Federal officials removed a bomb detection device from LAX, a U.S. Transportation Security Administration official tells the Weekly, one that at least some observers think could have alerted authorities to the the kind of plane-bombing plot attempted on Christmas above Detroit. In 2006 LAX installed a “puffer device,” or GE EntryScan3 walk-through explosives detector, at the Southwest Airlines checkpoint area of Terminal 1. But federal authorities began phasing out the machines recently. “Most are gone nationwide,” the TSA representative stated in an email. “Technology didn't work well in airport environment (lots of maintenance issues).”
LAX does, however, have the favored technology of body scanning, the official says, a device that could have also helped authorities stop 23-year-old suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on his way to a bombing attempt before flight 253 left Amsterdam.
The older, puffer machine, which shoots puffs of air at passengers and analyzes the results to test for traces of explosive materials, could have easily been alerted to the presence of PETN, the potent chemically allegedly used by in the attempt that went awry when a detonator apparently failed, according to some.
The U.S. Transportation Safety Administration states, however, that “more reliable and effective screening technologies have become available.” One of those technologies is body imaging, and such full-body scanners create X-ray like outlines of passengers physiques, noting anomalies like the lump that authorities said was in Abdulmutallab's underwear, where they allege he hid his PETN.
But officials in Amsterdam say the machines were prohibited by American authorities from being used on U.S.-bound flights out of the Dutch city, according to the New York Times. Why? Who knows.
The U.S. has such devices at 19 airports.