The monster

Public domain image of an explosive device.

Public domain image of an explosive device. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was something bestial about it. As the man pulled down the switch, the machine shuddered and groaned whilst emitting an unholy noise. Although the switch was electrical in nature, the cacophony suggested something much more primal. Internal combustion maybe, or perhaps steam.

Either way, there was an enormous deafening construction in front of me. I never would have thought such a thing would have existed under a modern office block and yet, down here in the bowels of the building, it lived.

As well as being noisy, the room was dark and dusty. The sign on the side of the machine declared it a bomb scanner. My companion looked bored. I helped him load the heavy mailbags onto the conveyer belt so that they could be ingested by the gigantic machine. I felt so important. Here I was, heroically scanning the incoming mail for terrorist devices, risking my life to make sure that the employees of BP Oil (UK) Ltd were safe.

“Have you ever found anything?” I shouted expectantly above the incessant roar of the machine. He fixed me with a look and slowly shook his head. His movements suggested that this was a well trodden path. He told me that any modern bomb would be set off by the scanner anyway. My shoulders involuntarily sank.

So what was the point? There was probably a risk analysis somewhere that said that our company might be a target for terrorism. In the mitigation column, it would say that the incoming post would be scanned before delivery. Everyone could relax, safe in the knowledge that we had all bases covered. Except, as my grisly colleague pointed out, the terrorists were smarter than that.

It’s difficult to find reliable statistics, but several sites seem to suggest that there are roughly 3Bn air passenger journeys per year. Every one of these passengers will spend roughly half an hour of their life passing through security. All of them will have to separate out their liquids and many of them will need to take off their shoes. Not because of our advanced x-ray scanning machines, but because in the past terrorists have been foiled attempted to blow up planes using either liquid explosive or the contents of their shoes.

I’m glad these guys were caught, but we left it a bit late. I look forward to the day when the machines at the airport are so sophisticated, that you don’t even notice them. They just happen to scan you when you’re least expecting it. Maybe while you get out of the taxi or as you walk past the newsagents buying your reading material for the flight. They’re probably not even looking for bombs. They will examine behaviour, looking for anything remotely out of the ordinary.

Surely that must be more effective than lining everyone up and marching them through the obvious (and not particularly effective) bomb scanner.

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