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Number of full-body scanners at US airports to triple in 2010

Full-body scanners could have foiled the Christmas Day airline bomb plot, some experts say. In 2010, US airports will add at least 150 to the 40 already in use, the TSA says. But critics say the machines won't help.

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Besides O’Hare, Boston’s Logan International Airport will also receive scanners, according to the Transportation Security Administration. A total of 150 are planned for 2010 throughout the US, although that number is expected to increase.

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The ACLU contends that the scanners are not fool-proof in monitoring explosives, which can be hid in a body cavity. That was the case with Al Qaeda suicide bomber Abdullah Hassan Tali Assiri, who in September attacked and injured Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in his home after passing through two separate airport scanners with the explosives hidden in a body cavity.

“I’m somewhat surprised [the government] is touting [body scanners] as the answer, when it's also apparent terrorists have utilized secreting devices in body cavities which this certainly wouldn’t detect,” says Michael German, ACLU Washington Legislative Office policy counsel.

Body scanners could be used in special cases to detect legitimate suspects, says Mr. German. “But for the average traveler, it’s completely unnecessary and a waste of security resources,” he says.

“If we’re investing money in new technology, let's invest in new technology that would be better than body-scanner technology and [have] no negative consequences,” he says. “There is a smart way to approach this problem and to do so in knee-jerk reactionary way is no way to go.”

Expensive solution

There is also the cost the scanners pose to the airline industry. Airport security has evolved in stages in the years since 9/11 as each thwarted terrorist attempt is answered with an increased stage of security, from bag checks at the gate to the removal of belts and shoes. The scanners will become the costliest solution yet.

Passengers will likely bear the brunt of the financial toll from airlines faced with recovering money lost from hikes in airport operational costs, says J. Randall Nutter, an aviation expert and visiting professor of business at Southeast University in Nanjing, China. This could add to the fatigue consumers already feel from other added costs.

“None of this helps. It’s an industry that has struggled to be profitable,” Mr. Nutter says. “One more of these blows make it that much harder.”

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