Thursday, May 21, 2009

Explosive Trace Detection



By now, I’m sure most of you have heard about or seen firsthand pieces of TSA security equipment affectionately referred to as “puffers.” Officially known as Explosive Trace Portals (ETPs), passengers enter the machine stationed at the security checkpoint before proceeding through the metal detector. Several “puffs” of air are released in an effort to shake loose trace explosive particles on the passenger. Over the years, TSA has determined that trace portals do not meet the requirements for operational suitability due to frequent maintenance issues. TSA also determined that more reliable and effective screening technologies have become available since ETPs were first introduced. For these reasons, TSA has decided to phase out this technology.

ETPs were first deployed to airports in a pilot capacity in June 2004. At the program’s peak, 94 of the 207 units originally procured by TSA were deployed to 37 airports. Over the years, TSA gathered performance data on several variations of the technology.

As the ETP pilot progressed, it became increasingly apparent that tweaks and fixes were unable to resolve ETP maintenance issues caused by dirt and humidity common to any airport environment. In the summer of 2008, TSA made the decision to begin phasing out ETP technology.

All things said and done, TSA spent approximately $29.6 million on explosive trace portals. Of this, approximately $6.2 million was spent on maintenance on the 94 deployed units. Currently, there are 33 ETPs deployed to 15 airports. ETPs that are still in use at airports continue to support a dynamic layered screening approach.

Earlier this year, TSA opened a brand new testing facility called the TSA Systems Integration Facility (TSIF). At this facility, TSA tests a variety of security screening technologies in simulated airport environments. This facility will allow TSA to more effectively measure operational suitability prior to deployment.

Blogger Paul

EoS Blog Team

48 comments:

RB said...

Why did TSA buy so many of these machines if the performance had not been proven first in testing.

What company supplied these machines and what efforts were made for that company to make their machines perform as advertised?

Can any of the machines never depoloyed be returned to and the investiment cost recouped?

Who is responsible for the purchase decision and what punitive steps will be taken against this person who has wasted our tax dollars?

How has TSA reformed its purchasing plans to prevent this type of event from ever happening again?

Bottom line why did TSA buy something that does not work?

Anonymous said...

How many evildoers passed other security checks and were caught due to usage of these ETPs?

How much did the TSIF cost to open and how much will it cost to operate?

How much of the $30 million dollars in equipment (not to mention training and staffing costs) will be recouped?

Dunstan said...

"TSA tests a variety of security screening technologies in simulated airport environments."

Probably with enhanced TSOs as well. None of the churlish, rude or contradictory behavior we have been contending with at real airports, I am willing to wager.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure to be subjected to this infernal machine. It was uncomfortable and degrading.

If its use was optional, I was never informed of it and I did not see any signs to that effect. They were just ordering (in typical yelling fashion) groups of people to go through it.

It was also painfully slow. The lucky people who didn't have to go through it made it pass the TSA security theater considerably faster.

Anonymous said...

Sort of like closing the barn door after the horses have run out isn't it? Why wasn't this testing done at an environmental test facility before millions of tax payer dollars were spent. A couple weeks in the environmental chamber at 90% humidity and 90 F would have been much cheaper.

So who was the project manager on this TSA/DHS fiasco? What repercussions will this project manager face?

Tomas said...

Whew! THAT cost a lot.

Tom

Anonymous said...

EPIC FAIL. What caused TSA to buy so many puffers before it knew whether they would work in the airport environment. Now we are just plain out millions of dollars for puffer machines that were never deployed (not to mention the ones that were deployed and are now being removed from airports). Is this a case where TSA felt rushed to make a procurement or change procedures and moved too quickly? Was is haste that made a waste of this puffer program? What lesson has TSA learned from this puffer debacle?

Anonymous said...

The TSA wasted money on unproven, unreliable and unmaintainable techniques and technology? Really? Who'd have thought it was possible with an organization so famous for well thought out plans, secure procedures and professionally trained workers.

Nik said...

