The chief of the Transportation Security Administration sought to assure airline travelers Tuesday that X-raying shoes at security checkpoints is a reliable way of detecting weapons and explosive devices.
Under new orders this week, all airline passengers must put their shoes through X-ray machines at checkpoints. But according to a 2005 Homeland Security report on aviation screening, the machines don’t help screeners find a specific liquid or gel that can be used as a bomb.
At a news conference, TSA chief Kip Hawley said the screeners have been trained to see whether a shoe has been tampered with when they look at its X-ray image.
“It does take the human brain to make the interpretation on X-ray, but it is, frankly, not the most difficult thing we have to do to find potential shoe bombs,” Hawley said.
He displayed a mock-up of shoes worn by Richard Reid — who was arrested aboard a transatlantic flight in 2001 when he tried to ignite an explosive device hidden in his shoe — and shoes with no explosive device.
“You can see very clearly the difference between a shoe with an explosive and one without,” Hawley said.
This is good news, but it’s still imaginable that sophisticated terrorists could modify shoes in ways that carefully remove all signs of tampering. The most appropriate response to this reality is a layered approach to aviation security, that includes not only screening but also behavior detection, risk assessment for pre-screening, and intelligence activities.