Even if every airport in the United
States scanned every bag loaded
onto every airplane for explosives, and every passenger went under the
metal-detector, a bomb could still get onto a passenger jet, experts
say. The Federal Aviation Authority's next generation of holographic
body imaging scanners can be trumped too. Welcome to the world of the
Criminal groups running drugs and diamonds into the United States
have for years smuggled contraband by stuffing it into condoms and
having a "mule" swallow the load, or by having it implanted surgically
or rectally. The same technique can be used to smuggle plastic
explosives like Semtex past security at an airport.
Triggering mechanisms could be made with few metal components to
evade detections, or could be assembled from common electronic gadgets
such as PDAs, cell phones, laptops or personal stereos. Terrorists
could even rig up a wireless detonator that could be triggered from the
"It absolutely can be done and very easily, and there's no reason
believe that wouldn't be possible," said Dr. Harvey Kushner, chairman
of the criminal justice department at Long Island University. Kushner
is also a terrorism expert who testified at the criminal and civil
cases that followed the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Africa, the
first World Trade Center attack, and the destruction of Pan Am flight
"Quite frankly, that kind of experimentation has been taking
We know that they have been testing strapped-on explosives on animals
in the Middle East for years and it's not a magical leap to try
inserting it into the rectum," he said.
Dr. Kushner is the author of Terrorism in America and The
of Terrorism: Violence in the New Millennium
and the upcoming Concise
Encyclopedia of Extremism and Terrorism.
Terrorists have already used mocked pregnancy prosthetics to slip
bombs aboard planes, but no one has tried the mule approach yet,
according to Harvey "Jack" McGeorge, a former Marine Corps bomb
disposal specialist and a former Secret Service security specialist.
McGeorge is now president of the Public
, a consultancy based in Woodbridge, Virginia, which
studies chemical and biological warfare and terrorism.
"I agree that that's doable. I see no bar to this," McGeorge said.
However, unlike Kushner, McGeorge said he hadn't heard of animal
McGeorge estimated that a suicide bomber could smuggle at least a
single bar of C-4, a U.S.-made plastic explosive, measuring about 1.5
inches in diameter and 7 to 8 inches long. That would yield something
in comparison to a pound of dynamite, he said. "I would say, you could
smuggle about three pounds vaginally and a pound anally," McGeorge
Another specialist said the total load could be well over five pounds
if more explosives were smuggled in the stomach. Kushner noted that Pan
Am Flight 103 was brought down with under four pounds of Semtex.
The bomber could simplify detonation with a self-contained timer,
instead of relying on a wireless trigger or other mechanisms, McGeorge
added. Removing the explosives in the bathroom could optimize strategic
"I have seen no intelligence reporting on the prospect of rectally
implanted explosive charges being carried aboard aircraft by
individuals willing to be a living bomb," said one national
intelligence researcher, who asked to remain anonymous. "(But) the
scenario is plausible. The notion is straightforward, and the events of
9-11 have shown us that we must give weight to suicidal attacks ...
against aircraft or other targets."
Richard Horowitz, an attorney, private investigator, and captain in
the Israel Defense Forces who consults on terrorism issues, said: "It's
not appropriate for an analyst of terrorism to consider anything absurd
that is technically very feasible, and I would say yes, this is. I have
not heard this scenario discussed, but Tom Clancy wrote up a plot that
involved crashing a jet into a building, and the federal authorities
classified it as a low probability."
By smuggling explosives inside one's body, a suicide bomber would
likely foil all of the current airport scanning technologies, as well
as many future ones.
The FAA is purchasing five Secure1000 holographic imaging scanners
for testing at
its William J. Hughes Technical Center, said Holly Baker, a
spokesperson for the agency. The Rapiscan uses X-rays, but the company
itself conceded that its weak rays can't look into tissue, only under
Other scanning technologies using magnetism, thermal imaging, and
other forms of radiation detection also have difficulty getting below
the skin. Most of the technology was developed in the pre-9-11 era when
hijackers used guns, and there was some hope of them living through the
One surveillance device that might overcome the terror mule is being
developed in the Netherlands: MMC
's Conpass Digital Body Scanner, which is being used
at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
The scanner peers inside the human body by sweeping a person with a .3
millirem X-ray. By comparison, a standard medical exam exposes patients
to 40 millirems, and a typical person receives about 300 millirems of
annual background radiation.
The Department of Energy is also working on a new scanner
but it can't comment on its capabilities in the wake of Sept. 11, said
Staci A. Maloof, spokeswoman for the department's Pacific Northwest