back to article Full-body scanner blind to bomb parts

Most of the uproar over full-body scanners has focused on privacy concerns. There's one larger question, however, that hasn't received much scrutiny by the chattering classes: do the damnable things work? One German TV station says "Nein." By way of Americablog comes a video of a man easily concealing the makings of high- …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Thermite isn't very dangerous, you can cause a small fire on board at most. If he'd done it with something more dangerous, then that would be a news.

  2. Peter D'Hoye
    Dead Vulture

    Please learn to understand German...

    Some important facts told in the clip:

    1. the normal routine would also include a side scan, not just front/back

    2. the scan is always done without jacket. The pockets of his jacket were floating in the air, not blocking any body heat.

    Also, this is just a thermal measuring system, not really an active scanner that emits radiation to scan through everything.

  3. trydk

    Not the "Child Porn" Scanner

    It looks to me (and from what I could glean from the German conversation) that this scanner is actually a passive infrared scanner and not the milimeter wave ("Child Porn") scanner much talked about.

    If I am right, this scanner works by looking at items blocking your body heat, which makes detection of items in the side pockets (as here) all but impossible without a side scan. And obviously inside your mouth too, which the milimeter scanner cannot do either, btw. The same for items under your wig, in your crotch and under your shoes. ... Do I have to mention ears, nose and anus?

    Passive infrared? Nah!

    Milimeter waves? Why bother?

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Doesn't work...

    So what is the f***king point of it. Clearly someone has a vested interest in the order going through.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    "who appears to be pro-scanner"

    Go to the 4:50 mark and you will see that he is David Haskett, a manager of ThruVision the scanner's UK vendor of course.

    He said that in an airport scenario the physicist would have to take his jacket off .. so I guess he'd have to hide the stuff elsewhere like, umm, on his person.

  6. Sly

    are we suprised?

    this isn't Hollywood (Total Recall). Science doesn't work as seamlessly as we would like and producers of new tech always release beta versions these days hoping nobody will notice the non-working parts. Just another example of not doing proper testing before implementation.

  7. Haku

    Secutrity Theater

    I keep seeing those two words whenever somene talks about the increased measures to try and stop people blowing up planes, perhaps they should install stages in airports so everyone waiting gets to see the strip show of the people going through security ahead of them?

  8. Dick Kennedy

    What the scanners are really looking for

    Maybe the scanners can't detect combustibles, but they're finding something far more sinister. Check this out:

  9. Intractable Potsherd
    Thumb Up

    I suspect ...

    ... that I know what the incendiary is, and I've long wondered why no-one has yet used it (obviously, I'm not going to say what I think), since it gets around the liquid restrictions, and would not show up on any scanner.

    On a different note, is anyone else jealous that the Germans are doing proper TV investigative journalism?

  10. E-man

    Body scanner failure

    I first read abou this failure last wednsday shortly after the program was filmed. It was on a major new wire, AP news if I recall. Oddly enough, it was pulled from the wire a short time later and no mention of this was to be found in any other publication. Cheers to the staff at the Regstar for finding it an running with it!

    If a thick, teflon frying pan doesn't stand up to what basically looks like thermite, what chance does the skin of an aircraft have. The scanners are useless, violate child porn laws and ar a massive invasion of privacy.

    How much more of our freedom and civil liberties shall we have to give up in the name of "security"?

    Welcome to the New World Order....

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    It looks like the physicist had the ingredients for Thermite from the way that the incendiary went up in the frying pan. Not a bomb! But still very dangerous in a plane.

    However the guy also showed how the machines don't seem to actually spot anything except microphones. The english speaking guy said it that in real life the person wouldn't be wearing their jacket and that scans in two directions would be taken - but it still doesn't explain why the stuff strapped to the physicist's leg wasn't spotted.

    As is usual with security - all show and no substance.

  12. Breandan Goodall

    A Waste of Our Time and Our Money

    According to a number of reports on the scanners they are likely to take 30~40 seconds to scan each person, which is a significant increase from the 1~2 seconds it took to pass through the old scanners. If a 100 people (not so uncommon at peak times) people are ahead of you in the security line you'll end up spending the better part of an extra hour waiting, not in a bar or somewhere interesting, but in a queue trying to pass the time playing russian roulette strip poker where you try to guess how many items of clothing the security staff will ask you to remove.

    Oh, we'll also be paying extra in airport fees in order to enjoy the privilege of wasting more of our lives on useless security.

