New TSA camera scanner aims to spot concealed explosives

CBS NEWS -- A new security screening technique is being tested a week before what's expected to be a record-breaking holiday travel season. The scanning system is designed to spot hidden explosives and suicide vests, similar to the one used in Monday's botched terror attack in a pedestrian tunnel in New York City. The TSA equipment is now being tested in Los Angeles, and it's also been tested at rail hubs in Washington.

The video of Monday's pipe bomb attack in New York City makes clear the danger as it goes off in a crowded tunnel. It's the kind of suicide bomber style attack the system is designed to try to stop using cameras to scan people entering the transit system for dense items concealed under their clothing, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave. 

"We're really looking for those alarm indicators. And so as that bar turns from green to red, we know we've identified an individual that may need a little closer scrutiny," said Alex Wiggins, head of security for Los Angeles' transit authority. "If we can encounter that person as they enter the station in the mezzanine, we can very, very quickly isolate them and move to an area where if there is a threat we can contain that much better."

The technology is currently being tested at Los Angeles' busy 7th Street metro station where four of the region's commuter lines connect. More than 86,000 people pass through there each weekday.

The scanners are designed to operate in the background, passively scanning people walking by in real time without using radiation.

"There is no silver bullet, no technical silver bullet to prevent all acts of terrorism, but clearly as part of a layered defense…it can play a role in at least making it harder for the bad guys," homeland security expert Frank Cilluffo of George Washington University said.

TSA is hopeful that new technology will lead to better detection be it at a train station or an airport. One scanner is currently being tested at a TSA facility outside Washington, D.C. The hope is eventually it can scan people as they pass by.

"So what you want is a scanner where people can just keep walking," Van Cleave said.

"Can just keep walking, and they don't even really notice they are being screened while they're doing it," said Andy Lee, director of test and evaluation for TSA.

The scanners were used by Amtrak in D.C. over the Thanksgiving holiday, and an earlier version was used in New Jersey to screen people heading to the Super Bowl in 2014. TSA said more testing will be needed. 


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