Schumer bumps heads with TSA over stalled bomb-tracking tech for NYC transit hubs

Senator accuses feds of keeping technology in 'testing limbo'

New York Daily News
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Sunday called for the TSA to quickly roll out technology designed to thwart terrorist attacks at transit hubs.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Sunday called for the TSA to quickly roll out technology designed to thwart terrorist attacks at transit hubs.
(Alex Edelman/Zuma Press/TNS)

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Sunday called for the TSA to quickly roll out technology designed to thwart terrorist attacks at transit hubs — and accused the feds of keeping the potentially life-saving equipment in “testing limbo.”

The futuristic machines use millimeter wave technology instead of radiation to scan for metallic objects on a person’s body, and can identify the presence of explosives and suicide vests.

The Transportation Security Administration partnered with Amtrak in 2018 to temporarily deploy the technology at Penn Station, and has demonstrated various iterations of the equipment at transit centers across the country since 2004.

Schumer said flaring tensions between the American and Iranian governments call for tighter security in train stations and airports, and said the bomb-tracking tech could save lives if the TSA gave it the green light.

“This critical terror-preventing technology can give law enforcement the upper hand by spotting suicide vests and small explosives — but only if it can escape testing limbo.” said Schumer. "The feds need to explain what’s standing in the way here so we can get to work on addressing the cause.”

TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the administration simply loaned the technology to Amtrak in 2018 so transit officials could learn how it works. She said the MTA and other agencies could purchase the equipment at any time because it is manufactured by private companies.

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The MTA has a suite of technology for tracking and detecting potential terrorist threats — but the agency seldom shares details of its equipment due to security concerns.

“The MTA has a comprehensive, layered safety and security plan to protect our transportation network, and we welcome new detection technologies that can be effectively deployed to further bolster our multi-faceted efforts,“ said Patrick Warren, MTA Chief Safety Officer.

Still, Schumer said the TSA should alert transit agencies and members of Congress if the technology is reliable and ready to use.

“The TSA needs to brief Congress on any hurdles, because all we actually know right now is that for the past 16 years we have been testing," Schumer said.

Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said the TSA has maintained that the technology has not yet been deployed permanently because it’s still under development.

If that’s not the case, then they should “formally and widely update Congress and alert transit agencies on what they might consider next,” Roefaro said.

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