Reagan National tests explosive detector

Transportation Security Administration officials announced this week a pilot test of a trace detection document scanner designed to find explosive residue on boarding passes or driver's licenses.

"TSA's intention has always been to leverage new technologies," said Amy Von Walter, TSA spokeswoman. "As we test them in the lab and we believe they're suitable for deployment, we'll continue to install these and other machines as appropriate."

Officials, citing security reasons, would not go into specifics, but they said the device, made by Smiths Detection, will screen for a very wide range of explosives. The PC-size technology can detect and identify more than 40 types of explosives and narcotics in eight seconds. Officials say the scan will not cause delays.

TSA officials will test the documents of people who set off metal detectors and the approximately 15 percent of passengers randomly selected for secondary screening. In addition, four airports, in Tampa, Fla.; San Diego; Providence, R.I.; and Rochester, N.Y., have explosive trace detection portals. The portals are walk-through machines that send puffs of air from the ankles to the head, releasing dust for analysis.

The 30-day pilot at the four airports will cost $300,000. TSA will add 10 more portals in 2005.

"This test and others studying new trace explosives detection tools, passenger identification and air cargo screening illustrate TSA's commitment to improving security in all modes by utilizing the latest emerging technologies," said retired Navy Rear Adm. David Stone, the agency's assistant secretary for homeland security.

The user-friendly document scanner works by displaying a result on a screen, after officials swipe a document's top and bottom against a retracting tray and press a button. The gauze on the tray, which collects the dust, must be replaced after every test.

Tests of the technology along the Connecticut Shore Line East commuter rail service returned false positives, "and we resolve these," said Darrin Kayser, a TSA spokesman.

Los Angeles International Airport, New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport will get scanners later this month.


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