Interesting; I always thought that sort of screening equipment would be rather sensitive to false positives. I know here in UK it's been used at some MOD facilities and caused all sorts of problems with servicemen who are not unsurprising bringing in trace!

Anonymous said...

Fraud, Waste, and Abuse at its finest!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the appalling statistics. Now can you please tell us how much TSA has paid (and to whom) for so-called "behavior detection" training? Also, can you please tell us whether the science behind the BDO program has been peer-reviewed?

DCA TSO said...

All things said and done, TSA spent approximately $29.6 million on explosive trace portals. Of this, approximately $6.2 million was spent on maintenance on the 94 deployed units. Currently, there are 33 ETPs deployed to 15 airports. ETPs that are still in use at airports continue to support a dynamic layered screening approach.How? How are they used as a dynamic screening approach?

Earlier this year, TSA opened a brand new testing facility called the TSA Systems Integration Facility (TSIF).I would think that part of the money wasted on the ETP's we're given to this facility, yes? I've already seen pictures & video of the TSIF. I would like to know, how exactly are you going to implement all the future or Evolution like changes to some of these airports like DCA whose space is too small.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that you are so forthcoming with information like this. It gives me a bit more confidence in what you guys are trying to do.

Can I ask how many people were actually caught trying to smuggle explosives by using these machines?

Harry Nicholson said...

Back in 2003, I was working for an aerospace company as a program manager. My VP was on a trip to DC and a bunch of us senior management folks went out to dinner. The VP was really interested in capturing some business with the DHS and TSA. My comment to him was, "There is no better government customer than one with money to burn who is also clueless."

You obviously haven't changed one bit. The virtual strip search machines are the latest example.

The puffers are an object lesson in incompetent acquisition management and technical expertise. Not having a test requirement to make sure the system performs in an operational environment (a real airport rather than a contractor's clean room) is, at best, negligent.

This just reeks of lack of a strategic plan, lack of a halfway decent systems spec, and what appears to be a non-existent test and verification plan.

But, enough of my opinion. Here's what the GSA has had to say about your world-class acquisition ability:

http://tinyurl.com/osn7fn

Some quotes:
TSA did not follow sound contracting practices in administering the contract with Boeing, and TSA paid provisional award fees totaling $44 million through December 2003 without any evaluation of Boeing’s performance.

TSA did not develop life-cycle cost models before any of the maintenance contracts were executed...

TSA officials provided no evidence that they are reviewing required contractor-submitted performance data, such as mean downtime data. TSA officials told GAO that they perform such reviews, but do not document their activities because there are no TSA policies and procedures requiring them to do so. As a result, without adequate documentation, TSA does not have reasonable assurance that contractors are performing as required and that full payment is justified based on meeting mean downtime requirements.
The above report was issued for the baggage portals and is indicative of the level of incompetence that led to the puffer cancellation. The technology is very similar to the puffers. The TSA people doing the acquisition are identical and obviously have no expertise.

Patrick (BOS TSO) said...

Well, they removed the one and only puffer here in Boston.

RB said...

With Memorial Day fast approaching I think it would be prudent to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice paid by so many patriots during the history of the United States, only now in recent years to have their patriotic acts demeaned by a single agency causing great damage to the legacy left to those of us now alive.

It is a sad time for patriots.

Patrick (BOS TSO) said...

RB said...What company supplied these machines and what efforts were made for that company to make their machines perform as advertised?RB, actually, it was two companies and they're right there at the top of the post in those pictures. Those were the two units TSA used.

They were made by Smiths (which also makes many of the X-ray units we use, plus our ETD machines) and good ole' General Electric (who also makes ETD machines we use).

The GE unit was the one we used in Boston. Good thing, the GE division was based nearby because it certainly did break down alot. ;) I blame it on Windows CE. :P

Anyways, here's the contact info for GE, go ahead and ask them that question.

Joe said...

Amazing. You spent our money and never even deployed all of these units to the field. What a waste. I predict the strip search machines will encounter the same fate.

