FAA, Customs testing drug sniffer

Security officials from the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S.

Customs Service are testing a new document scanner that can detect minute

traces of illicit narcotics on airline passenger boarding passes.

The operational tests of the new system are being conducted at McGhee

Tyson Airport in Knoxville, Tenn. Ion Track Instruments (ITI), Wilmington,

Mass., developed the system, known as the Access Control Monitor, which

also can detect traces of bomb-making material.

"There are no document scanners made by anyone that are actually deployed

to detect narcotics," said Paul Eisenbraun, vice president of sales and

marketing at ITI. "This sys- tem is designed to screen people unobtrusively."

The system, which measures about 4.5 feet high, works like other boarding

pass processing machines already installed at most airports throughout the

country.

Passengers insert their boarding cards into a slot on the machine, and

a device known as an ion track mobility spectrometer scans the document

for chemicals. Powered by commercial Intel Corp. Pentium microprocessors,

each scan takes 20 milliseconds to complete. With the flick of a switch,

operators can scan for traces of narcotics or explosive materials and view

detailed results on an LCD monitor.

The FAA could not be reached for comment.

The tests are being conducted as part of the FAA's Safe Skies Alliance,

which is designed to be a test bed for new airport security technologies.

In 1997, the FAA spent more than $12 million on trace- detection security

equipment for use at the nation's busiest airports.

Systems purchased by the FAA under previous contracts included explosives

scanning devices that require operators to first wipe the surface of material

with a filter and then scan the filter.

The Access Control Monitor system enables operators to accomplish both

explosives and narcotics scanning almost simultaneously.

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