THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The Netherlands announcedWednesday it will immediately begin using full body scanners forflights heading to the United States, issuing a report that calledthe failed Christmas Day airline bombing a "professional" al-Qaida terror attack.
A top Dutch official said a scanner of that type may havestopped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Northwest AirlinesFlight 253 to Detroit from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Fridaycarrying undetected explosives. Law enforcement officials say the23-year-old Nigerian tried but failed to detonate the explosives ona plane carrying over 300 people.
"It is not exaggerating to say the world has escaped adisaster," Interior Minister Guusje Ter Horst told a newsconference, referring to it as "another al-Qaida attack."
The Dutch minister said U.S. had not wanted these scanners to beused previously because of privacy concerns but said there was nowagreement with Washington authorities that "all possible measureswill be used on flights to the U.S."
A key European legislator urged the European Union to beginrapidly installing the new equipment across the 27-nation bloc, butno other European nations immediately followed the Dutch move.
Body scanners that peer underneath clothing have been availablefor years, but privacy advocates say they are a "virtual stripsearch" because they display an image of the body onto a computerscreen.
Ian Dowty, a lawyer with Action on Rights of the Child, saidallowing minors to pass through the scanners violates childpornography laws.
"It shows genitalia," he told The Associated Press. "As faras English law is concerned ... it's unlawful if it's indecent."
For that reason, British authorities have exempted under-18sfrom body scan trials at places including Paddington Station inLondon as well as Heathrow and Manchester airports.
New software, however, eliminates that problem by projecting astylized image rather than an actual picture onto a computerscreen, highlighting the area of the body where objects areconcealed in pockets or under the clothing.
Ter Horst, the Dutch minister, the scanners likely would havealerted security guards to the materials concealed inAbdulmutallab's underwear and prevented him from boarding theNorthwest flight.
"Our view now is that the use of millimeter wave scanners wouldcertainly have helped detect that he had something on his body, butyou can never give 100 percent guarantees," Ter Horst said.
In its preliminary report, the Dutch government called the planto blow up the Detroit-bound aircraft "professional" but said itsexecution was "amateurish."
Ter Horst said Abdulmutallab apparently assembled the explosivedevice, including 80 grams of Pentrite, or PETN, in the aircrafttoilet, then planned to detonate it with a syringe of chemicals.She said the explosives appeared to have been professionallyprepared and had been given to Abdulmutallab, but did notelaborate.
"The approach in this case shows - despite the failure of theattack - a fairly professional approach," the investigationsummary stated. "Pentrite is a very powerful conventionalexplosive, which is not easy to produce yourself."
"If you want to detonate it, you have to do that another waythan he did. That is why we talk about amateurism," Ter Horstsaid.
Abdulmutallab arrived in Amsterdam on Friday from Lagos, Nigeriaon a KLM flight. After a layover of less than three hours in theinternational departure hall, he passed through a security check atthe gate in Amsterdam, including a hand baggage scan and a metaldetector, and headed to the Northwest flight. He did not passthrough a full-body scanner.
Abdulmutallab was carrying a valid Nigerian passport and had avalid U.S. visa, the Dutch said. His name also did not appear onany Dutch list of terror suspects.
"No suspicious matters which would give reason to classify theperson involved as a high-risk passenger were identified during thesecurity check," Ter Horst said.
Erik Ackerboom, head of the Dutch counterterrorism bureau,dismissed suggestions that Abdulmutallab should have arousedsuspicion when he paid for a round-trip ticket from Lagos toDetroit in cash and had no check-in luggage.
Paying cash in Africa is not unusual, he said, and the lack ofsuitcases "wasn't a reason for alarm."
Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to destroy an aircraft, isbeing held at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan.
Amsterdam's Schiphol has 15 body scanners, each costing morethan $200,000. But until now neither the European Union nor theU.S. have approved the routine use of the scanners at Europeanairports.
At least two scanners in Amsterdam have been experimentallyusing the less-invasive software since late November and the Dutchsaid those will be put into use immediately. All other scannerswill be upgraded within three weeks.
In the U.S., 40 of the machines are being operated in at least19 U.S. airports.
Six machines are being used for primary screenings at six U.S.airports: Albuquerque, N.M.; Las Vegas; Miami; San Francisco; SaltLake City; and Tulsa, Okla. Passengers go through the scans insteadof a metal detector, although they can elect to receive a pat-downsearch from a security officer instead.
The remainder of the machines are being used at 13 U.S. airportsfor secondary screening of passengers who set off a metal detector.But those travelers can also opt for a pat-down instead.
Last year the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted againstusing the scanners and called for further study, allowing Schipholto conduct a pilot test of the scanners on European flights.
But opposition faded Wednesday when a key assembly member saidthe newest types "pose no privacy risk." Peter van Dalen,vice-chairman of the assembly's transport committee said, a recentdemonstration at Schiphol lifted any doubts that the equipmentviolates the privacy of air passengers.
A Dutch digital rights group, Bits of Freedom, said the decisionto introduce the scanners on short notice was a fear-drivenoverreaction.
"The chance of someone being a victim of a terrorist attack inthe air is a lot smaller than the chance of being struck bylightning," the group wrote in an open letter to the Dutch JusticeMinistry.
Meanwhile, officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday thata man tried to board a commercial airliner in the Somali capital of Mogadishu last month carrying powdered chemicals, liquid and asyringe in a case bearing chilling similarities to the Detroitairliner plot.
The Somali man - whose name has not yet been released - wasarrested by African Union peacekeeping troops before the Nov. 13Daallo Airlines flight took off. It had been scheduled to travelfrom Mogadishu to the northern Somali city of Hargeisa, then toDjibouti and Dubai. A Somali police spokesman, Abdulahi HassanBarise, said the suspect is in Somali custody.
"We don't know whether he's linked with al-Qaida or otherforeign organizations, but his actions were the acts of aterrorist. We caught him red-handed," said Barise.
President Barack Obama has demanded a preliminary report byThursday from U.S. security authorities on what went wrong in theDetroit airliner case. Obama said the intelligence community shouldhave been able to piece together information that would have raised"red flags" and possibly prevented Abdulmutallab from boardingthe airliner.
"There was a mix of human and systemic failures thatcontributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security,"Obama told reporters in Hawaii, calling the intelligenceshortcomings "totally unacceptable."
Abdulmutallab had been placed in one expansive database, but henever made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caughtthe attention of U.S. counterterrorist screeners, despite hisfather's warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month.Those warnings also did not result in Abdulmutallab's U.S. visabeing revoked.
U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he receivedtraining and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen - whichlies across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times