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New Explosive Detection Tech

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the but-can-it-reduce-the-groping dept.

173

cruci writes to tell us Yahoo! is reporting that a New Zealand company, Syft, has developed a new way to detect many different kinds of explosives (and their individual ingredients) in real time. Designed for what the company calls "photocopier simplicity", CEO Geoff Peck claims that the technology is ready to deploy immediately and is already deployed in some ports and hospitals. From the article: "The Voice100(TM) employs Selected Ion Flow Tube - Mass Spectrometry (SIFT-MS). While SIFT-MS has been in academic use for more than 20 years, Syft Technologies is the first company to offer a commercial instrument with the full discriminating analytical power of a laboratory-grade mass spectrometer."

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173 comments

I have some cool technology (0)

soft_guy (534437) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921644)

to detect explosions in airports. It is easy to use. Anyone interested?

What's the point (5, Interesting)

z0I!) (914679) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921661)

IANAC (I am not a chemist) but this guy seems to make a pretty solid arguement: http://www.interesting-people.org/archives/interes ting-people/200608/msg00087.html [interesting-people.org]

Re:What's the point (2, Insightful)

coscarart (522354) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921876)

I have no problem with his argument, except from what I have read, the bad guys were going to mix the chemicals on the ground AFTER they had passed the initial security checkpoint but before they had boarded the plane. For example in the bathroom next to the Duty Free shop. Therefore his whole argument doesn't really hold up. They could mix the chemicals in the bathroom in glass bottles, and then transfer them into water bottles (or was it sports drink bottles?) and then detonate them on the planes. Otherwise it is a good critique. It just goes to show you that people who want to blow up planes aren't complete idiots.

Re:What's the point (2, Funny)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922280)

From the link...
Then of course there is the question of people smuggling explosives on
board in their body cavities, so in addition to nudity, you need body
cavity searches. That will, I'm sure, provide additional airport
entertainment. By the way, if you really don't think a terrorist could
smuggle enough explosives on board in their rectum to make a
difference, you haven't been following how people in prison store
their shivs and heroin.


Puts a whole new spin on "blow it out your ass"...

Re:What's the point (3, Insightful)

Denial93 (773403) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922283)

Don't forget the whole accusation is based on Pakistani intelligence interrogations - yes they do have an interested in reporting there are terrorist attacks planned, yes they do torture, and yes that does sparkle the imagination of the tortured. There is, from what little information there was in the press releases, the serious possibility this whole panic is based on nothing but rumor and the ideas of someone who saw Die Hard With A Vengeance and learned there are liquids that become explosive when you mix them.

Many of you will probably already know that the timing of the "bust" was carefully planned between Bush and Blair to coincide with a vote of no confidence planned against Blair on the same day.

In a very similar way, Syrian intelligence has been known to produce extremely convenient intelligence. They were the guys who said Al-Zarqawi was in the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq - and sole proof of the Saddam-Terrorism connection - in the beginning of 2003, when Al-Zarqawi was neither a leader, nor an Al-Qaeda member, nor in Iraq.

The above is not off topic, but means there is no reason to be surprised when the whole story is implausible. It also means there is no reason to be surprised that Scotland Yard and all involved intelligence services, despite the knowledge of their weapon experts, fail to announce the plan was nonsensical.

Re:I have some cool technology (1)

lcam (848192) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921980)

yeah just follow follow the sirens.

When you get close you should hear wailing and screaming, and see debris and body parts, all of which are a good indication an explosion has in fact occured.

Tubes (4, Funny)

p0tat03 (985078) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921653)

"The Voice100(TM) employs Selected Ion Flow Tube..."

It's a bunch of tubes I tell you!

Re:Tubes (1)

AddressException (187785) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921660)

It's a bunch of tubes I tell you!

And this is funny, why?

Because the internet is just a bunch of tubes. (1)

CyberLord Seven (525173) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921683)

OK, I've got to put something in here to post. What a waste of perfectly good electrons. :)

Re:Because the internet is just a bunch of tubes. (1)

stormi (837687) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921696)

i've got to ask, what's the origin of all these internet = tubes comments?

Re:Because the internet is just a bunch of tubes. (2, Informative)

digitrev (989335) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921721)

Series of Tubes [google.ca]

Re:Because the internet is just a bunch of tubes. (2)

trianglecat (318478) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921764)

i've got to ask, what's the origin of all thes internet = tubes comments?

No, no you dont. [google.ca]

Re:Tubes (4, Interesting)

andrewman327 (635952) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921709)

Certainly not a truck bomb!


Anyway, mass spectrometry [asms.org] is an interesting technology that works very very well in the lab. The question is how practical can they make this machine? How much does it cost? TFA talks about how terrorism is mega expesive, so I get the feeling that they are just trying to lessen the sticker shock. And as the saying goes, no matter how idiotproof they make the device, TSA will just make a better idiot.


