More sophisticated X-ray equipment to screen passengers and baggage for explosives will be coming to O'Hare International Airport to shore up weaknesses in detecting hidden bombmaking materials, the federal security chief at the airport said Friday.
The announcement about efforts to improve aviation screening comes about a week after a government report showed that screeners at O'Hare's passenger security checkpoints failed to detect 60 percent of simulated explosives hidden in carry-on bags or in the clothing of agents working for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
It also coincided with reports Friday that federal law-enforcement officials are advising local authorities to be on the lookout for terrorists using shoes to smuggle explosive components.
New screening technology slated to arrive at O'Hare over the next six months to a year will provide security workers assigned to search for contraband with a clearer X-ray picture of objects inside carry-on items and checked baggage, as well as on passengers, said Kathleen Petrowsky, the TSA's federal security director at O'Hare.
Homeland security officials say that with airport security stepped up in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists are unlikely to try to smuggle whole bombs past security checkpoints.
Instead, the concern is about catching explosive components or improvised explosive devices hidden inside ordinary travel items, officials said.
Petrowsky displayed several bombmaking components -- the fuse of an electric plastic cap that can be wound up and hidden inside a hair dryer, and a bomb part made to look like hardware in luggage -- during a news conference at O'Hare.
Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), whose 6th Congressional District includes O'Hare, said it is "completely unsatisfactory" that undercover TSA agents were able to get 60 percent of fake explosives past O'Hare's screeners during the tests conducted in 2005 and 2006.
But Roskam said he was comforted to see many layers of security that give authorities multiple chances to intercept weapons and explosives.
Petrowsky said screening enhancements at passenger checkpoints and in the checked-baggage areas of O'Hare have been implemented since the 2005 and 2006 tests and that screener performance has improved.
"The message to people traveling is that the system is safer than it was when that  report was first issued," Petrowsky said.
The machines cost about $125,000 each and will allow the 2,200 security screeners at LAX to zoom in on specific items that catch their attention.
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