High-tech security in the wings

Mineta's Jan. 16 speech

Airlines will rely heavily on low-tech solutions as they begin screening all checked baggage for explosives Jan. 18, but they'll be rolling out high-tech scanners as the year unfolds.

At first, airlines will choose from a menu of approved options that include bag matching, hand searches and bomb-sniffing dogs to comply with the congressionally mandated deadline, according to senior administration officials from the Transportation Department.

Those with high-tech scanners that can detect explosives will deploy them to their "maximum capacity," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said Jan. 16 in a speech during the Transportation Research Board's annual conference in Washington, D.C.

"We will continuously upgrade our screening capability, ultimately meeting the requirement that each checked bag be screened by an explosive-detection system by the end of the year," Mineta said.

The agency must obtain about 2,200 more machines before it can meet that target at all of the nation's 429 commercial airports. So far, DOT has certified two companies, InVision Technologies Inc. and L-3 Communications, to provide the devices and will certify a third, officials said.

"We are looking at a wide variety of innovative approaches using technology, different ways to run the check-in process and procurement strategies that can get us to the goal," Mineta said.

The agency posted a public appeal for product suggestions on its Web site in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A committee report on the more than 1,000 recommendations has not been released. However, biometrics, which uses techniques such as facial recognition, fingerprinting and retinal scans, and smart cards have been brought up as possibilities in hearings.

Although technologies are still being examined, the high-tech industry has secured at least one role.

Under a newly established senior adviser program, executives from private companies including Intel Corp. and Solectron Corp. have volunteered to help get the new Transportation Security Administration up and running. The executives and their firms must agree to resolve any conflicts of interest and sign nondisclosure agreements, officials said.

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