Fortunately (according to the manufacturer) this machine finds more than your run of the mill explosives, it can also find drugs:

The instrument has been calibrated to identify narcotics, chemical warfare agents such as the nerve gas Sarin, toxic industrial chemicals, and peroxide-based explosives including TATP and HMTD, both used in the July 2005 London bombings.

Re:Tubes (2, Interesting)

suggsjc (726146) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921908)

One of my friends did research on a project similar to this. It is pretty awesome the level of accuracy that they could get from extremely small samples.

I didn't RTFA, but from hearing what he said about it is that it can do the detection in a decent sized area (~1 sq. meter or so) pretty quickly (less than 10 sec). So, it could scan the area of a person + carry on in probably less than 20-30 seconds. If they did this right after you walked through the metal detectors, I doublt it would take that much additional time.

I for one would rather have a *slightly* longer wait to get on the plane in exchange for liquids, etc.

Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (4, Insightful)

Riding Spinners (994836) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921658)

If you have these exquisitly sensitive machines that can detect even a few molecules of material, aren't they by the same token super-vulnerable to being attacked by "chaffing" or overloading?

You have to look at the false positive and negative rates for detection. If you have a test that is 99.99% specific, it will still fail in practical use in an airport, as that means that 1 out of 10,000 people will come up positive. If you have a lot of people going through you will still have a big problem (London had over a million flights last year). This is the same issue as using automatic detection of terrorists – It's one thing to match/no match a known ID (e.g. biometric passport) to a person; it's another to match every passer by to every known terrorist.

Going back to chemical detection: this level of sensitivity will mean that every person runs the risk of coming up positive eventually. This amounts probably about 100,000 people in the U.S., and lots more elsewhere in the world.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (2, Insightful)

AddressException (187785) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921682)

means that 1 out of 10,000 people will come up positive.

So? Take each positive aside and check 'em! Where's the problem there?

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1, Insightful)

Riding Spinners (994836) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921706)

AddressException said:

So? Take each positive aside and check 'em! Where's the problem there?

The problem is that, if Heathrow Airport has about 70,000,000 passengers per year (1,000,000 flights × 70 passengers per flight [just guessing on this!]), that we'll have 70,000 suspected terrorists a year. That's about 2000 searches a day.

Something tells me that, despite how popular Al-Qaeda looks on television, that there aren't 2000 terrorists in an airport at any given time. See what I'm saying?

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

AddressException (187785) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921725)

Something tells me that, despite how popular Al-Qaeda looks on television, that there aren't 2000 terrorists in an airport at any given time. See what I'm saying?

OK - don't use the super sensitive machine and let *ONE* terrorist through. See what I'm saying?

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

jb_02_98 (636753) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921741)

That's how terrorism works. If one man can make an entire nation change their policy, then he's won.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

AddressException (187785) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921842)

If one man can make an entire nation change their policy,

We already do random searches of people waiting to board. There's no policy change here -- just using better technology to make it more efficient and targeted.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921939)

We already do random searches of people waiting to board.

There's a difference between selecting people at random and having a machine say "A BOMB! A BOMB! THIS GUY HAS A BOMB!". After the first 5 or so people to set it off have been shot 9 times in the head, you'll have to consider the "crying wolf" factor too. After the alarm goes off 19 times, is anyone really going to take it seriously on the 20th?

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (0)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922110)

here's a difference between selecting people at random and having a machine say "A BOMB! A BOMB! THIS GUY HAS A BOMB!".

Nice red herring argument. Or is it a straw man? The device does not say "This guy has a bomb." The device says, "This man very likely has chemicals with him consistent with a bomb. We should look very hard at him." Why shoot him 9 times?

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

voice_of_all_reason (926702) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922157)

Why does a dog lick his balls?

Because he can

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15922205)

Why shoot him 9 times?

Because if he does have a bomb, if you don't kill him he'll most likely set it off rather than give up. This is the training the British police who killed that brazilian guy received, and I suspect that American police trained to deal with terrorists are told to go for the headshot before anyone gets blown up as well.

Though now that I think about it, maybe it actually uses different alarms for "A BOMB!" and "A BOTTLE OF NAILPOLISH REMOVER!" and "A BAGGIE OF CRACK!".

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

MrAnnoyanceToYou (654053) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922251)

It's neither. It's simply a weak argument through hyperbole. It assumes that the only options are A: all the people who set off the alarm will immediately be executed, and B: any of the people setting off the alarm aren't terrorists you end up not thinking the machine works at all. This man is apparently a neo-conservative, because he understands neither logic nor reason.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (4, Insightful)

Riding Spinners (994836) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921760)

AddressException said:

OK - don't use the super sensitive machine and let *ONE* terrorist through.

