New airport scanner sniffs for explosives on papers

Device is being tested first at Reagan National

September 10, 2004|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Va. - Passengers catching flights at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport face a new security hurdle aimed at electronically sniffing out traces of explosives on boarding passes and other documents.

The federal Transportation Security Administration announced yesterday that it has installed a new explosives detection device at the Washington airport to test the technology.

National is the first airport in the United States to install the Explosives Trace Detection Document Scanner, which was previously tested on a commuter rail line in Connecticut.

Transportation security officials said that as part of the pilot program, the devices would be set up at Los Angeles International Airport, New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport by the end of this month.

The agency's schedule for deploying the technology at other airports, including Baltimore-Washington International, depends on the results of the $300,000 pilot program, said TSA spokeswoman Amy Van Walter.

The document scanners are among a series of technologies introduced by the federal government at U.S. airports after the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackings and terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

They include explosives trace detection portals, which passengers walk through, being tested at four airports.

The TSA is also using biometric identifiers for its Registered Traveler Pilot Program, which lets frequent travelers whose identities have been verified pass through security more quickly.

The document scanning device at National is designed to detect residue from a wide variety of explosives that might have been transferred through contact to items such as boarding passes, tickets, passports or driver's licenses.

Pat Hynes, the TSA's security director at National, said the technology is both sophisticated and sensitive.

"We are talking about the most minute particles of explosives on the document," he said.

Not every passenger will have his or her documents scanned - a process that officials said would take about 10 to 15 seconds.

Von Walter said random passengers would be selected for screening, as would fliers singled out for extra scrutiny for other reasons.

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