Yes, that’s what I said. It’s rare in this or any other business that one gets to publicly utter the phrase “butt bombs” without a snickering reference to certain natural functions. This is one of those times. Welcome to my world.
There is information making the media rounds that suggests terrorists from Yemen may attempt to board U.S.-bound European commercial flights with bombs surgically implanted in their bodies. TSA's warning did not relate to a specific plot or threat; only that the bad guys continue to “consider” this special delivery process, particularly in those areas for which TSA searches are most often criticized: breasts, buttocks, and bellies. I have tried to follow the discussion with an open mind and a straight face, but it’s tough.
I cannot possibly synthesize in this brief space all the pro and con arguments regarding whether various existing technologies and/or processes can detect beneath the skin; whether the EU/ECAC nations can/should ramp up their collective screening processes on such speculative information; whether the U.S. needs to do so domestically; whether it’s medically feasible (the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says it’s “conceivable”); or if done either by implant or insertion, whether the explosive effect would be heavily damped by the carrier’s body, as was the case with the attack on a Saudi prince. Some question whether this may be a hypothetical misinterpretation of the underwear bomber event (which apparently didn’t go off because it was wet with sweat), or as the most cynical media have suggested -- interesting timing as the Congress considers significant cuts to TSA’s budget.
I must admit it’s fascinating to watch the weird speculation evolve. We learn a large breast implant can be up to around 16 ounces; (I’ve done the research); a crotch bomb was about 3+ ounces (I’ll take their word). Some doctors say it could be done using local anesthesia; full recovery typically takes weeks but a recipient could theoretically be mobile within days.
Medically speaking, people should be able to walk around with explosive substances inside them (carefully, one presumes) for several weeks without adverse consequences (I can think of one), while yet another “expert” suggested internal body reactions could give the carrier easy-to-spot bad breath. “Blow into this, frequent traveler.”
This leads me to support the recently proposed IATA concept, which in far-too-short summary is three levels of screening, with separate lanes for pre-vetted registered travelers, unknown entities, and identified high-risk persons, all based on determinations made by a much more robust intelligence gathering, behavioral observation, and an interview analysis system … which currently exists only in slowly evolving form.
If Tammy Banovac has to undergo an MRI to get on an airplane, have the terrorists won? Surely you’ve not forgotten our previous discussion of Tammy’s woes. She tried to go through screening at Christmas time, wearing only a bra and panties as a protest against the pat-down rules. She was denied boarding because – quoting her -- “They were unable to clear an unusual contour of my buttocks area.” Evidently, TSA was well ahead of the threat this time. Multiple close examinations of the YouTube video revealed no visible surgical scars.
So what technology can we use against these odious threats? The human brain, perhaps?