Nobody has found terrorists at any point in history with chemical analysis machines, and they've been in use for years (they can't detect a ceramic knife). The incident at Heathrow was taken care of by good old-fashioned detective work.

Maybe you've lost your faith in the art of investigation, but I sure haven't. I have, however, lost my faith in having a civilized conversation with you on Slashdot. (mods: feel free to mod this down as "flamebait")

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

AddressException (187785) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921823)

I have, however, lost my faith in having a civilized conversation with you

Ouch! I know there's a lot of uncivilized garbage on /., but surely my comments thusfar cannot be considered inflammatory or rude?

Getting back to the point -- all I'm saying is we should use this technology to select people to undergo more thorough scrutiny, instead of the current random method of picking people as they wait to get onboard.

Having lots of false +ves, while undoubtedly costly, is surely better than doing nothing?

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (3, Interesting)

Steve525 (236741) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921912)

Nobody has found terrorists at any point in history with chemical analysis machines, and they've been in use for years (they can't detect a ceramic knife). The incident at Heathrow was taken care of by good old-fashioned detective work.

You are correct that this detection methods are nearly useless by themselves. Any terrorist will know about them and figure out a way around them. However, the more hoops you make the terrorists jump through, the more likely your detectives will be able to find them.

If it's really easy to hijack/blow up a plane, then any jerk can do it. If it doesn't take much planning for a terrorist to pull it off, your detectives will have hard time catching the terrorists during the planning stage. If, however, you need special planning overcome obstacles, your investigators have much more time to catch the terrorists while they do the research/recruitment to execute their plans. In addition, the harder you make it for the terrorists, the more likely they are to simply screw up and get caught.

Complimentry is a good thing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15921986)

"You are correct that this detection methods are nearly useless by themselves. Any terrorist will know about them and figure out a way around them. However, the more hoops you make the terrorists jump through, the more likely your detectives will be able to find them."

A valid point most here are forgetting. Would anyone here connect their computer to the internet and just depend on ACLs or permission bits to defend that machine? Of course not. So why does anyone think that security is going to depend on just these machines? Security if it's any good is going to make all the technology and techniques complimentry. The weaknesses of one are met by the strengths of another. False positives overall go down.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (2, Interesting)

Threni (635302) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921857)

> OK - don't use the super sensitive machine and let *ONE* terrorist through. See what I'm saying?

Yes. You're suggesting we use a system where we check 2000 people a day. You'll be checking a few people every minute, and by checking I mean looking through all their stuff, asking them questions etc. You'd probably need 20 people working all the time. And given that the components of explosive are stuff like sugar, hair spray etc, you'd have to limit precisely which components you look for, and then people will just make bombs out of those things anyway.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (2, Interesting)

Burlap (615181) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921869)

I think 70 on a flight is a VERY low estimate... considering 747s can carry several hundred people. And there is no WAY the false positve rate will be that low in real life. As another poster commented ascitone (sp?) is the primary ingrediant in nailpolish remover, and can react with high concentration hydrogyn peroxide to make a powerfull explosive. So any and every woman who walks by this machene who has remoed their nailpolish in the last 24 hours will touch it off, shake hands with her and you might be flaged as well. Every florist or farmer or even backyard gardener or wall-mart employee who works with nitrogen based fertilizer will be makred and pulled over. There are an absolutely ABSURD number of chemicals used every day that can be mixed to become a bomb.

How long does it take to strip search someone, unpack and repack every item of carry on AND call back their checked luggage to search that.... half an hour? an hour? now if you're really lucky they will catch all of the false positives early enough that your flight isn't delayed.... if youre not lucky they will catch them just minutes before the flight is due to take off (not everyone follows the "get here 3 hours early" rule) and your flight is delayed for several hours. And since your gate is still full, the plane who was to disembark at it is now also delayed until a gate can be freed up. and this is just at one airport, if legislated into every airport in the states it will clog up air travel like nothing else seen.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

Have Blue (616) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922057)

Ideally, the results of this machine would not instantly set off the cavity search buzzer but would rather be sent to a human expert to be taken into account along with other factors when deciding whether or not a passenger deserves a more extensive examination.

Ideally.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (5, Informative)

Jere H (220274) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921774)

Your math is off twice.
70,000 / 365 is 200, not 2,000, which doesn't really matter because:

70,000,000 * .01% is 7,000 searches per year, not 70,000.
So it would still be about 20 per day. They already do more random searches per day than this.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

Chris Graham (942108) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921825)

You were out by a factor of 100, unless my maths has gone downhill...

1000000 * 70 = 70000000 passengers per year

70000000 / 10000 = 7000 suspected terrorists per year (not 70000)

7000 / 365 = about 20 suspects per day

20 searches per day should not be a problem.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

gilberry (973422) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921973)

This seems like the short line. If I get there early enough, I should be able to volunteer for the whole tamale. Sort of like the line skipping dealie at Disney World, except with a rubber glove.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (0)

wealthychef (584778) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922060)

we'll have 70,000 suspected terrorists a year. That's about 2000 searches a day.

