BWI serves as air security test lab

Relax. Work your way to the checkpoint. Now smile for the guys in the camera room.

The nation's top homeland security official came to BWI on Monday to unveil new measures aimed at easing stress for airline travelers while still catching terrorist threats - including a much ballyhooed peek-a-boo body scan.

Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff formally announced that BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport will serve as a test site for the measures, dubbed Checkpoint Evolution.

"Everybody who's been to a checkpoint knows it's not a relaxing experience," Mr. Chertoff said.

"We want travelers to get on that plane as quick as possible."

Among the most hyped technology were two "millimeter wave portals" set up at the Concourse B, home to Southwest Airlines. The portals give Transportation Security Administration officers the ability to see items hidden on a person, although passengers must still remove their shoes.

The scanners clearly reveal all the contours of a person's body through clothing, which has raised privacy concerns among some airline passengers and civil liberties advocates.

Faces are obscured, and staff monitoring the scanners are in a separate room. The images will not be kept on file, according to the TSA.

Less sensational technology in Checkpoint Evolution includes advanced X-ray machines, scanners that provide multiple views of carry-on baggage and allow operators to modify the system to look for new threats.

The TSA plans to have 600 of the new X-ray scanners and 30 wave portals at airports nationwide by the end of the year. Each new system checkpoint costs about $1.8 million.

To improve the human element at checkpoints, the TSA also unveiled new standards for training officers in spotting suspicious behavior.

TSA officers at BWI have undergone a 16-hour training program for behavior detection, designed to help them catch potentially threatening passengers by looking for signs of fear, stress and deception. Another 600,000 officers are to get the training nationwide.

"People with something to hide tend to stand out," Mr. Chertoff said.

Another measure announced Monday would give airlines the ability to store biographical information of people who have the same names as those on terror suspect watch lists.

Mr. Chertoff said one airline has reported as many as 9,000 false hits in a day. He did not identify the airline.

"Each airline will now be able to create a system to verify and securely store a passenger's date of birth to clear up watch list misidentifications," the TSA said in a written statement. "By voluntarily providing this limited biographical data to an airline and verifying that information once at the ticket counter, travelers that were previously inconvenienced on every trip will now be able to check in online or at remote kiosks."

The department also announced standard criteria for accepting passenger identification: "Beginning May 26, 2008, federal or state-issued photo ID will be accepted if it contains: name, date of birth, gender, expiration date and a tamper-resistant feature."

Other changes to checkpoints include murals, light panels with information on the new checkpoints, story boards that provide brief bios of security officers, soothing music and automatic conveyor and bin return systems. The aesthetic improvements add another $300,000 to the cost.

The conveyor belts have sensors that send the bins to X-ray scanners, then back to passengers to collect their items or onto officers for further examination.

There are cameras above the collection area that can detect if anything has been left in the bin, even a business card or coin. Once bins are empty, they are sent onto a lower conveyor belt back to the start.

Will Hopkins, a Washington, D.C., resident who flies back and forth to Nashville every other week, said Monday he didn't quite understand the improvements.

"It took a bit longer and there were far more people," he said. "There were 10 people to get the job done instead of three."