TSA money is spent on mental problems

TSA has installed some new explosive detection equipment to screen passengers:

The federal Transportation Security Administration has finished a pilot program, which started in June 2004, by installing explosives detectors for passengers in 14 cities. By the end of September, 44 detectors will be installed in 10 additional airports, including Pittsburgh, the TSA said.

The explosives detector looks like a doorframe, like the metal detectors now used at the airport checkpoint. Passengers will stand still for a few seconds while the detector releases several puffs of air.

The detector collects and analyzes the air for traces of explosives, according to TSA. A computerized voice will tell passengers when they can step out of the doorway, said Ann Davis, regional TSA spokeswoman.

The machine, which costs more than $3 million, is an added layer of security, not a replacement for any existing security measures, Davis said.

The pilot program gave the TSA the opportunity to fine-tune the machine’s operations, “and it certainly helped improve customer service by reducing the number of individuals selected for pat-down procedures,” Davis said.

Currently, the only way to check passengers for explosives in Pittsburgh is through pat-downs and random searches, Snell said.

“The machine is also very sophisticated and sensitive, and can detect even the smallest trace element of explosives,” Davis said.

That means heart patients who take nitroglycerin, which is one of the prohibited chemicals, could set off the alarm, Snell said. They might smooth the checkpoint process by carrying the medication in the prescription bottle or have a prescription with them, though they probably would be sent to secondary pat-down procedures.

 Cities in the pilot program were Baltimore, Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (Kennedy), Phoenix, San Francisco, San Diego, Tampa, Jacksonville, Fla.; Gulfport, Miss.; Providence, R.I.; and Rochester, N.Y.

Those to be added along with Pittsburgh are Dallas/Fort Worth, Washington, D.C. (Dulles and Reagan National), Charlotte, N.C.; Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, Fla.; Newark, N.J., New York (LaGuardia) and San Juan, Puerto Rico.

$3 Million for each machine???  My guess is the machines will either generate far, far too many false positives or else not detect explosives carried by someone that put reasonable effort into sealing them up.  There is simply far too much overlap in the residue between someone walking through a recently fertilized lawn, an gravel pit, or construction site or other innocent activity and someone who purposely hid explosives on themselves.  I believe that money is being completely wasted.  Well, perhaps not totally wasted–it will make people with certain types of mental problems feel better.