No, it's 192 searches per day, or one search per 7 minutes. Seems OK.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

mdielmann (514750) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922121)

The problem is that, if Heathrow Airport has about 70,000,000 passengers per year (1,000,000 flights × 70 passengers per flight [just guessing on this!]), that we'll have 70,000 suspected terrorists a year. That's about 2000 searches a day.

Well, your math is off, based on the numbers provided. You have 99.9% accuracy (1 in 1 000 false positives), rather than 99.99% accuracy (1 in 10 000 false positives). Something tells me 200 searches per day isn't too much more than is already happening in many airports. Even if it isn't, it's not an overly large number. This may actually be viable.

Re:Machine super-sensitivity: not "a good thing" (1)

TheLetterPsy (792255) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922050)

I am not intimately familiar with "Selected Ion Flow Tube" however I do have some MS experience and assume the "Selective Ion" part means they are scanning for a finite set of m/z values. MS is a highly sensitive technique but does not have false-positives, so long as you background correct and set a reasonable response threshold. This becomes exceedingly effective with multiple scans (scans can be done on the order of tens of milliseconds)

The problem I see with this implementation, or any implementation that is 'fool-proof' or simply outputs a green light/red light, is that it is selective for pre-determined compounds. All one needs to do to beat it is make slight chemical modifications to explosives, for example a reduced form resulting in m/z that is 2 less than the original explosive compound would evade the detector.

It is really quite naive to say that an MS instrument can be operated with any degree of certainty or accuracy by someone without at least a good undergraduate analytical chemistry course.

Disclaimer: I am a chemist but have limited experience with Mass Spec.

Two words: (1)

StyxRiver (782565) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921670)

Resonance cascade.

But what about privacy? (-1, Flamebait)

Kohath (38547) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921672)

This new tech might invade the terrorist's privacy. Just like George Bush did when he monitored the recent British terrorist's communications. Now we're going to start scanning for explosives?

Ben Franklin said: "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither".

Is it really worth the slight possibility of a privacy violation to keep planes from getting blown up by terrorists? (If there even are terrorists and it's not a conspiracy [buttafly.com] ).

A schematic of the technique involved (1)

LotsOfPhil (982823) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921677)

Here's a schematic [sift-ms.com]
It also says that it can detect compounds in the ppb levels out of breath (in real time). What I am wondering is how large/portable this machine is. Could a baggage handler walk around with it and wand things, or would you need to put all the bags through the machine on a conveyor belt?

But who's going to buy it... (3, Insightful)

skids (119237) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921681)

Not the U.S. I think we made it adequately clear [google.com] that our DHS doesn't exist to improve homeland security, rather just to scare the citizenry.

Re:But who's going to buy it... (2, Interesting)

Stripe7 (571267) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921770)

DHS certainly proved what they can and can not do with the Katarina disaster. It appears to be a bloated bureaucracy with the only goal being the promotion of politcal agenda's. Not sure which is worse, a dozen disparate federal agencies that did not talk to each other but at least knew how to do their jobs or one monolithic incompetent bureaucracy.

Wrong conclusion (1)

cirby (2599) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921895)

If you'll notice, it's not the folks who are researching pure "explosives detection" who are making the advances, it's folks who have been working on all sorts of other tech (mostly in the private sector) who are getting things done.

You want dramatic, practical scientific advances? Don't fund it with government money.

Note that it was a New Zealand company, not the New Zealand government, in the article...

Re:But who's going to buy it... (1)

u-235-sentinel (594077) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922034)

Not the U.S. I think we made it adequately clear that our DHS doesn't exist to improve homeland security, rather just to scare the citizenry.

Much of it reminds me of Season 3 of Babylon 5. With groups like Nightwatch and the Ministery of Peace. It's very weird watching those episodes these days. I just hope we don't hire someone like President Clark. Scorched Earth doesn't sound all that great (end of Season 4 was intense).

How Accurate is too Accurate? (1)

general scruff (938598) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921684)

Hmmm... What if you are standing close by some fellow planning on blowing the plane out of the sky, and you are first in line at the Mass-Spectrometer? In all the brew-haha of you getting tackled/cuffed/cavity-searched, the terror monger walks right in...

D'oh!

Re:How Accurate is too Accurate? (2, Interesting)

srmalloy (263556) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922081)

Or, in a move to increase tie-ups and add confusion, make a concealed misting device and go through the area where people are waiting to check their baggage, misting random luggage and carryons with small concentrations of just those volatiles, to ensure that as many people as possible get caught in the explosives sniffer. Meanwhile, the actual bomb had casting resin poured over it and allowed to cure completely, eliminating any avenue for the escape of these VOCs...