Why not spend this money on technology so that we can keep our shoes on and bring liquids on board like other sane countries allow?

Anonymous said...

Why waste time, money, and effort perfecting a non-invasive technology like ETP which actually detects threats to aviation (explosives), when you can force much more invasive virtual strip-search machines on the public?

:(

I bet TSA just loves that their virtual strip-search machines can detect "artfully concealed" cash, which is perfectly legal but has been declared contraband by TSA. And the virtual strip-search machines are better than puffers at perpetuating TSA's war on drug-like-substances.

Maybe when either the courts or public outcry strike down the virtual strip search machines you'll go back to researching ETP. I suspect that the first time naked images of a child are leaked by a rogue TSO the web, or the first time a known pedophile is caught working the WBI machine (which is inevitable), the public might finally stand up to TSA and its bullying of the American citizenry.

Anonymous said...

Now can you please tell us how much TSA has paid (and to whom) for so-called "behavior detection" training? Also, can you please tell us whether the science behind the BDO program has been peer-reviewed?
********************************

TSA spent a little over $3M on the program in FY 08.

The science behind TSA's SPOT Program has been verified by the work done by Dr. Paul Ekman and Dr. Mark Frank among others. Their work has been supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, DHS Science and Technology and DOD. The SPOT Program also includes the research work of Dr. David Givens from the Center for Non Verbal Studies. These scientists are frequent trainers of law enforcement as well as most of the US Intelligence Agencies and the FBI. These scientists have reviewed the SPOT program and support its scientific
validity.

Brian said...

"Fraud, Waste, and Abuse at its finest!"

I may not have the eaxct wording, but...

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

I can agree that it's wasteful but I don't see this as fraud or abuse...just inadequate testing/evaluation before a major purchase.

Anonymous said...

The TSA surely deserves our criticism for this latest costly failure. But they also deserve our congratulations and appreciation for finally admitting that they made a mistake. That's a major accomplishment from an agency that has spent its entire existence pretending to be infallible, and has consistently responded to embarrassing revelations by denying, concealing, or spinning them away.

Let's hope that this apparent breath of fresh air represents a genuine change in the TSA's approach that portends the urgently-needed reform of a failed agency.

Anonymous said...

"TSA tests a variety of security screening technologies in simulated airport environments."

Probably with enhanced TSOs as well. None of the churlish, rude or contradictory behavior we have been contending with at real airports, I am willing to wager."
Dunstan...what point does your comment make? And who really cares, its beside the point of discussion. Drama must make your world go round.

Anonymous said...

"With Memorial Day fast approaching I think it would be prudent to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice paid by so many patriots during the history of the United States, only now in recent years to have their patriotic acts demeaned by a single agency causing great damage to the legacy left to those of us now alive.

It is a sad time for patriots."

How has a "single agency" caused great damage? And what does this comment have to do with the topic of discussion?

Anonymous said...

Not to worry, when these go on the auction block you might be able to pick one up on Ebay for a couple hundred bucks.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
So who was the project manager on this TSA/DHS fiasco? What repercussions will this project manager face?


He will probably get a promotion to Secretary of the Treasury. If you guys want to see blood so bad go watch the newest Rambo movie -_-.

Mr. Gel-pack said...

Brian said...

"Fraud, Waste, and Abuse at its finest!"

I may not have the eaxct wording, but...

"Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity."

I can agree that it's wasteful but I don't see this as fraud or abuse...just inadequate testing/evaluation before a major purchase.

##############

It is malicious on the part of TSA management when they do these things repeatedly. The statistics of a 1-in-a-billion event detection system is so bad, that problems like this will plague any alternative. If you have the any system set sensitive enough to detect a 1-in-a-billion terrorist, the false alarm rate on 2,000,000 people per day will make the system unworkable. The other alternative is to set the failure rate to manageable levels and ignore the detection rate, (See BDO)

Pouring money into the TSA hole is stupidity. Pouring other people's money into the hole repeatedly is malicious.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous wrote...

