Keeping One Step Ahead

The day everything changed began with just a few small steps through a security checkpoint. Hijackers Mohammed Atta and Abdulaziz al-Omari cleared the metal detectors at the Portland, Maine airport. Just three months later, Richard Reid, aboard an American Airlines jet from Paris to Miami, was caught trying to light explosives hidden in the heel of his shoe

As CBS News correspondent Bob Orr reports, those security failures have changed the way we fly and the way we live. The government has been pressing the nation's high-tech industry for state-of-the-art answers. And slowly—too slowly for some critics—the results can be seen around the country.

It's called "the Puffer." Michael Jackson — the number two man at the Department of Homeland Security — says it's the newest passenger screening machine, but not the only change.

"It takes about 16 seconds, and its looking for trace material of explosive material that may be on a person's body," Jackson says. "After 2001, we basically replaced every X-ray machine and all the equipment you see here today."

Since New Year's Day 2003, all checked bags — more than a billion a year — have been scanned by explosives detectors. And airport screeners have been re-schooled.

"A year ago, we put basically everyone through an updated training session on how to find explosives, looking at liquids, looking at disassembled bomb parts," Jackson says. "This is a tremendously different and robust work force than we had before."

Jackson says that while all this technology can be used at border crossings and ports, trains and subway systems remain a challenge.

"There is no single technology that draws a shield around a large subway system," he says. "It's a combination of things: intelligence, training, tools that work together. We have to stay one step ahead of the bad guys."

To do that, tomorrow's security is being developed at companies like AS&E Electronics outside Boston. Joe Reiss is the marketing director here. The so-called "backscatter technology" he's talking about involves bombarding bags — even passengers — with a more revealing type of X-ray. Backscatter can also be used at ports and border crossings to more precisely examine the contents of large trucks and containers.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.