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FIRST, 3D BODY SCANS, NOW HAND SWABS
WASHINGTON - Airport security screeners in the United States are expanding the use of equipment to detect residues of explosives, swabbing the hands of passengers as well as their carry-on items, said the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Wednesday.
For years, screeners have run a swab over carry-ons, often focusing on handles or zippers or other spots that a passenger is likely to have touched.
The swab is then put into a machine that sucks out whatever it has picked up, and looks for molecules of substances used in explosives. Now, the TSA says screeners will use swabs on hands as well.
"This additional screening measure could take place at the security checkpoint, in the checkpoint queue, or boarding areas," the agency said.
The agency said it had expanded efforts to detect explosives at security checkpoints after the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines on Christmas Day.
A Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been indicted in that case.
Now the agency will also be putting the detector machines on carts and rolling them down the concourses to boarding areas, randomly rescreening passengers who are already in the "sterile area" of the airport.
The TSA said this was part of "our layered approach to aviation security". Since the screening is random, "passengers should not expect to see the same thing at every airport or each time they travel".
Hand scanning is being added to the screeners' repertoire now just as shoe scanning was added after Richard C Reid tried to blow up an airplane en route to the US in December 2001.
Even before the bombing attempt on Christmas, the TSA was adding whole-body scanners, which produce images of passengers' skin and could reveal weapons or explosives under clothes; since then it has increased use of the scanners.
It also conducts hand pat-downs, but prefers the scanners because they are faster. The agency looks for explosives using sniffer dogs and uses "behaviour detection officers" who it says are trained to detect passengers who seem ill at ease. The New York Times
From TODAY, Friday, 19-Feb-2010