"I bet TSA just loves that their virtual strip-search machines can detect "artfully concealed" cash, which is perfectly legal but has been declared contraband by TSA."

Sorry, I just keep laughing when I read that. Just too funny.

But I'm glad you let me know TSA policy, because in the years since I've worked at TSA I have always let people keep and transport their cash (in fact, it really wasn't my business if they had cash on them) - but now I know that cash is contraband and it shouldn't be allowed. Thanks for the help!

By the way, just about every country has laws that you must declare when large amounts of actual currency are taken out of the country. Don't believe me, look it up. That information is easy to find on the internet.

Not to say that money can't be taken out of most countries. It simply must be declared. This was law long, long, long before TSA was here.

Odd that nations would want to sort of keep track if large amounts of money were leaving the country... think about it and see if you can figure out why nations would do this. It actually makes sense.

But still, you had a funny post, and it made me laugh. So thank you!

NoClu said...

Annon,
I think you miss the point made by a number of previous posters.

Traveling with cash domestically is nothing that the TSA should even be thinking about. It has nothing to do with transportation/safety. In fact, it's actually not something that your agency should be looking at if someone is traveling internationally. Your agency isn't tasked with checking to see that the money is declared.

Unfortunately, because the airport security checkpoints are becoming more of a dragnet for a wide variety of non-safety related issues, the ability to perform your actual job is even further diminished.

Anonymous said...

TSA spent a little over $3M on the program in FY 08.

The science behind TSA's SPOT Program has been verified by the work done by Dr. Paul Ekman and Dr. Mark Frank among others. Their work has been supported by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Science Foundation, DHS Science and Technology and DOD. The SPOT Program also includes the research work of Dr. David Givens from the Center for Non Verbal Studies. These scientists are frequent trainers of law enforcement as well as most of the US Intelligence Agencies and the FBI. These scientists have reviewed the SPOT program and support its scientific
validity.


Are these the people who have designed the program, or are they competent, unbiased. consultants? Are the same people who we are supposed to trust to evaluate the program being paid to implement it?

Anonymous said...

NoClu said...

"Annon,
I think you miss the point made by a number of previous posters.

Traveling with cash domestically is nothing that the TSA should even be thinking about. It has nothing to do with transportation/safety. In fact, it's actually not something that your agency should be looking at if someone is traveling internationally. Your agency isn't tasked with checking to see that the money is declared.

Unfortunately, because the airport security checkpoints are becoming more of a dragnet for a wide variety of non-safety related issues, the ability to perform your actual job is even further diminished."


No I don't think I missed the point made by a number of people. I simply disagree with most of those opinions.

I think much of the misunderstanding on the part of people who belive as you do comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of all of the rolls TSA is tasked with, and what employees of TSA, as employees of the federal government in a security position (NOT law enforcement), are required to do when these employees encounter certain situations.

You are correct that TSA should have no concern regarding whether or not someone carries money on a domestic flight; we are not. There are some TSO's who make severely stupid decisions, and they should be held accountable. No argument there.

However, to suggest that TSA should not confirm whether moneies in excess of a specific amount set by law have been declared simply because you consider it "mission creep", or some other similar term, is not valid.

I will explain very briefly why international travellers are required by law to the declare money, specifically how it relates to TSA. Actually I won't. I will post a link to an IMF website, let you read it and let you figure it out.

Sorry, I am not tech savy enough to make a hyperlink, and I don't feel like using more time to learn now, just follow the link. Also, if you do so, you wont have to take my word for it.

http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/facts/aml.htm

I suggest you read the "9 Sepcial Recommendations on Terrorist Financing" (SRTF). Pay specific attention to Section IX, entitled "Cash Couriers".

Here is a excerpt... "Countries should ensure that their competent authorities have the legal authority to stop or restrain currency or bearer negotiable instruments that are suspected to be related to terrorist financing or money laundering, or that are falsely declared or disclosed."

But I suggest you read the entire Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) report before you make the claim that this has nothing to do with terrorism. Like I said, I believe much of this misunderstanding has to do with people who belive such as you.

