The foiled UK terror plot has prompted the media to reexamine the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to develop new explosive detection technologies over the past few years. The AP has a detailed story today that looks closely at this history:
As the British terror plot was unfolding, the Bush administration quietly tried to take away $6 million that was supposed to be spent this year developing new explosives detection technology. Congressional leaders rejected the idea, the latest in a series of Homeland Security Department steps that have left lawmakers and some of the department’s own experts questioning the commitment to create better anti-terror technologies.
The $6 million refers to a recent attempt by DHS to reprogram funds to the Federal Protective Service, which faces a $42 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year. Later, the story notes:
The department failed to spend $200 million in research and development money from past years, forcing lawmakers to rescind the money this summer.
The phrase “forcing lawmakers to rescind” is a bit facetious. While it’s true that DHS S&T’s performance has been problematic in many respects, nobody forced Congress to rescind this money during the FY 2007 appropriations process. Congress made a deliberate decision to increase funds for state & local grant programs by raiding S&T’s budget last month. As I noted several weeks ago, “The increases in funds for these programs are made by increasing a rescission to DHSâ€™s FY â€˜06 science & technology budget and cutting the DHS management budget respectively – both questionable judgments, in my opinion.”
Later, the article refers to a technology deployed at Narita Airport in Japan to detect liquid explosives:
The administration also was slow to start testing a new liquid explosives detector that the Japanese government provided to the United States earlier this year.
The British plot to blow up as many as 10 American airlines on trans-Atlantic flights would have involved liquid explosives.
Hawley said Homeland Security is now going to test the detector in six American airports. “It is very promising technology, and we are extremely interested in it to help us operationally in the next several years,” he said.
Japan has been using the liquid explosive detectors in its Narita International Airport in Tokyo and demonstrated the technology to U.S. officials at a conference in January, the Japanese Embassy in Washington said.
This is likely most promising option available in the near-term, and hopefully TSA will accelerate their efforts to field-test it. And DHS S&T should undertake an immediate, comprehensive review of existing technologies and provide targeted seed funding to companies or research labs that have promising technologies which can remedy the system’s vulnerabilities.