December 29, 2009
Posted: 03:26 PM ET
By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Spencer Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
When alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab casually boarded his flight for Detroit on Christmas Day, he unwittingly confirmed repeated warnings about the chronic, costly shortcomings of government efforts to create better systems to screen travelers for bombs, weapons and other threats.
The incident follows a long series of public and confidential government findings that the massive push for new high-technology systems - some of them promising almost science-fiction-like abilities to detect and communicate threats - often has fallen short, and that billions of dollars were being wasted on systems that do not work or are behind schedule.
In the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, federal officials pledged to use information technology to identify terrorists, while also creating new machines that would automatically detect explosives, sense whether passengers were lying, and scan other materials for threats.
The Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies have spent billions of dollars to develop security systems, including more than $795 million for research and development of high-tech checkpoint screening equipment.
But government watch lists failed to identify Abdulmutallab as a likely terrorist, even though his name was put in one of the most important government databases after his father had warned officials that he could be a threat. And none of the high-tech screening equipment under development by the Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate was used to screen him.
According to government reports, mismanagement of research, concerns about privacy, the high costs of installation and, in some cases, opposition from industry and Congress have hindered the widespread deployment of 10 systems at airports in the United States and abroad.
Filed under: Terrorism
From around the web
Go Behind The Scenes
LARRY KING LIVE'S Emmy-winning Senior Executive Producer Wendy Walker knows what it takes to make a great story.
With anecdotes, provocative emails, scandals, show transcripts and insights into Walker's long working relationship with Larry King, her new book PRODUCER issues readers an invitation to listen in on the most intriguing conversations on the planet.