Nothing to see here. Move along. (2, Insightful)

Tackhead (54550) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921693)

> The instrument has been calibrated to identify narcotics, chemical warfare agents such as the nerve gas Sarin, toxic industrial chemicals, and peroxide-based explosives including TATP and HMTD, both used in the July 2005 London bombings.
>
>[...]
>
>The Voice100(TM) instrument's core feature is its ability to continuously detect and quantify the concentration of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in whole air.

In other words, if the bad guy's dumb enough to make his explosive before passing through the screening station, he gets picked up.

But since hydrogen peroxide isn't an organic compound, Abdul walks up to the scanner and it says "Nothing to see here. Move along."

And since acetone is a VOC, when Mohammed walks up to the scanner, the scanner screams bloody murder... which would be fine, except that it also probably screams bloody murder for every woman with a bottle of nail polish remover in her purse. So Mohammed gets told to move along, too.

*blam*

Airlines are like democracies: We have to destroy them to save them.

Nothing to see here. Stop reading. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15921810)

"And since acetone is a VOC, when Mohammed walks up to the scanner, the scanner screams bloody murder... which would be fine, except that it also probably screams bloody murder for every woman with a bottle of nail polish remover in her purse. So Mohammed gets told to move along, too."

Your argument is predicated on the idea that nail polish remover is pure acetone. It's not. Any terrorist sneaking a liquid bomb on board has to keep not only quantity (do we have enough to accomplish what we want?). But purity (is our ingredients pure enough to get the reaction we want). It's not a stretch to have a machine that'll match specific ingredients mixed in a particular purity to known items in near real-time.* Anything outside those parameters is suspect (the exclusion rule).

*Similiar to what happens in a forensic lab.

Re:Nothing to see here. Move along. (3, Funny)

gilberry (973422) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921819)

By calling a terrorist Mohammed, you are profiling. Why not call him John. John Mohammed.

Re:Nothing to see here. Move along. (2, Funny)

powerlord (28156) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922023)

I object! You are merely playing into populist stances by using such a stereotypical last name!

You should instead use a last name like "Doe" ... "Mohammed Doe"

Re:Nothing to see here. Move along. (1)

LotsOfPhil (982823) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921877)

And since acetone is a VOC, when Mohammed walks up to the scanner, the scanner screams bloody murder... which would be fine, except that it also probably screams bloody murder for every woman with a bottle of nail polish remover in her purse. So Mohammed gets told to move along, too.
No, the scanner would say "acetone."

But since hydrogen peroxide isn't an organic compound, Abdul walks up to the scanner and it says "Nothing to see here. Move along."
There is nothing specific to the technique that prevents it from recognizing things that are not organic. This is just a highlighted capability. It is like assuming that Vista doesn't have a calculator because you haven't seen it mentioned in press releases.

Re:Nothing to see here. Move along. (1)

gilberry (973422) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921936)

Can it detect calculators? Also, hugely bad form for the parent. He changed MoHammed to Abdul.

Re:Nothing to see here. Move along. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15922263)

> Can it detect calculators? Also, hugely bad form for the parent. He changed MoHammed to Abdul.

Whole point of the plot in Britain was that multiple Muslims, working in concert, bring in chemicals that are safe/inert/legal by themselves, but that can be combined in flight to make the kaboom. A guy with an unloaded gun is harmless. A guy with a bullet in his pocket is harmless. If the two of them happen to be working together, you have a problem.

Re:Nothing to see here. Move along. (1)

element-o.p. (939033) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922105)

Nak.

If it can "quantify the concentration of volatile organic compounds" in the air, it can determine if there is a sufficient quantity to produce a dangerous reaction. Somehow, I suspect that a bottle of nail polish remover does not contain enough acetone to be a real threat, but IANAC (...chemist) so I could be wrong.

However, given enough women carrying enough nail polish remover on board the aircraft, I suppose it could be a problem...

cost (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921712)

And how high will the fee that is added to the cost of a ticket going to be to pay for this?

Re:cost (1)

slapyslapslap (995769) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921730)

How much will ticket prices go up when the airline has to replace blown up jets?

Re:cost (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921745)

None, they're covered by insurance, and the chance of losing a plane is still extremely remote. I say it's already accounted for.

Re:cost (1)

slapyslapslap (995769) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921802)

Fine. Insurance pays for it. Now who's going to pay for the higer premiums?

Re:cost (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921878)

Thats just it. The cost is already in there. A plane or two blows up. No big deal. It's not like auto insurance - they don't raise your rates because somebody with a grudge makes an aero flambe. Now, if your planes start dropping out of the sky becuase you don't maintain them...well, then it will make a difference.

Alternate method (4, Funny)

nizo (81281) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921751)

Try to light all suspicious materials on fire. Nice and cheap (all you need is some guy you pay minimum wage with a handheld lighter). For larger items, have a can of hairspray handy to use as a cheap flamethrower.

