Friday, April 30, 2010

TSA Purchases Additional Advanced Imaging Technology Units (And a Quick Word on Automated Target Recognition)

Why did TSA decide to use backscatter instead of millimeter wave advanced imaging technology (AIT)?

This is a question we’ve been getting a lot lately. The truth is we didn’t choose one over the other. We’re currently using both backscatter and millimeter wave technology, and we just announced that we purchased 302 additional imaging technology units. We are buying 202 millimeter wave units  and 100 backscatter units.

In order to be included in the competitive process, strict detection standards must be met. Currently, only two companies have AIT machines that meet those standards. As companies develop new über cool technologies, they can be included in the competitive process.

Speaking of fantabulous über cool technologies, many have also asked why we’re not using Automated Target Recognition (ATR) software since the technology exists. ATR software is used with AIT and displays a generic stick figure-like image on the monitor attached to the AIT machine to show potential threats concealed on a passenger, and does not display the actual image of the passenger. It provides stronger privacy protections and eliminates the need to staff an extra officer in a private room. We’re very interested in this next generation software, but ATR in its current form does not meet TSA’s detection standards.

Software development is currently underway and will be followed by testing to ensure it meets our detection standards.

We’ve posted many times on AIT. You can read much more about it here on our blog, or at

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The TSA Blog Has Moved To A New Address

The TSA blog is now located at You will be automatically redirected in 30 seconds, or you may click here.

For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to

***Update 4/26/2010 11:30 AM***

(We are experiencing some technical difficulties with our archived comments...Please stand by)

Google discontinued FTP support for Blogger, so we had to change things a little. We are aware that comments from May 2008 to present are missing. We think this is due to the migration process and are working to get the comments back. Thanks for your patience. ~ Blogger Bob

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Traveling With Airbags

People have been traveling with airbags lately. No, not their co-workers or annoying neighbors, but actual automobile airbags... You’re probably asking the same thing I asked. Why? Well…I have learned that airbags are extremely expensive to replace once they’ve been deployed. And they’re even more expensive in Europe, so people are buying them here in the U.S. and putting them in their checked baggage and carry-on luggage to avoid shipping costs. (Mostly checked baggage)

What’s the big deal you might ask? According to the FAA Office of Security and Hazardous Material, airbag actuators are on the list of hazardous materials and are prohibited from transport aboard passenger aircraft. (Who knew???) Take a look here to see how airbags are inflated. (Similar to a solid rocket booster) Even though it will be more expensive to ship, it will save you a lot of hassle in the end.

Disclaimer: Co-workers or annoying neighbors may be referred to as airbags, but they are not considered hazmat.

You can also read about this over at the Autoblog, a blog that obsessively covers the auto industry!


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Advanced Imaging Technology Off To a Great Start

Photo of a Knife
Since 2009, officers operating advanced imaging technology (AKA “body scanners”) have found all sorts of things on passengers. Some of these items have been smaller items such as a three inch pocket knife hidden on someone’s back, little packets of powder, a syringe full of liquid hidden in someone’s underwear, and other small items either intentionally hidden or forgotten. These finds demonstrate that imaging technology is very effective at detecting anomalies and can help TSA detect evolving threats to keep our skies safe.

Some might wonder what kind of damage small items could do to a plane since we’re looking for threats such as explosives. At first thought, you would probably think “not much,” but in addition to explosives, we’re also looking for bomb components, among other threat items. There’s more to a bomb than the explosive (timers, initiators, switches, power sources, etc.).

Photo of powder
Since our machines can detect such small items, I feel it’s important to remind passengers that when going through AIT screening, be sure to take everything out of your jacket, pants and shirt pockets. And unlike before with the walk through metal detector (magnetometer), wallets and other stuff you didn’t need to take out before will have to come out so we can get a clean image. And that goes to the folks who tuck stuff in their socks too. Making sure you get all the items out of your pockets will get you through the machine much more quickly without secondary screening and will allow the lines to move faster.

