PRLeaked DHS report says X-rays are ineffective at detecting explosives

Published 15 August 2006

According to a 2005 DHS study, images on X-ray machines do not provide enough information to allow the detection of explosives. Still, transportation officials press forward and insist on shoe removal, saying it allows screeners to see if footwear has been tampered with a la Richard Reid.

A story sure to infuriate grumpy travellers: according to a DHS study, airport X-ray machines are useless in detecting explosive liquids and gels. This despite a new Transportation Security Administration order requiring passengers to, once again, place their shoes into the machines. The shoe scans have been optional (which is to say, pointless) for a few years now, but security officials are on edge following the arrests in Britain last week. TSA contends the shoe testing system is critical. “It’s absolutely a security reason that we’re running the shoes through the X-ray machines,” TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe said Tuesday. “Our security officers, after they’ve screened thousands of shoes, can see that shoes have been tampered with or an anomaly in the shoe.”

In its April 2005 report “Systems Engineering Study of Civil Aviation Security _ Phase I,” DHS concluded that “images on X-ray machines don’t provide the information neccesary to detect explosives,” according to the Associated Press, which received the leaked document. Instead, the report recommended the government invest in explosives trace detection systems, such as those that test the hands and shoes of passengers for lingering chemicals.

-read more in this AP report; also, consider the analysis at the Homeland Security Watch blog