties on the part of the FAA, Maglich filed a report in 2000 addressed to Rep. Christopher Cox, R.-Calif., chairman of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security. The report detailed alleged conflicts of interest and scientific misconduct by the FAA, including allegations of the compilation of grossly inaccurate “scientific” reports, the intentional misleading of Congress and the American people, and their subsequent impact on national security. The report included alleged violations of criminal law as well.
But in the wake of current and past criticism of the CTX machines, instead of looking at more advanced and cost-effective technologies, the TSA recently awarded a $1 million grant to Quantum Magnetics, an InVision Technology subsidiary, in the hopes that another technology produced by the same company may rectify the problems.
“By combining CT with QR sensors, we intend to reduce false alarm rates while improving overall performance on our FAA-certified systems,” said Lowell J. Burnett, Ph.D., Quantum Magnetics’ CEO and president.
The grant initiates the first six months of a potential 18-month research and development program that the company said has the potential to improve the performance of explosives detection systems However, the technologies advocated by Quantum Magnetics – including quadrupole resonance (QR), magnetic resonance (MR) and electromagnetic sensing technologies – are more limited than atometry.
- QR emits magnetic field signal and gets on the screen the magnetic response signal in a wave form. It builds into its memory the wave form typical of each explosive and recognizes it. The trouble is that its range is only two inches, thus it is considered out of the question for the checked luggage, but good for hand luggage only. However, a “standard” suitcase is 1 ft. x 2 ft. x 3 ft.
- Magnetic fields cannot penetrate even the thinnest sheath of metal, so QR is intrinsically incapable of “seeing” through anything foil-wrapped, let alone through metallic or metalized boxes. Also, the vicinity of metallic objects confuses the wave pattern, and 90 percent of suitcases contain solid metallic pieces. In addition, different explosive mix can give distorted waveform. Moreover, QR is intrinsically incapable of imaging – that is, it does not know the location of the objects. But this is somewhat compensated for by the fact that X-rays gives the precise position.
Despite the alleged “politics of funding” issues, Yeffet is determined to present the new technology to decision-makers in Washington, D.C. After investigating the technology and conducting his own tests, Yeffet signed on with HiEnergy as a consultant. But he contends his primary drive is for the safety of people.
“We’re going to bring a revolution to aviation security. This is what I am going to do,” he vowed.
Still, if security really hasn’t improved at all, as Yeffet and others claim, why the messages of confidence in air safety from the TSA?
“It’s time the public become aware of the fact [that] what they’re watching now is show business,” Slepian told WND. “What they’re looking at in airports amounts to very little. The public has been misled. It has to be misled because otherwise it wouldn’t travel, and the economy hinges on air travel. I don’t endorse it, but that’s the reason for it.”
He adds, “Congress, and America, for another year, will have to cross their fingers, that al-Qaida doesn’t strike again.”
“CTX was certified in 1994. The public needs to be aware [that] for eight years we have known about the weaknesses. But government kept buying. Prior to 9-11, aviation and airlines were not using them because they knew the machines were incapable of satisfactory performance.”
Meanwhile Boyd contends that Magaw’s dismissal was the political version of a mob hit.
“It was quick, it was done to preserve the ‘organization,’ and he never saw it coming. When the coup de grace was administered, Magaw still had a full appointment book, and had no inkling that he was about to get whacked,” said Boyd, who also contends the move was timed by Mineta to deflect criticism from himself. “This infantile tantrum came right after revelations about how the TSA had been squandering money like a drunken sailor near closing time.”
Politics aside, Yeffet summarizes the unfolding controversy: “How can we accept risking the lives of innocent people? How can we allow it?”