Almost a year ago, I had a chance to tour Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to see European air security in action. This is a monstrous airport, probably one of the biggest in Europe, and they have had in place a group focused on exploring new technologies for security.
This is, of course, where alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would have last been checked before boarding a flight to the U.S. Abdulmutallab, once on the Detroit-bound plane (Northwest Airlines flight 253), mixed a liquid explosives concoction known as PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) and tried to explode the substance as the plane landed in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. Fortunately for all on board, the bomb failed to detonate, the plane landed safely. and the alleged terrorist was taken into custody.
In digging through my files this morning, I managed to find a brochure I had saved about increased scanning at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport that discussed millimeter wave scanning -- the kind of body imaging scan that could have been used to spot the explosives or the detonation device, which were believed to have been carried on Abdulmutallab's body as he went through his security scan in Amsterdam (he had flown from Nigeria to the Netherlands and was continuing on to the U.S.). Interestingly, the brochure notes that the Dutch have been testing this body image scanning technology since 2006, however, the scanning was optional. The technology, which is known for seeing through clothes, has generated a great deal of privacy complaints, but following the Christmas 2009 incident, the Dutch have decided to use the scanners on U.S.-bound flights.
The brochure (PDF downloads: page 1, pages 2 and 3, pages 4 and 5, page 6; JPG downloads: page 1, pages 2 and 3, pages 4 and 5, page 6) appears below and was produced to educate air flyers on the scanning pilot project that Schiphol Airport has been conducting since 2006. The pilot project started with use of the millimeter-wave scanners for flight crew first.
During my tour of Schiphol, I was able to see these scanners in action, being tested on a member of the airport's security team. The imaging was excellent, the process was fast and the detail was quite good. I noted in my previous report that "You can see the line where the top of a sock has made an impression on the calf muscle. You can spot the keys that were left in the persons pocket. You can see the buttons of their shirt, and yes, the detail of “private parts” is certainly there."
Just under a year ago, in that same report, I wrote that Schiphol is "using 15 of these machines in actual security checkpoints right now, and it sounds like they’re ready to ramp this technology up to replace metal detection." Now, it seems, they have more than enough reason to "ramp up" the use of active millimeter scanning.