U.S. Paid for Full-Body Scanners at Nigeria’s Four International Airports in 2007
January 6, 2010The four international airports in Nigeria are equipped with full-body scanners -- the same technology that the United States and other countries are now scrambling to put into place following the attempted bombing of an American airliner on Christmas Day by a Nigerian man.
The scanners were paid for by the United States and installed in 2007, according to the State Department’s 2008 Country Reports on Terrorism.
“The Nigerian government approved the installation of U.S.-funded body scanners in all four international airports to detect explosives and drugs on passengers,” said the report, which is required by U.S. law to be provided to Congress annually. “The scanners were installed in March, May and June. The Nigerian and U.S. governments also co-sponsored a conference on aviation security in Abuja from November 17-18.”
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian national accused of the attack, traveled from Ghana in West Africa, through Lagos, Nigeria, to Amsterdam, Holland, where he boarded a Northwest plane bound for Detroit.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has had the scanning technology in place since 2007, although some reports say Dutch officials will be beefing up security at the airport because of the attempted terrorist attack. On Sunday, the Obama administration announced tougher screening for passengers departing from 14 countries, including Nigeria, to the United States.
Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria are countries that are considered “state sponsors of terrorism” by the United States, according to the State Department. “Countries of interest” include Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.
The latest State Department report, issued April 30, 2009, was the responsibility of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has yet to speak publicly about the attempted bombing. However, Clinton has called Yemen, where Abdulmutallab reportedly trained for his mission with an al Qaeda cell, a threat to U.S. security.
According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the federal government has ordered and received 150 scanners, which it plans to distribute at airports around the country in 2010. These units cost between $130,000 and $170,000.
Currently, 40 units are in 19 airports in the United States, with six using scanners for primary screening and 34 for secondary, or random, screening. There are 450 commercial airports that are federalized by the TSA in the United States.
The State Department report also says that although the Nigerian government agreed to accept and install the body-scanning equipment, it would not agree to a request by the United States to have U.S. federal air marshals on direct flights between Nigeria and the United States.
Ghana, the country where Abdulmutallab bought his one-way ticket with cash, has publicly pledged to install body-scanning technology at its international airports. The TSA Web site section on imaging technology states that passengers can refuse to go through the full-body scanner, which sees through clothing.
“These technologies are optional for all passengers,” the Web site states. “Passengers who do not wish to utilize this screening receive an equal level of screening and undergo a pat-down procedure.”
Some experts say that scanning technology is not necessarily the “silver bullet” for keeping terrorists armed with explosives from boarding planes.
Andrew Thomas, editor of the Journal of Transportation Security at the University of Akron in Ohio told Boston.com that better security in the air requires focusing on people, not technology.
“Rather than look at bad things, we need to look at the bad people,’’ Thomas said.