    Come on people, our politicians (both NuLies and NuCons) have exaggerated and made baseless claims about terrorist threats that are never backed up with any kind of detail. We were all smart enough to spot the bullshit behind the 45 min claim, so how come we don't see the bullshit behind the menace of the nappy bomber.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wrong type of scanner

    Not saying I support the use of body scanners, but this isn't the kind of scanners most folks (including the TSA) are talking about. The video is a low-res thermal scanner instead of a millimeter wave scanner.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get real!

    There are three major reasons for fitting new security equipment and routines. Terrorists incidents are only the excuse.

    The first is the simplest - the political and social power that comes from keeping populations afraid, by potentially criminalising just about everyone.

    The second is to use security theatre to generate even bigger profits for big business, and in the process to line politicians'/civil servants' pockets and/or increase their power.

    The third reason is so that the kind of petty officialdom whose nuisance value used to be limited to telling us "you can't park that there, mate!" now have their self-importance expanded no end while claiming to protect us all from terrorism - as if. What a huge boost to sad minds.

    Security is a very serious matter - no question - but these clowns don't have the answer and won't have it any time soon because our actual safety isn't top of their priorities - they're too busy trying to prevent the last attack.

    There are people around who do fully understand security and its application to public life and travel. These days, they're almost dissidents.

  15. Niall 1

    Image quality

    Every sample image I've seen for full body scanners look like low quality photos with the colours inverted, but the image on that clip is just a useless red blob. So what is the quality of the images that these things show?

  16. Sarah Baucom

    Not the same type of scanner

    That scanner seemed to use infrared or something, not the millimeter wave scan systems airports are using (at least the ones in the US). The millimeter wave scanners can see way more detail, and I'm pretty sure would have detected the items in his pockets (though maybe not the one in his mouth).

    1. Apocalypse Later

      Not dangerous?

      I have seen thermite eat right through a steel plate a quarter inch thick. Set it off in an aircraft and there will not only be a fire, but a hole in the fuselage and anything else it encounters on the way.

    2. N2 Silver badge

      Not dangerous?

      Im sure that stuff is used by divers to cut metal underwater, AFAIK it produces oxygen when it burns at around 2000 degrees C & burns through metal like a hot knife through butter.

      Not the sort of stuff you'd let your children play with.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      And in other news

      >the political and social power that comes from keeping populations afraid

      Afhgan elections have just been cancelled due to security risks. Get ready for May 6th, or maybe not.

    4. TimeMaster T

      Never underestimate an incindeary

      Thermite will create a stream of molten iron that would melt its way though a planes guts, like right down into the fuel tank that is in the mid section of a 747. Remember a few years back where a 747 blew up because (officially) of a spark in the middle fuel tank?

      Or if could cut through critical electrical/hydraulic lines, or start a fire in the luggage compartment.

      What makes thermite grenades so dangerous isn't the bang they make but what the iron stream does on its way down. One grenade, in the right spot, can destroy or disable some really big machines.

      All that would bee needed is to know WHERE to ignite it on a plan to do the most damage, at the very least it would likely cause a depressurization of the cabin and might even cause the plan to disintegrate mid air. I know of a few mid air break ups that were caused by failures of the pressure cabin.

      Flame, because thermite is HOT!!

  17. Chris 86

    Not quite

    The English speaker was the MD of a body scanner firm. He said in an airport environment the scanee would have had to remove his jacket (which contained the thermite in a pocket), AND there would have been a profile scan - the scanner works by detecting contrasts between the body and concealed objects - the side pocket wasn't on the guy's body from the scanner's perspective so no contrast. He did however say that it couldn't detect anything in the mouth.

    Of course thermite (Iron oxide and aluminium) would have been detected by the metal scanner that everyone has to pass through.

    So the conclusion to draw is that if you can conceal enough thermite in your mouth (whilst retaining the ability to speak) and manage to avoid passing through the metal detectors, you might be able to make a small hole in an aircraft.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    We are lucky so far

    So far the wannabie bombers have been educated in places like the "Not Another Old University in Cambridge" (the same that delivered the climate change stuff). Lots of desire to go to heaven and shag 74 virgins (not surprising if your name is Reid) and lack of elementary abilities and aptitude to design something that works.

    It will be really scary if people from places where they still teach Chemistry, Engineering and Physics start doing bombs and the German example shows this perfectly. It took someone with a clue almost no time at all to prepare a contraption that went through the scanner with flying colours.

