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The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, known as the 9/11 Commission, recommended that Congress and the Transportation Security Administration give priority attention to screening airline passengers for explosives. The key issue for Congress is balancing the costs of mandating passenger explosives trace detection against other aviation security needs. Passenger explosives screening technologies have been under development for several years and are now being deployed in selected airports. Their technical capabilities have not been fully established, and operational and policy issues have not yet been resolved. Critical factors for implementation in airports include reliability, passenger throughput, and passenger privacy concerns. Presuming the successful development and deployment of this technology, certification standards, operational policy, and screening procedures for federal use will need to be established. This topic, which was addressed by Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458), continues to be of congressional interest in the 109th Congress. This report will not be updated.
In its discussion of strategies for aviation security, the 9/11 Commission recommended that:
The TSA [Transportation Security Administration] and the Congress must give priority attention to improving the ability of screening checkpoints to detect explosives on passengers. As a start, each individual selected for special screening should be screened for explosives. (1)
The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458) directs the Department of Homeland Security to place high priority on developing and deploying equipment for passenger explosives screening; requires TSA to submit a strategic plan for deploying such equipment; and authorizes additional research funding. It also requires that passengers who are selected for additional screening be screened for explosives, as an interim measure until all passengers can be screened for explosives. Congressional interest in this topic continues in the 109th Congress. This report discusses the current state of passenger explosives trace detection, ongoing federal R&D efforts and pilot equipment deployments, and related policy issues.
Current State of Trace Explosives Detection Technology
Explosives detection for aviation security has been an area of federal concern for many years. Much effort has been focused on direct detection of explosive materials in carry-on and checked luggage, but techniques have also been developed to detect and identify residual traces that may indicate a passenger's recent contact with explosive materials. The trace detection techniques use separation and detection technologies, such as mass …