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When Technology and Terror Converge

It is said that "necessity is the mother of invention." Often, incidents like the recent body bomb attempt to assassinate Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef lead to adaptation of existing technology as an immediate response. Although the Prince, who also serves as the Chief of anti-terrorism operations in Saudi Arabia, was only slightly injured, the bomber died when the explosives were (prematurely?) detonated, apparently by remote mobile phone. However, the implications of this incident on security at airports and other venues where traditional bomb detection and magnetometer equipment screen people, are obvious.

An expert on airport security said, "If it really is true that the metal detectors couldn't detect this person's hidden explosive device, that would mean that the metal detectors as they currently exist in airports are pretty much useless."

Some of the issues and alternatives were discussed in this article from the Digital Journal.

Possible detection countermeasures:

1. X rays calibrated for soft materials. Not easy, but it's a readily available detection method.
2. MRI scans. Expensive, but possible. MRI can detect and analyze non metallic materials.
3. Thermal profiling may be able to be calibrated to receive anomalous signals. All materials have distinct thermal signatures. Probably the cheapest, and certainly the most effective if it can be done on a large scale.

Operational countermeasures:

1) If phone services can read anomalous signals to unspecified locations, they can locate the sender and the receiver, at least in theory. A GPS reference would be easy enough to create.
2) Sensitive areas could be subjected to jamming measures.
3) Airports could simply require phones to be turned off, or confiscated, to reduce local phone traffic within the security zones.

In a somewhat unrelated technology development we learn of the State Department gifting a new non-invasive scanning system to El Salvador to assist in detection of hidden weapons in the prison systems. The State Department made a $155,000 contract to a Texas company to purchase these "Body Orifice Security Scanners," or B.O.S.S. chairs. The B.O.S.S. chairs are credited with dramatically reducing attacks in the New York State prison system.

Despite the obvious jokes that can be raised by this situation, it is very serious nonetheless. Regardless of whether or not we now are destined to be subjected to new variations of security at the airports, the reality of creative methods of terrorists trying to kill innocent people is very real. But it has to be remembered that for every security measure taken, there are likely to be countermeasures taken. Our enemies, no matter the name they are called (al Qaeda, jihadist etc.), are still very resourceful and resilient.

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