Full-body scanners headed for MSP

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2010 - 10:09 PM

The controversial screening machines could be in place here by summer.

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Full-body scanners, which can see through clothing, have been the focus of debate since a failed terrorist attack in December.

Photo: Haraz N. Ghanbari, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON - Start hitting the gym. Controversial full-body scanners apparently are coming to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

An MSP official said the scanners, which can see through passengers' clothing, could arrive in four to five months.

The scanners have been the focus of intense debate on Capitol Hill and across the country since a Nigerian man attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight with hidden explosives on Christmas Day. After the failed attack, Homeland Security officials announced plans to increase the number of full-body scanning machines being deployed to airports this year -- with more to come in 2011.

MSP Director of Operations Tim Anderson said the local Transportation Security Administration chief told him last week that the airport should receive some scanners in the next four to five months, though nothing is certain because the deployment schedule is not final. The TSA, which controls and deploys the machines, has not formally informed the airport that any are on the way.

"So I'm looking at possibly having a couple [scanners] here perhaps this summer or early fall. But that depends on their deployment schedule," Anderson said. He did not know how many scanners may be deployed.

Carrie Harmon, a regional spokeswoman for the TSA, would not confirm whether any machines are headed to MSP. "Exact deployment locations are still being finalized," Harmon wrote in an e-mail.

Airport spokesman Patrick Hogan said they have been in talks with the TSA about the fact that the airport will "need some time to make modifications to the checkpoints before we can actually install" the machines.

Airport renovations will be necessary partly because of the size of the scanners -- about 6 feet wide -- and will depend on how many machines are sent and whether the TSA mandates that all passengers be screened. The date the scanners become operational depends on the renovations and how much advance warning the airport receives.

Privacy groups have assailed the scanners in recent months as overly invasive. But many lawmakers debating the issue on Capitol Hill in January said the technology would have likely prevented the Christmas Day incident.

Minnesota's senators both endorsed varying uses of the scanners in airports. Democratic Sen. Al Franken said in January that he does not support using them to screen all passengers, however.

"Maybe there should be one at every airport, and if someone's name is [on a watch list] they should be put through the scanner," Franken said. "But not every person goes through the scanner. I just don't think that's right."

MSP officials do not know whether the devices will be used for primary or secondary screening, but Anderson said that the machines already deployed across the country are largely being used only on select passengers. The prospect of full-body scanning for all passengers has sparked concerns nationally about longer lines because of the extra time it takes to go through the machines.

Eric Roper 202-408-2723

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