This post highlights that AIT is detecting potential threat items concealed under clothing and its deployment is helping to keep travelers safe by improving security at our airports.

As of yesterday, Charlotte Douglas International Airport is the latest airport to roll out Advanced Imaging Technology.

We’ve talked about this technology on the blog many times and you can read all of the AIT related posts here.

***Update - 4/21/2010***

We wanted to clarify that the ceramic knife in the image used for this post was discovered during the pat down of a passenger who opted out of AIT.

Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Monday, April 19, 2010

Response to: TSA to Download Your iTunes?

The Washington Times recently ran an article with the headline: TSA to download your iTunes? The article says:

“Federal security workers are now free to snoop through more than just your undergarments and luggage at the airport. Thanks to a recent series of federal court decisions, the digital belongings of international fliers are now open for inspection. This includes reading the saved e-mails on your laptop, scanning the address book on your iPhone or BlackBerry and closely scrutinizing your digital vacation snapshots.”

Bottom line: TSA does not search files from your electronic media and will not download your iTunes or any other files. Frequent blog readers may remember an older post about a similar misunderstanding: Can TSA Copy Your Laptop Hard Drive and Search Your Files?


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Federal Air Marshals on Flight 663

The Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) made the news because of the recent incident on Flight 663. FAMs are highly trained to be aware of their surroundings and react in a moment’s notice, as we saw yesterday.

After completing a very rigorous training program to become a federal air marshal, every FAM goes through recurring training throughout their career to sharpen their skills and incorporate tactics based on evolving intelligence information. FAMS training requirements are some of the most rigorous in Federal law enforcement. Each quarter, FAMs train in full size aircraft simulators complete with role players and a wide variety of threat scenarios. And of course, this training is on top of maintaining the highest qualifications in firearms, defensive measures, and physical fitness among Federal law enforcement officers.

FAMS also provides training to airline pilots that volunteer to be part of the Federal Flight Deck Officer program using state of the art airplane simulators, and provides self-defense training to flight crew members. So if something happens on a plane, there is a good chance someone trained by TSA/FAMS will be there to take action. And as we saw on December 25th and in other cases, engaged passengers also serve as a line of defense on the plane when the need arises. This is another good lesson of letting the flight crew know if you see something that doesn’t seem right.

Because they’re undercover, you may not notice them on your flight. But on planes and in airports in the U.S. and around the world, FAMs stand ready to protect airline passengers. Check out this link to learn more about their mission. For additional reading, click here.


Blogger Bob

TSA Blog Team

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Traveling with E-readers, Netbooks, and Other Small Gadgets (Including the iPad)

E-readers, Net Books and other small gadgets are becoming more and more popular for travelers to bring along in their carry-ons. (iPads, Kindles™, Neos, Nooks™, Sony® Readers™ etc.)

Not only are they essential to those who need to stay connected and work or study on the go, but they are also fantastic time killers, which makes these gadgets extremely popular carry-on items. I’ve read many a post from people wondering if these items should be treated like a laptop and removed from their carry-on bags for checkpoint screening.

Great question! Electronic items smaller than the standard sized laptop should not need to be removed from your bag or their cases. It’s that simple.

It’s important to remember, however, that our officers are trained to look for anomalies to help keep air travel safe, and if something needs a closer look, it will receive secondary screening. The key to avoiding bag searches is keeping the clutter down. The less clutter you have in your bag, the less likely it will be searched.

Only electronics the size of a standard laptop or larger (for example Playstation®, Xbox™, or Nintendo®), full-size DVD players, and video cameras that use video cassettes must be removed from their carrying cases and submitted separately for x-ray screening. Removing larger electronics helps us get a better look at them and also allows us to get a better look at the contents of your bag. If you have a TSA "checkpoint friendly" laptop bag, you can leave your laptop in.) 

So, kick back and enjoy your gadgets and all they have to offer. We’ve come a long way since the classic time killers such as Mad Libs and Wooly Willy.


Blogger Bob
TSA Blog Team