Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 12, 2006

Explosives detection R&D: the DHS record

Filed under: Aviation Security,Technology for HLS — by Christian Beckner on August 12, 2006

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 DHS’s FY ‘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.

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4 Comments »

Comment by Engr

August 13, 2006 @ 2:21 pm

Airport security is a bottomless pit. Defensive measures, such bomb detection equipment for passengers, are a monumental waste of resources. The terrorists will always be one step ahead. How many terrorists have been caught by airport security since 9/11 (ZERO)? This, like all battles requires implementing the old saying, “the best defense is a good offense”. Here is how the Israeli’s turn the tables on terrorists:

http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2004/12/security_notes.html

It makes politician’s feel good to talk about these things, but they do very little good. Thoroughly searching checked luggage, not allowing carry-on luggage of a certain type, and interviewing passengers is about the best you can do. Beyond that, the FBI, CIA, and our military are much more cost effective ways of dealing with terrorists.

Pingback by EmergencyTech.org » Explosives Detection R & D

August 14, 2006 @ 1:00 pm

[…] Posted by Jamie on 14 Aug 2006 at 01:00 pm | Tagged as: Homeland Security, Counterterrorism, Aviation, Research and Development, Law Enforcement This is lifted directly from this post over at Homeland Security Watch. 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. […]

Comment by zak822

August 14, 2006 @ 4:55 pm

Sigh. Tech certainly has its place in security work. But sometimes, low tech is the answer.

Guy was on ABC’s morning show last week, with his bomb dog. Says it would take about a month to teach him to locate any particular liquid bomb component.

A month versus how many years to develop a high tech solution for one liquid bomb component. And we’re not even talking about cost factors yet.

But there’s no glory in buying dogs, is there? And it does not enhance ones resume much, I’d bet.

And the Congress is still sitting on legislation that would require screening of the stuff that goes into the baggage hold, where you can really put a bomb that can take down an airliner.

Let’s hope they get serious about this.

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