TSA Puffer machines pulled from service

Published 28 February 2011

The high-tech $150,000 Puffer machine was designed to blast passengers with a puff of air and then analyze the particles it shook loose searching for any sign of explosive materials; the dirt, debris, and humidity commonly found in most airports rendered the units useless and were determined to rarely work; after spending nearly $30 million to buy and maintain 94 Puffers, TSA last year retired them from service

More than 200 machines once touted as a high-tech response to keep the skies safe have been removed from service.

The 207 Explosive Trace Detection portals purchased by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are now sitting in a government warehouse.

The $150,000 machines were designed to blast passengers with a puff of air and then analyze the particles it shook loose searching for any sign of explosive materials.

When they worked well, they were outstanding,” said Larry Wansley, the former head of security for American Airlines.

The units rarely worked, though. “With the testing that was done in the labs, they really couldn’t simulate an airport environment, and that was the joker in the deck,” Wansley said.

NBCdfw reports that TSA would not agree to an interview, but a spokesperson confirmed that dirt, debris, and humidity commonly found in most airports rendered the units useless.

The agency acknowledges that it spent nearly $30 million to purchase and maintain the so-called “puffer machines.” Less then half of the units were ever deployed.

In 2008 the TSA started quietly to remove the ninety-four units that were deployed across the country. The last remaining machines were removed from service last year.

Critics say the TSA wasted $30 million in a rush to put untested technology into service instead of doing the necessary research.

There is so much government waste,” Wansley said. “This is just another example of the $500 crescent wrench — same thing.”

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