Re:Alternate method (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15921845)

Semtex doesn't explode when you burn it.

Re:Alternate method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15921880)

Yeah but which is more convicing: a box with blinky lights, or some pimply faced guy lighting things on fire to keep you safe???

Hey, here's an idea (1)

eclectro (227083) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921767)

While we are at it, why don't we check athletes at the airport for doping drugs before they compete in important sporting events. Maybe take away their plane ticket if the detector smells the synthetics from their sweat glands.

You know, kill two birds with one stone. Heck, I bet that this machine could establish paternity as well.

oh, great! (2, Interesting)

Anon-Admin (443764) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921780)

This technology, as well as some others I have seen, has a major problem. All the terrorists have to do is spend some time seeding the people in line with small amounts of powdered explosives. Make the detector go off on every one. The minimum wage security person decides the unit is broke; his almost minimum wage manager puts in the fix request which will take weeks. In the mean time, it is back to business as usual.

This is a mess and a waist of time.

Next you know, they will be selling them to your boss to check you as you come to work.

Be careful, if the government can get it, the private sector can get it and they do not have to honnor your rights.

Re:oh, great! (1)

AddressException (187785) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921873)

If suddenly everyone waiting to board a given flight is a +ve, doesn't that mean that there really is a terrorist around somewhere? That's important to know, isn't it?

Re:oh, great! (1)

recordMyRides (995726) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921949)

Slashdotters are so quick to point out perceived flaws in new technology. If a story appeared on this site before metal detectors were mandatory in every airport, there would have been commenters saying "Oh, think of the false positives. Every passenger with a metal belt buckle will set off the alarm! All the terrorists will have to do is seed the line ahead of them with people with tin foil in their pockets, and the security guards will assume that their machine is broken!"

The fact is that metal detectors are a very useful tool in securing flights, and there is no reason why chemical detection could not also be a useful tool.

Just because the machine does not provied 1:1 detection for terrorists does not render this solution useless.

Re:oh, great! (2, Funny)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922071)

Wow, a rational argument, you must be new here.

oh, great! de-natured humans. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15922151)

"Slashdotters are so quick to point out perceived flaws in new technology."

Surprised? Don't be. Note well that technology they perceive that will be used against them get the treatment. Technology they perceive to benefit them don't.e.g. P2P. Nice to know that slashdotters aren't above the "sheep" they so roundly condemn.

Re:oh, great! (1)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922038)

This technology, as well as some others I have seen, has a major problem. All the terrorists have to do is spend some time seeding the people in line with small amounts of powdered explosives. Make the detector go off on every one.

How do you do that (seed people in line with small amounts of powder)? If you do that *at the airport*, you're going to get caught on surveillence video somewhere. The FBI will track you down.

A more general point is worth making here: the terrorists aren't stupid, and, like a chess game, they're not going to take your rook without thinking ahead and realizing you'll fork them two moves later.

We hear all this silly criticism of the media (and accusations of treason!?) for reporting on government surveillance programs. The terrorists know their international bank transactions or phone called could be monitored. Please. The ones who are going to pull off the next attack already knew that and won't be caught by it. We will catch the stupid ones who blab to their friends or do something obvious that gives them away.

Re:oh, great! (1)

Anon-Admin (443764) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922256)

Na, a little potassium nitrate, Ammonium nitrate, or calcium nitrate in your pocket. Put hand in, rub on hand, walk around shacking hands, talking to people, tapping people on the shoulder, pushing there luggage out of the way, etc. We are only talking ppb here. It is not that hard to seed people with a small amount of a substance.

The issue at the airport is not a technical issue. It is not that they do not have the equipment to do the job. It is that they do not want to pay the people. If they would pay the TSA folks good money I am sure there would be a good job done. As it stands I have walked through airport security with items that you are not supposed to carry on the plane. It is just a matter of knowing how to look and what they are looking for.

not new (0, Offtopic)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921783)

My ass spectrometer could detect explosive diarrhea years ago.

Ad nauseam... (1)

Chaffar (670874) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921805)

1- High profile terror case/natural disaster/act of God has just occurred

2- Previously unknown company proposes its bulletproof and cheap product which they claim have been proposing for years

3- Get suckers to invest in your product by tapping into people's irrational fears that naturally follow 1-

4- Profit!!!

In this case, 1- is obviously the UK terror plot to blow up planes by smuggling explosives onto the plane (like that's gonna work, but whatever gets the thinkofthechildren crowd going)...

Re:Ad nauseam... (1)

Rob T Firefly (844560) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921848)

Hogwash, I say! You're just being irrational.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to wear my anthrax-repellent dust mask while I clean out the commie-proof bomb shelter in my backyard. I think I left my anti-Halley's-Comet pills down there..