  19. ravenviz Silver badge


    When will they realise all this technology is fallible and go with dogs instead? And they love sniffing bottoms!

  20. OG

    Typo and some

    "Unarguable. And distressing on a number of different levels, from exploding aircraft to exploding security costs"


    Anyone with a few brain cells knows these things are useless. They wouldn't have stopped crotchbomber, they wouldn't have stopped 9/11 and if they used them for them for public transport, they wouldn't have stopped 7/7 (probably not good to give them ideas). Begs the question that apart from lining some pockets, what are they good for?

  21. gizmo23

    "exploring aircraft"

    Shouldn't that be "from exploding aircraft to exploring security costs" ?

  22. Tom Knapen
    Thumb Up

    Continental Europe...

    Ah, continental europe, the voice of reason against anglo-saxon madness. Love it.

  23. \\\

    English speaker appearing to be pro scanner.

    Of course he's pro scanner. It's David Haskett, manager of ThruVision.

  24. quartzie

    Passive IR Scanner

    As simple as the demonstration is, the experiment only used a passive Infrared scanner that didn't rotate around the body - allowing concealment of fairly explosive stuff in the guy's pockets, which stood away from the physicist's rotund figure.

    The discussion afterwards elaborated that had the scanner rotated, it would have likely revealed the pocketed items, or anything that didn't let the body heat through. Small items and in-body objects are difficult.

    HOWEVER: the hated body scanners at airports use a decidedly different approach of transmitting milimeter waves, or alternatively, low-powered X-ray (10~0.01nm), creating images or even 3D models (mm wave) with much higher resolution, which are also completely independent of body heat.

    The Reg Failed to take this into account.

    As the techie pointed out, though: no technology is perfect

  25. Andrew Baker


    Maybe they should buy some dowsing rods instead ?

  26. Lord Elpuss Silver badge

    No system, or person, is perfect

    The poor English-speaking guy was clearly ambushed by the show's producers. He works for the scanner manufacturer (that's why he kept saying "Our product") and was probably informed before the show that the object was to demonstrate the tech.

    So he's a tech demonstrator, not a trained scanner operator - and he was absolutely right that the jacket which contained most of the ingredients would have been taken off in an airport situation because it was outside the scanner boundaries hanging from the fat twat's arms.

    Having said that, three things come to mind.

    1) Whether or not he was aware of the show's objectives, he should have been prepared (and clearly wasn't) so only has himself to blame

    2) The scanners are either ineffective already, or will be shortly when terrorists develop even better techniques of hiding things

    3) Why would the terrorists bother to invent new ways, when they've clearly won already. I mean, even in their wildest and most deranged dreams they couldn't have hoped to have caused the chaos and misery that millions of innocent people already have to endure on a daily basis.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time for an El reg competition!

    I call upon El Reg to organise a competion, we need a name for this scanner that sums it up properly.

    I suggest: 'The Pervatron'

  28. Tezfair

    Nacktscanner or napsack scanner?

    What surprised me more, was its a young lad trying to sell / demonstrate a multimillion quid system. I would have thought it would have been more of a boffin / director / old bloke selling the system. It lacks credibility from the start.

    You could see he was out of his depth and doesn't have a knowledge of the system other than pressing the go button.

    Perhaps he should tip it over and look for ied bombs - hang on, someones allegedly made a working machine that does that already...not!!.

  29. Richard Jukes

    Bit unfair...

    Its a bit unfair that the chap was not scanned exact to airport procedures to give an accurate comparison. However I have no doubt the system is an improvement, but how bad will false positives be?

  30. The BigYin

    Who'd a thunk it?

    Labour spunk millions on something that is unecessary, unwanted and that doesn't work.

    One wonders how many members of the Labour party may have an "interest" in the manufacturers of these ridiculous scanners?

    Of course, it is primarily an EU directive that is brining these things in but if Labour had any ball and gave even one shit about us (two shits is just asking too much of these scum) then they would tell the EU where to go.

    It's time we kicked Labour out.

    It's time we quit the EU. A united Europe is great 'n all, but not a united Europe that meets in secrecy and can't even get it's accounts signed off.

  31. Peter Hewitt-Dutton


    These are NOT the scanners we use in the UK, so this could not be less relevant.

    We use X-Ray scanners on which you can see everything the passenger may have strapped to their body.

    I opperated the things for 2 years at Heathrow.

