Counter-Terrorism: The Electronic Pat Down


November 1, 2008: One of the more successful counter-terrorism technologies has been a new, and portable, version of an old one. The old tech is backscatter radar. Originally developed during the Cold War, to provide a long range (over the horizon) radar, there is now a portable (carried in a van) version called the "Ruggedized Detection Imaging Modules" (RDIM).  In five years, nearly 200 of these portable devices have been delivered or ordered. The U.S. Department of Defense alone has about a hundred of these units, mainly in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Z Backscatter technology is basically X-Ray machines that can see through clothing, and inside vehicles, and distinguish between organic and inorganic material. RDIM provides a photo quality image in seconds. The subject has to stand in front of the RDIM. Now normally, you could check someone for bombs on their person by just patting them down. But suicide bombers tend to set off their bombs when they perceive a pat-down coming. So a RDIM could be set up so that the operator and the subjects are far enough away from each other that, if a suicide bomber is encountered, you only lose the machine. That can be expensive, for these rigs go for about a million dollars each, and cost over $10,000 a month to maintain. The Department of Defense began with four RDIMs in early 2005, but quickly obtained more when it was discovered how useful the units are.

Foreign countries, particularly in South America and the Middle East have been ordering a lot of them, especially for providing security for VIPs and critical locations. Z Backscatter technology is the most expensive, non-intrusive and thorough kind of security you can get. But as the price continues to fall (Z Backscatter units cost about 50 percent more just two years ago), more of it will be used.



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