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Countering Terrorism: The Role of Science and Technology

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California Institute of Technology
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  • Feature Articles

Abstract

Covers 2002 number 4.indd 26 E N G I N E E R I N G & S C I E N C E N O . 4     The terrorist threat is a real one. The ease of travel and the access to explosives technology make the terrorist’s job a fairly easy one, especially when he’s willing to die to accomplish his objec- tives. And there’s a broad spectrum of financial supporters for terrorist activities, which gives factions the ability to strike at any desired target. In countering such threats, we have so far been mainly reactionary—responding to wake-up calls when terrorists strike. It would be better if we could get out of this mode, if we could anticipate the bad guys and prevent them from carrying out by Jesse L . ( Jack) Beauchamp On January 1, airports all over the country began sprouting SUV-sized CT scanners to screen passengers’ checked baggage for explosives, part of a federally mandated plan to beef up aviation security. Los Angeles International Airport was up and running, with 58 of the new CT screeners and 270 smaller scanners to detect traces of explosives, on the first day of the new year. The lines at the Tom Bradley Terminal stretched out the door (above). Jack Beauchamp’s October Watson Lecture foreshadowed this next level of security and explained the research that went into these machines (and subsequent instruments still in development)—and how they work. Counter ing Terrorism: The Role of Sc ience and Technology A Personal Perspect ive Los A ngeles Tim es photo by Luis Sinco IMAGE NOT LICENSED FOR WEB USE 27E N G I N E E R I N G & S C I E N C E N O . 4    their intended activities. This is a tall order, but it’s clear from the intentions of Congress and the White House that we’re embarking on an enor- mous program with an R&D budget of around $36 billion to do the best we can. We have had several wake-up calls already. In 1988, an explosion blew Pan Am Flight 103 out of the skies, killing everybody on board. Forensic work, including careful reconstruction of th

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