London Times | July 11, 2005
By Ben Webster
TUBE passengers are to have their bodies scanned by machines that see through clothing in an attempt to prevent further terrorist attacks. The millimetre wave imagers will be used to carry out random checks as people enter stations after services resume today.
Police and transport officials are also considering installing the equipment permanently at stations across the network. The technology is already used to catch illegal immigrants who hide in lorries at Channel ports but has not previously been used on the Underground because of the high cost and concerns about privacy.
The scanners can spot the waistcoat bombs usually worn by suicide bombers and automatically send an alert to nearby officers. Unlike other scanners, they can cover crowded entrances without the need for people to be stopped for individual checks.
The system works by measuring the solar radiation reflected by people’s bodies and measuring anything which interferes with the reflection.
It can be linked to closed- curcuit television cameras that will automatically pick out and follow a suspect until he can be stopped and questioned.
QinetiQ, the privatised former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency which developed the technology, said the scanners could be fitted to all 270 Underground stations within 18 months.
Each station would cost from £150,000 to £2 million to fit depending on its size and the number of entrances.
Simon Stringer, managing director of QinetiQ’s security division, said: “We have been asked to deploy some of this equipment.
“It would certainly assist in preventing this sort of thing from happening again.
“After today, I expect the travelling public will be more prepared to put up with a greater level of surveillance.” Mr Stringer said.
Philip Baum, managing director of the security consultancy Green Light, said the advantage of millimetre wave was its ability to scan large numbers of people simultaneously and produce an instant moving image. He said that conventional airport scanners were impractical because the Tube handled three million passengers a day.
“As the Israelis have found, if you cause huge queues for security checks you merely create prime targets for terrorists. They just detonate their bombs in the queues.
“But there will be huge civil liberties questions because you will have to accept that people will see you walking round semi-naked.”
Mr Stringer said there were various techniques for protecting people’s privacy.
“We can solve the modesty issue by overlaying the body with graphics except for the area which causes concern.
“The computer can also be set only to show those people who are carrying something suspicious.”
Mr Stringer said that the devices could either be deployed covertly or made prominent at station entrances as a visible deterrent.
Dummy devices could be installed at some stations to reduce the overall cost.
As with speed cameras, people passing would not know which ones were live.
QinetiQ has also combined the devices with software which detects anomalous behaviour, such as people changing direction inside mainline or Underground stations. Covert studies of terrorists have detected typical patterns of movement as they carry out reconnaissance or seek the best position for their attack.
Mr Baum said vigilance by passengers would play a greater role than any technology in detecting terrorists.
Even if the Tube and mainline stations were all covered by scanners, it would be impossible to protect all 8,000 buses in London.
After last year’s Madrid train bombings, there was a high degree of awareness in London of the risk from suspect packages.
But the number of alerts had dwindled in recent months and Tube managers believe that many passengers had become reluctant to delay services with what they assumed would be false alarms.
Some staff had also begun to take the threat less seriously.
In February, a woman was reprimanded by platform staff after blocking the door with her foot when she saw an unattended bag on a train at Bank station on the Northern Line.
# The return to service on London Underground was delayed last night after Tube drivers refused to carry out security inspections on trains. The drivers argued that police or army officers should give the all-clear before services could resume. The Rail Maritime and Transport union said that drivers had been asked to carry out security inspections on Tube trains, which was “completely unacceptable”.
Bob Crow, the RMT union’s general secretary, said: “We don’t believe drivers should be checking trains until police or army officers have given the all clear.
“We obviously apologise for any delays this will cause, but the threat is too serious for such crucial inspections to be done by untrained staff.”
The union said that it had been kept in the dark over security plans and called for a review of the arrangements that would involve the trade unions.
ARTERIES FOR THE CAPITAL
# 3 million journeys on Tube each day
# A record 976 million journeys last year
# 500 trains operate at any one time at peak periods
# 275 Tube stations
# Victoria is busiest, with 76.5 million passengers a year
# In the three-hour morning peak, 34,000 people enter Victoria Tube station
# Each train carries up to 900 people
# The Piccadilly Line is 100ft below the surface at Russell Square
# 1,400 CCTV cameras on the Tube
# All modern buses have internal cameras
# London has 8,000 buses, each carrying up to 140 people
# 4.5 million bus journeys are made each day in London