Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another Day, Another Embarrassment For Transportation Security Administration

A West Virginia airport terminal was evacuated for more than nine hours Thursday after two bottles of liquid twice falsely tested positive as liquid explosives.

The bottles, held by a 28-year-old pregnant woman of Pakistani descent, first tested positive as liquid explosives following a swab test using an explosive trace detection machine. That was then confirmed by a canine sniffing team.

About 100 people were evacuated from Tri-State Airport in Huntington, W. Va., as a result.

But the government, after questioning the woman for several hours, determined that she was not a threat. The liquids that produced the false positives: water and cosmetic face wash.


As a result of the false positives, two questions have arisen, each of which have brought some potentially embarrassing publicity to the TSA's recently changed policy on bringing liquids onto airplanes.

The biggest question is: How could the TSA come up with two false positives? And that begs the follow-up: Should airline passengers be nervous that other false positives will occur, or worse, real liquid explosives won't be detected?

It's unclear how successful the current testing is. The Department of Homeland Security plans to test technology Japan demonstrated for the U.S. back in January. Reports from the GAO, FBI and DHS have suggested the U.S. has no adequate way to detect liquid explosives.

And all of that leads to the next question: Why was this woman stopped, when most other passengers have had their liquids dumped into garbage cans by TSA employees -- an act that calls into question whether liquid explosives are an actual threat.

The woman, Rima Qayyum, was described as "courteous" by law enforcement. That would suggest she did not draw attention for being questionably nervous -- a sign TSA screeners were recently asked to look out for.

So why was she stopped? Qayyum's mother, Mian Qayyum, suggested her daughter was stopped because of racial profiling -- she was wearing a traditional Islamic headcover -- and said the government should apologize.

Whether the accusation is true or not, it's just another question mark for the TSA.


Anonymous pinto said...

No defense of the TSA by a long shot, but in general, false positives are less of a concern than false negatives.

In medical screening, when running controls, they run known positives looking for false negative readings as well as vica versa. To be blunt, while false positives can be a pain, false negatives, as you say, are a problem.

I have no clue who does their screening, but I hope it's in the hands of someone with some technical experience and not another TSA political crony appointment

1:08 PM  
Anonymous leftofthedial said...

THE ENTIRE "WAR" ON "TERROR" is a false positive

we might as well have a "war" on jaywalking, which is a more real and immediate threat for most Americans.

1:08 PM  

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