Even better than explosive detection tech!! (0, Troll)

TheDarkener (198348) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921831)

How about this...

Are you ready for it? ..... ....

Stop invading countries for the wrong reasons!! Maybe then they'll stop thinking about blowing us all up!! Instead of motivating ourselves to find better technology to find explosives, how about motivating the "terrorists" into NOT killing all of us by actually working with them to resolve our differences instead of battling on, invading and taking over their land in the name of "Democracy and Freedom" (READ: power and money)?

Could it ever work? Would we ever try this tactic?

Re:Even better than explosive detection tech!! (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921924)

I know, don't feed the trolls. But still...

It won't work. It won't work because they will never see the positive side of the western world. Just as some people in this country will never call them anything nicer than "towel head" or "macaca" (hey, a Daily Show reference to my home state! Allen is such as ass).

Whether we do anything or not at this point is irrelevent. There are people who really, really hate us, and they have taught their children the same values. I know people who won't go some places because black people frequent it. I know some people who won't even go into a shop because they *think* that one of the employees is gay. (Virginia, gotta love it!). Those prejudices are passed from generation to generation. When you combine that with a social structure with very little upward mobility potential, you get hate. And hate takes a long time to die out. Just ask the Palestinians and the Jews how long it takes for everyone to set past wrongs aside.

Re:Even better than explosive detection tech!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15921941)

Cunning plan, but you forget that invading states is not the reason for all of this. As long as there is a Jewish state in the middle east, they want them dead and anyone who supports them dead. The president of Iran has publicly stated that the Holocaust was a myth and that the Jews deserve to die.

Just as a note, we had not recently been in a war with any country when the 9/11 events occured......

Too late. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921942)

How about ... Stop invading countries for the wrong reasons!! Maybe then they'll stop thinking about blowing us all up!!

Too late. (Has been at LEAST since the "Monica Missiles".)

Re:Even better than explosive detection tech!! (1)

Mayhem178 (920970) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921963)

Noble in theory, impossible in practice. This goes way beyond "I punched you, you punched me back." It's tough to reason with someone who believes they are in the right with their chosen deity by eradicating you and your way of life. Though, if you'd like to try, don't let any of us stop you. March yourself onto a plane and go explain it to them in person. I'm sure your face will end up on the 5 o'clock news...just before they decapitate you.

Re:Even better than explosive detection tech!! (1)

El Torico (732160) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922021)

Could it ever work? Would we ever try this tactic?

No, and no.

Re:Even better than explosive detection tech!! (1)

Steve525 (236741) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922049)

While I'd agree that our invasion into Iraq definitely falls into the "what were we thinking?" catagory, (and just so you know, I never thought it was a good idea), I'm not sure what differences we have that can realistically be resolved. Are you suggesting we simply bud out of the middle east, sacrificing Israel and letting the largest oil reserves in the world end up in the hands of a bunch of religious fanatics? Because that's what these people want (for starters at least).

I'm not saying our behaviour has ever been perfect, and there's certainly times we've added fuel to the fire. However, I don't think there's any realistic policy we can pursue that would make the fanatics happy.

Re:Even better than explosive detection tech!! (1)

Ramble (940291) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922054)

Just to make this easier for you lets go back in time, back to the 1940s. You're French, and you're fighting for the resistance. Germans would label you a terrorist and French would label you a freedom fighter.

Now, imagine if Hitler himself parked his car outside your house and came in for a chat to resolve your differences, would you believe him? No, you'd continue disrupting supply trains and seeding the thoughts of revolution (Actually, you'd be hung, but that's another matter.).

Re:Even better than explosive detection tech!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15922140)

Except in the public (and private) communications of more than one terrorist group, their stated objective is the obliteration of the nation they're targeting. Is there a halfway point on this that we can negotiate with? ("Instead of beating me to death, perhaps you'd be interested in beating me half to death.")

They have it backwards (4, Insightful)

pmancini (20121) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921835)

We should be detecting bombers not bombs. Bombs form a nearly endless variety. Bombers are an easier class of object to detect, I believe. The fact that the bombers try to hide the bombs on their person or in their carry on luggage suggests they they themselves don't fear the system's scruitiny. In the old days they had to figure out ways of getting the bomb on the aircraft without them being anywhere near it. How times have changed.

Re:They have it backwards (1)

AJWM (19027) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922090)

One way of detecting bombers is to detect the bombs.

Of course, if the bomber slips a bomb into somebody else's luggage, which would you rather detect?

Now that's taken care of (1)

WormholeFiend (674934) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921855)

how about a detector that screens out people susceptible to claustrophobia and panic attacks, which could lead to passenger airplanes being diverted and escorted by fighter airplanes...?

Re:Now that's taken care of (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922103)

How is a fighter excort going to prevent someone inside the plane from blowing it up or otherwise making it go down?