    1. Matt_W

      X-ray scanners

      Isn't all this stuff about the scanners old news?

      I went through Heathrow May 2006 and was "randomly selected" for a scan - one of the full body x-ray scans. (Not sure the specifics) I asked the operator could I see the image (I'm not sure if they'd show you know) but he did show me - in pretty good res. nekkidness - blurred my face and gentleman's area, but I could recognise myself. Pretty cringey - felt a sudden need to go on a diet...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      @No system, or person, is perfect

      "3) Why would the terrorists bother to invent new ways, when they've clearly won already. I mean, even in their wildest and most deranged dreams they couldn't have hoped to have caused the chaos and misery that millions of innocent people already have to endure on a daily basis."

      They don't even need to invent new ways, just explode their bombs in the now very long queues waiting to get through security. In fact it would be way more effective in stopping air travel for quite some time as rather than bringing one plane down, it would stop travel on hundreds if not thousands of planes with worldwide effect.

      Even if they only had something like a firecracker, they would still have caused enough fear to make most people think that a terrorist is round the corner.

      The definition of a terrorist is one who causes terror. It doesn't mean that they have to succeed in bombing something, only in causing fear and terror.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Even so

      If the material had been stuck to the inside of his upper arm then I think an IR type scanner would be unlikely to see it unless they had an upwards view. And that is what will be needed for millimetre wave scanners to find things hidden in the crotch region.

    4. TeeCee Gold badge

      Good idea!

      May I suggest "KnackerVision"?

      Encompasses both who'll be using it and what they'll be using it for....

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down


      An anachronistic term put about by the French (or should that be Normans?) in their tedious mission to link the UK and the USA in the minds of people from other countries, and thus tar us with the same brush and get everyone on-side in their even more tedious mission to convince the world that they really should have won the nasty game of imperialism, and "Ma mère it isn't fair, why does everybody speak English instead of French?"

      The Anglo Saxons died out a long time ago, I am English, I have no bronze jewellery and I've never worn a stetson.

      Not that it bothers me, or touches any nerves ;)

    6. Anonymous Coward


      Wasn't this filmed by Germans? Thereby making them as Anglo-Saxon as the English?

    7. Anonymous Coward

      So you would have prefered some old guy?

      Who perhaps knew even less of the tech ?


      The only credibility lost is yours for such out dated opinions.

    8. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      "... love sniffing bottoms!"

      The problem is, it is the PEOPLE DOING THE SCANNING that wouldn't get to "Let the Dachshund out", so to speak. They don't want the dogs to have all the fun!

    9. 1of10


      So let me guess... medical X-Ray is bad... but looks like airport X-Ray are good...

      Just let me tell NHS to move their hospital X-Ray departments to the airports since yours X-Ray might cause less damage to who gets scanned or to who works within X-Ray area.

      No X-Ray thanks!

      so what would be next? heavy sedatives?

      So that all passangers sleep before boarding and only wake up after landing? (ooops is better not say this laudly otherwise UK.GOV adopts this idea)

  32. Tom 7 Silver badge


    A smail fire with thermite? Thats the stuff that would burn through the skin, cause explosive decompression and then possibly tear the plane apart. Unless they were smart and used it to burn through a structural bulkhead but that would require reading up before they got on the plane and terrorists, like government ministers dont bother with research do they?

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Even if he had been scanned to airport regs

    Simply strapping the thermite containers to his inner thighs (of all places) would have concealed them most effectively from the through-vision apparatus. From the front, they'd hardly have shown (too cool) and from the side, his legs would've hidden them.

    As the video reported, items inside body cavities can't be detected with ThruVision and items at body temperature can't be detected (so the physicist must've been wearing his leg-detonator for long enough to reach equilibrium).

    Not a good advert for ThruVision, all told.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What Fun!

    Marvellous to see a marketing man squirm!

    Not fair! The explosives were in the wrong pocket!

    Wouldn't have been so much fun if the plane had crashed, though.

  35. Lost in a maze of twisty messages, all alike.

    Dear moderatrix

    Told you so ....

  36. barth

    if she's a bomb

    i'm sure not everyone will be blind to her parts

  37. Tony Hoyle


    If it takes 30-40 seconds per person to get through these scanners you'll create a huge queue waiting to get through.

    How long before the terr'sts work out that it's a lot easier to blow yourself up in the queue before the security checks than bother going through all that to go on the plane?


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