Ka-doosh!

Jim Huggins said...

Anonymous writes:

"Countries should ensure that their competent authorities have the legal authority to stop or restrain currency or bearer negotiable instruments that are suspected to be related to terrorist financing or money laundering, or that are falsely declared or disclosed."

Except that this is outside TSA's own stated mission. From TSA's own website:We are the Transportation Security Administration, formed immediately following the tragedies of Sept. 11. Our agency is a component of the Department of Homeland Security and is responsible for security of the nation's transportation systems. With our state, local and regional partners, we oversee security for the highways, railroads, buses, mass transit systems, ports and the 450 U.S. airports. We employ approximately 50,000 people from Alaska to Puerto Rico to ensure your travels – by plane, train, automobile or ferry – are safe and secure.

How does controlling the flow of currency across international borders have anything to do with overseeing security on our nation's transportation's systems?

Yes, international currency flow is related to terrorism. But TSA isn't the anti-terrorism agency. Just because there's a problem out there doesn't mean that every federal agency has to be responsible for addressing it.

carp said...

> Can any of the machines never depoloyed
> be returned to and the investiment cost
> recouped?

Security is not an investment. Investments have returns, security is just a cost, and never returns anything but more cost.

Schneier touched on this a bit in a recent article on "Stealing Commodities" (you know, like lead roofing tiles, and copper pipes):

"Security can be viewed as a tax on the honest, and these thefts demonstrate that our taxes are going up. And unlike many taxes, we don't benefit from their collection. The cost to society of retrofitting manhole covers with locks, or replacing them with less resalable alternatives, is high; but there is no benefit other than reducing theft. "

(article is here: http://www.schneier.com/crypto-gram-0904.html#7 )

So the cost of deterring terrorists is high. Very high as far as I can tell. The ONLY benefit, is reducing terrorism (not eliminating).

Since terrorism is so incredibly rare, its pretty clear (o me anyway) that we have LONG SINCE reached the point of diminishing returns.

I absolutely seriously ask you... what has cost us "honest people" more.... 9/11, or all of the spending that it has been used to justify? The loss of civil liberties?

We annoy everyone with long airport lines, intrusive searches, etc... all to catch, as Jim Higgins here put it "the one in a billion terrorist". Then on top of it, raise everyones airfare for it (a mandatory tax is tantamount to a raise in fare), then take their tax dollars for it too.

Security apologists have done more harm to this country than all of the terrorists combined could have dreamed.

If anything, its an increase in risk, because its done nothing but show terrorism to be an effective way of convincing us to waste money and harass our own people.

If I were an Al Queda member, I would consider this part of the response to be exactly what I wanted to see, and would use these extreme overreactions in my recruitment activities.

All you are really doing, is making becoming a terrorist seem more reasonable and making their recruitment efforts more effective.

Good job guys. Proud to be an American here.

-Steve
PS Why does this blog not allow blockquote tags? sometimes they really are appropriate.

carp said...

> But I suggest you read the entire
> Financial Action Task Force on Money
> Laundering (FATF) report before you
> make the claim that this has nothing to
> do with terrorism. Like I said, I
> believe much of this misunderstanding
> has to do with people who belive such
> as you.

How about people who believe terrorism isn't a credible threat? Sure, you TRY to hurt their financing, they will find a way around anything you try.

You can try to do anything... but they are so rare, so incredibly rare, they do so little.

There just are not enough competent terrorists to justify even writing a report like this, much less reading it.

Its NOT a major issue. Its just something people have an irrational fear about.

A better report would be one on heart disease, or something that is...well... a real threat.

You are more likely to be killed due to a storm bringing your plane down than a terrorist. Sorry to have to break it to you.

If your really so afraid of terrorists, I highly recommend professional help for crippling paranoia.

-Steve

Mikhail said...

I did not think that it is may cost so much!

Anonymous said...

Carp said...