Press release -- take a grain of salt (1)

stefanlasiewski (63134) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921902)

Before anybody gets too excited, note that this is a Press Release from the Manufacturer of the device. Yahoo isn't "reporting" anything-- they are simply forwarding a Press Release from the PRNewswire.

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/060816/lnw002.html?.v= 31 [yahoo.com]

This company is certainly not the first company to promote an easy-to-use bomb detector, or to talk about how their product is better then the competitor's products.

Any Phil Hendrie fans (1)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921910)

Thinking "Plane go boom"!

Mr. Freeman (1)

jrmiller84 (927224) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921940)

Syft Technologies is the first company to offer a commercial instrument with the full discriminating analytical power of a laboratory-grade mass spectrometer.

Lets just hope there isn't a residence cascade ;) Luckily I have my crowbar, do you?

Hospitals, eh? Components of expolsives, eh? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#15921955)

So if you injure yourself changing your motor oil after fertilizing your yard, you're going to have a LOT of trouble at the emergency room.

Marketing Fluff (1)

MadAnalyst (959778) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922097)

This reads like the most disturbing piece of marketing fluff I have ever seen in analytical chem. I have seen things that are close, but they were in product brochures and never claimed to be news.

"photocopier simplicity", (1)

kemo_by_the_kilo (971543) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922117)

"photocopier simplicity",
yes but can it copy your butt? i thought not.

its a dog in a box with sum holes for sniffing (1)

BoneMarrow (577933) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922120)

fake

BFG (1)

overshoot (39700) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922128)

The TSA and equivalents are still doing PR instead of real screening because they know that there's no realistic way to do real screening against real threats. There are just too freaking many ways to do violence. It's telling that there aren't any serious "Red Teams" coming up with potential threats -- instead they just keep reacting to the latest ones the Bad Guys used and hope those same Bad Guys are too stupid to come up with any of the thousands that a freshman engineering student could write up in a half-hour quiz.

You want Red Team? Have the CalTech prank-of-the-year be an airplane removal. You'd have hundreds in a matter of hours.

Proof of point: tell me how they're going to stop people from taking ferrite, aluminum, and magnesium on planes.

Instead we get programs to prevent baby bottles.

These things don't really keep us safe (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15922156)

I work in a chemistry lab where we regularly synthesis small quantities of explosives. Last weekend I took a flight and (very stupidly) wore the same shoes that I normally wear to work. They swabbed my shoes down and passed me through without a second glance. It didn't occur to me until after I was through security that there was surely some trace amount of explosives on my shoes that should have been detectable. Upon further reflection I realized that the detector was probably only set to look for a few certain common explosives, and the explosive compounds that we work with in my lab are relatively esoteric.

I think that the very narrow specificity of these machines is a major problem. You might be able to detect the 20 most common explosives, but it would be trivially easy for any competent organic chemist to come up with a new explosive that the detector wouldn't be looking for. Perhaps the detectors that we have now look for nitroglycerin, but what about nitroglycerin with an extra methyl group hung off the end of the carbon chain? Or an ethyl group? Or an isopropyl group? What if instead of ammonium nitrate you used butyl-ammonium nitrate? Or butyl ammonium with some other, less common oxidizer like permanganate/perchlorate/whatever? Do you see my point? You could make a slight modification to almost any existing explosive and render it undetectable to these bomb scanners, because the scanners only look for things that they have been specifically trained to look for. They have no capability to actually examine the structure of a molecule and judge whether it's explosive or not. It's kind of like using a "knife detector" that has been set to look for the most common brands of knifes, when in fact you could sharpen almost anything into a knife with a little effort.

Oh wowie... (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922159)

They invented the Tricorder....

Problems already (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15922203)

This is going to be another profitable tool that will be misused. The current state of the art sniffers that try to detect explosives will show a positive result if lotion was applied due to glycerin. If you ever test positive, the screeners will try to get you to say you used lotion so they can get you one your way and they can get on with their lives with as little paperwork as possible.

Next time you go through the airport, use some lotion and spill some on your luggage. Let the fun ensue!

Photocopier Simplicity (1)

camt (162536) | more than 7 years ago | (#15922228)

Designed for what the company calls "photocopier simplicity", CEO Geoff Peck claims that the technology is ready to deploy immediately and is already deployed in some ports and hospitals.

Photocopier simplicity, eh? I can see it now: "Bomb Ingredient Jam in detection device. Please open Door 2A and follow the instructions on the label inside of the door to clear the jam." Don't forget to turn knob 4C three complete rotations! But it doesnt' matter how many compartments you open, there is *always* one more page buried in there somewhere. And then the job restarts who knows where, and you'll get partial results of "0.396 bombs found".

I don't know what kind of photocopiers they have in New Zealand, but saying "Photocopier simplicity" is a sure way to make me avoid your product for being too complicated.
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