Diverse, accurate methods for detecting bomb material and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are entering the marketplace, but even when fully automated or integrated with each other, these technologies offer little protection without personnel trained to think like the adversary, say industry and research experts.
¡°The advances we¡¯re seeing in detection technologies are impressive, and it¡¯s an area where people are trying to fully automate the process, but, at the end of the day, security is human-based,¡± said Amotz Brandes, a former Israeli soldier and currently director and managing partner of Chameleon Associates, a Canoga Park, Calif., security consulting firm.
¡°Automation and integration of these technologies? That¡¯s great ¡ª go for it. But in most cases it doesn¡¯t work [to prevent a security breach or event] without the human dimension and a shift in thinking toward the possible incident as opposed to the historic one.¡±
Brandes and other experts addressed a one-day conference here of government and industry security officials to review the latest techniques for detecting bombs and their perpetrators.
¡°A lot of new technologies have been coming onto the market and we need to look at them,¡± said Yves de Mesmaeker, secretary-general of the European Corporate Security Association, based here.
The technologies reviewed during the conference ranged from the mundane, such as systems for scanning the undersides of vehicles, to the exotic, such as an analysis of human convection plumes ¡ª the small cloud of heat a body releases ¡ª to new uses for older technology like X-rays and microwaves. For instance, GE Security has developed a stand-off vapor-based trace detector that gets around the civil rights problem of taking direct-contact samples from people.
¡°Vapor detection is designed to move [the sampling problem] away from the person toward fingerprints, items and clothing,¡± said James Copeman-Bryant, GE Security¡¯s technical services director in Europe for homeland protection.
He added that ¡°after 20 years, governments are at last coming to industry with advance requests instead of waiting until there¡¯s a crisis that forces everyone to scramble. They¡¯re saying: ¡®Here¡¯s where we think the next problem is. Can you help?¡¯¡±
His company¡¯s new Ion Track detection station extracts and vaporizes minute particles from a human convection plume, and uses spectrometry to determine their composition ¡ª all within a few seconds per scanned person. Due to its high sensitivity and ability to detect both positive and negative ions, the procedure analyzes a wide range of vaporized explosive materials, ¡°about 95 percent of what¡¯s out there,¡± he said.
Asked by de Mesmaeker what the remaining 5 percent was, Copeman-Bryant said it included material such as gun pellets or smokeless powder. ¡°But a terrorist would have to carry a lot of that stuff to bring down an airplane or border post,¡± he said.
Other new IED- and explosive-detection systems combine advanced computer power with conventional technologies to produce similar rates of accuracy.
SecuScan, manufactured by Signalbau Huber of Munich, scans the undersides of moving vehicles to produce images with detail down to five millimeters. Paired with license-plate data generated by partner TopGuard of Eindhoven, Germany, it compares a returning vehicle¡¯s newly scanned image with its previous one to detect alterations. SecuScan is deployed in Afghanistan and sites across Europe.
Another example of squeezing better results from older technology is terahertz (THz) imaging.
¡°There¡¯s been a lot of confusion about THz capabilities,¡± said Mikael Karlstrom, vice president for product engineering at ThruVision, near Oxford, England. ¡°U.S. agencies concluded that THz-based imaging doesn¡¯t work, but that¡¯s because they mainly looked at laser-based THz imaging.¡±
Karlstrom said the THz range used by ThruVision¡¯s system instantly produces a passive scan of the human body from up to 12 meters away that detects threats under clothing layers, but without seeing through people or revealing anatomical detail. Before the end of 2007, he said, the company should offer a ruggedized version with a stand-off detection capability in the 15- to 50-meter range.
Despite the increasingly sophisticated science deployed in detection systems, Brandes reiterated his warning about over-reliance on technology to diminish terrorist threats.
¡°One can still reshape TNT into a statue of Jesus or a dinner plate. Your machine might detect the material, but someone has to recognize the threat,¡± he said. ¡°Don¡¯t forget that the adversary is not standing still. They¡¯re probing these systems and new technologies all the time to find the vulnerabilities. You have to think like they do.¡±