"> But I suggest you read the entire
> Financial Action Task Force on Money
> Laundering (FATF) report before you
> make the claim that this has nothing to
> do with terrorism. Like I said, I
> believe much of this misunderstanding
> has to do with people who belive such
> as you.

How about people who believe terrorism isn't a credible threat? Sure, you TRY to hurt their financing, they will find a way around anything you try.

You can try to do anything... but they are so rare, so incredibly rare, they do so little.

There just are not enough competent terrorists to justify even writing a report like this, much less reading it.

Its NOT a major issue. Its just something people have an irrational fear about.

A better report would be one on heart disease, or something that is...well... a real threat.

You are more likely to be killed due to a storm bringing your plane down than a terrorist. Sorry to have to break it to you.

If your really so afraid of terrorists, I highly recommend professional help for crippling paranoia.

-Steve"

Wow. Ok. Tell me, whats the world you live in like? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

Traveling through Denver, I had never seen one of these machines before and did not know what it was when a very rude and nasty female ordered me to "hurry up". I began to have a panic attack, thinking they were going to x-ray me or something. The machine was not labeled. It could have been a time machine for all I knew. They need to clearly label each machine that gives a brief description. I kept asking, "what is that, what is that...I don't want to go through that...” at which point, lucky me, got the "looks" and a call. I quickly acquiesced and when the door locked tightly, I thought I'd pass out from fear (this is a little extreme, but when you don't know what you just got locked inside of, all things pass through your mind)...in any event, I made it through, but the people were very nasty. You are obviously not supposed to ask anything and have blind faith that you were not being beamed and tagged and imprinted for life. A simple descriptive sign would have eased the experience. But...all of that was in vein since they're not going to be around, along with the x-ray machines. Why not train dogs? They won't snap at you like the workers and are better at reading human nature than man and machines.

William B Doyle said...

I was an operator and instructor for backscatter xray vans, so I'm familiar with what TSA is trying to accomplish.

I agree - testing in a controlled environment by the manufacturer should be required and come first prior to fielding any equipment.

Folks, ya gotta remember the total knee-jerk reactions the gov't spasmed through after 911.

Throwing money all over the place hoping at whatever it stuck on would work, solve the terrorist, terrorism problem and be the anti-terrorism solution.

It was security contractor's dreams come true!

As for the xray machines, relax.

Funginix gal said...

Anything to ensure safety should be considered, even though I'm sure it's a money thing also!

Dr. Nanogreens said...

Not sure why TSA would purchase something that does not work. But anything to further enhance our safety flying is supportive.

Alex Gray said...

Another example of spending on equipment that only reinforces passengers' anxiety and stress at airports, and adds nothing to their reassurance.

Ann At Cashmere Pashmina said...

Whilst it's easy to criticize the TSA for spending so much money on an unproven technology, surely everyone can relate to a funding decision made in the aftermath of 9/11 that say no price is too high to prevent the loss of anther innocent life.

Isn't it worth it to risk $30 million to help prevent that kind of atrocity occuring again. Infact, doesn't the amount appear insignificant in comparison with more recent banking bail outs?

The question I've got to ask is, in the battle of the minds which the war on terror has become, is a "puffer machine" really the best option? If a terrorist is handed explosive material in a hermetically sealed bag doesn't this simply bypass all this expensive technology?

David said...

Interesting, It costs way too much money, and it will not work effectively! no why? humm

David said...

Its one of the unfortunate side effects of fear-mongering. We cant completely blame TSA for this huge waste of resources, if they did nothing the frightened American public would be just as upset.

Joseph said...

The device really is promising but if it does not ensure a hundred percent effectiveness then it's a total waste of money at all.

Brian said...

I would much rather go through this than being man handled by the TSA agent at the airport. When will all airports have them installed?

Kyle said...

Hi, i agree that is very costly to the people. I also think that as far as security is concerned, it just might be an acceptable loss. We cannot put a price on the safety of our people. BUT, we also need to be more careful with our spending, VERY careful, so that this sort of thing does not happen again.

thanks

TileGuy said...

I think that this is a plus for everyone traveling! A+