Price discrepancy on explosive sniffers

Last Thursday I posted about new explosive detection machines costing $3 Million each.  Here is an article saying they cost only $130K to $150K each.  A much more reasonable price to pay.  I don’t know which is correct but it really doesn’t matter all that much because the most interesting portion of the article is this:

Sniffers are proving to be very sensitive, said Deirdre O’Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the TSA, sometimes indicating “hits” for persons who might have had contact with substances such as fertilizers, which can be used to make explosives.

So far, she said, sniffers haven’t uncovered anyone of interest or suspicion to law enforcement officials. Still, terrorists have lots of weapons that worry the air travel industry and law enforcement agencies. Shoulder-mounted rockets, for example.

This is the problem… The number of false positives far exceeds the number of valid detections and will always be the case.  If the alarm threshold is adjusted such that a reasonable number of false positives are experienced (say 1%) then a well scrubbed explosive device will pass.  If the threshold is set such that nearly any amount of care in explosive device preparation will be caught then the majority of innocent people will be subject to additional searches.  Because of the high cost (time of the screeners as well as the complaints of the innocent) and predominance of hits being false positives (100% so far) the threshold will be adjusted such that the well scrubbed device will pass without detection.  And this scenario doesn’t even include active opponents working against the machines in the days to weeks ahead of the attempt to get an explosive device past the machines.

Hence the explosive detection machines do nothing but provide comfort for those with mental problems (denial in this case) and actually make things less secure because that same money could have been spent on effective security.


2 thoughts on “Price discrepancy on explosive sniffers

  1. On day 2 of this year’s Boomershoot Clinic I made a nice ten-shot group on a Boomer that didn’t explode. As I was a novice shooting at that range, it was a trophy target as far as I was concerned, so when we all walked down to the line I dumped out the explosive and took the cardboard target shell home with me in a plastic bag.

    At the Boise airport, I explained what my “souvenir” was to the TSA fellow, who ran it through the sniffer. It came up negative. Now mind you, there was visible powder on the target and the plastic bag was not sealed. I was happy to get on the plane without any hassle, but still it was startling to me that the target made it through that easily.

  2. It’s not about security. It’s all about making the people with mental problems feel better.

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