High tech helps airport screening switch

No need to worry so much about tweezers--airport screeners are focusing on explosives, Homeland Security chief says.

Joris Evers Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Joris Evers covers security.
Joris Evers
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--Airport screeners are using new technology to find explosives instead of hunting for tweezers, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday.

Locked and armored cockpit doors and air marshals on planes are part of a switch in main security concern from hijackers to people who might want to blow up airplanes, Chertoff said in a speech at an event here hosted by the Commonwealth Club.

"The things we're really worried about are explosives," Chertoff said. Airport screeners are being retrained "to move them away from looking for things like nail clippers to more sophisticated chemicals and detonating devices," he said.

Homeland Security Secretary
 Michael Chertoff
Credit: Joris Evers/News.com
Michael Chertoff, secretary
of the U.S. Department
of Homeland Security.

Screeners are increasingly using high-tech devices to find explosives, Chertoff said. "But we have got more work to do in terms of being more efficient and more effective with new technologies," he said.

At the same time, the U.S. government is working to make sometimes frustrating airport security checks less time-consuming. Yet there is no perfect security, Chertoff acknowledged. "If everybody had to go on the plane naked, I guess that would be perfect security," he quipped.

In addition to airports, ports featured heavily in Chertoff's speech. He said he has pushed Congress to approve over $500 million in funding, and he noted that President Bush has asked for new technologies to screen cargo coming into U.S. ports for nuclear material.

"This is very important funding, which is urgent that Congress provide," Chertoff said. "I think people are most concerned about...the possibility of radiological material or a nuclear device being smuggled into this country" when it comes to containers, he added.

The Department of Homeland Security already has extensive efforts under way to screen the cargo that comes into U.S. ports. Next year, close to 100 percent of all containers coming into all seaports will be screened or scanned for radiation, he said. These measures are already in place at some ports, such as Oakland, Calif., Chertoff said.

Additionally, there are several checks that get done on cargo bound for the U.S. before it arrives or even before it leaves a foreign port, Chertoff said.

Effective port security requires a number of pieces, Chertoff said. The final piece of the department's plan to secure the ports is being rolled out later this year; giving people who access ports ID badges with biometric identification called transportation worker identification credential, he said.

"We have now set an aggressive timetable to complete deployment of the TWIC card," Chertoff said. "Our goal is to have these cards in the hands of port workers this year with those workers undergoing background checks."

The card will be for hundreds of thousands of people who need to access ports on a regular basis. "It will include biometric technology so we can make sure that the cardholder is really who he or she says that he or she is, and will give us the confidence about who is entering our ports," Chertoff said.