WASHINGTON – The government is scrapping a post-Sept. 11, 2001, airport screening program because the machines did not operate as intended and cost too much to maintain.
The so-called “puffer” machines were deployed to airports in 2004 to screen randomly selected passengers for bombs after they cleared the standard metal detectors. The machines take 17 seconds to check a passenger and can analyze particles as small as one-billionth of a gram.
They also break down when exposed to dirt or humidity, the Transportation Security Administration said in a statement released Thursday. Since 2005, maintaining the machines cost the government more than $6 million.
Ninety-four of the machines were deployed to 37 airports in 2004, and the government planned to deploy 113 more at airports. Because of the performance problems, the government decided not to continue the rollout, and the rest stayed in storage.
Unfortunately, the aviation security system is virtually defenseless against such an attack. The X-ray machines and metal detectors at airports can’t identify liquid explosives. Officials have been fretting over this weakness off and on but have done little to develop and deploy technologies to block the threat. The government has been slow to buy so-called puffer machines that blow air on passengers to look for traces of explosive materials, and it has severely cut its budget for research on new detection methods. A few promising technologies are in the wings, but none seem ready to be rolled out quickly.
GE is one of the co-manufacturers of the failed “puffer” machines and I look forward to MSNBC’s (owned by GE) extensive coverage of this debacle. It would be the fair and balanced thing to do, right?