We still live in a time that is largely reactive when it comes to terror. 9/11 hijackers entered airports and airplanes armed with weapons, so airports begin scanning people and bags for weapons. Shoe bomber Richard Reid hid explosives in his shoes in his attempt to blow up a plane, so airports began mandating that passengers remove shoes. So now that we’ve found that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab hid the explosive in his pants, are airports going to begin mandating that passengers remove their pants? Well, not exactly.
In about 20 American airports, TSA has been experimenting with $170,000 full-body scanners that use millimeter wave technology. Essentially, these scanners present sketchy but distinguishable images of passengers’ naked bodies to a TSA screener in a separate room. As of now, TSA is blurring passengers’ faces, but not genitals or breasts. Older backscatter technology revealed in 2003 actually revealed much more detail of the body and was extremely realistic, but it is not currently in use.Currently, the scanners serve as alternatives to the pat downs TSA conducts randomly or in response to passengers setting off metal detectors multiple times. But privacy advocates have been working against it since this technology was first introduced in 2007 at a Phoenix, Arizona airport. They argue that it is a clear violation of individuals’ right to privacy. Supporters of the technology argue that it fills the void that metal detectors and bag screeners cannot — it can detect non-metal objects hidden on one’s person.
I argue that the machines are extremely expensive and don’t actually root out the problem. As I said before, we are still combatting terror from behind. Yes, the technology was first introduced before Abdulmutallab’s attack, but it seeks to target terrorists far too late in their plots against this nation. Just as the 9/11 hijackers found a way around the basic airport security of their day, just a Richard Reid found a way around the post-9/11 airport security of his day, and just as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab found a way past the post-shoe-bomber airport security of his day, future terrorists will attempt to find a way around these full-body scans.
Perhaps the way around will be initiating attacks from international airports lacking high levels of security, perhaps it will be hiding bomb materials in body cavities, perhaps it will be improvising bombs or weapons from within the airport or airplane itself, or perhaps the trend will move towards attacking soft targets such as shopping malls and buses. When our mind-set is more reactive than preventative, these are the realities we will face in the future. Our focus should be directed towards destroying terror cells and preventing terror using intelligence. The goal should be to destroy from afar rather than take the risk of having them strike us from up close first.