Twitter Facebook Google RSS
Security Beat 

Customs Employs See-Through Technology at Border 


By Matthew Rusling 

The Department of Homeland Security is employing a new device that can peer through vehicles used in cross-border smuggling.

The “backscatter van” is deployed at about 30 checkpoints on the U.S.-Mexican border to snag drug and weapons runners and human traffickers.

Drivers who arouse suspicion are asked to pull over so Customs and Border Protection agents can search their vehicles. That is where the backscatter van comes in, said Patrick Simmons, director of non-intrusive inspection technology and radiation detection at CBP.

A van with a high-power x-ray machine mounted on top cruises slowly by the suspect’s parked vehicle and takes a black-and-white image, which appears on a console in the van’s cab, said Joe Reiss, vice president of marketing for the device’s designer, American Science and Engineering.

“Imagine you have the ability to peel away the side of a vehicle. That’s what this technology does.”

Reiss said the technology detects “low density” compounds such as drugs and humans — which are mostly made of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and easier for an x-ray to pick up — as opposed to “high density” compounds such as steel.

Weapons — which are sometimes made of dense metals — may be more difficult to detect, although the machine can be configured to spot them, Reiss said.

The technology can also be adjusted to detect a “dirty bomb” — an explosive packed with radioactive materials — although that option would cost more to implement, Reiss said.  

The device comes with a hefty price tag of $665,000 per unit and $40,000 per year for maintenance. This raises cost-benefit questions. Simmons said the device has been “extremely successful” in thwarting smugglers. “We feel the cost benefit warrants the continued utilization of the backscatter technology,” he said.

Still, with only 30 such devices deployed, it may be difficult to make a dent in cross-border illegal trafficking. Simmons said, “That’s not our only piece of equipment.” He cited more than 200 anti-smuggling systems devices throughout the border.
Submit Your Reader's Comment Below
The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
Please enter the text displayed in the image.
The picture contains 6 characters.
*Legal Notice

NDIA is not responsible for screening, policing, editing, or monitoring your or another user's postings and encourages all of its users to use reasonable discretion and caution in evaluating or reviewing any posting. Moreover, and except as provided below with respect to NDIA's right and ability to delete or remove a posting (or any part thereof), NDIA does not endorse, oppose, or edit any opinion or information provided by you or another user and does not make any representation with respect to, nor does it endorse the accuracy, completeness, timeliness, or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement, or other material displayed, uploaded, or distributed by you or any other user. Nevertheless, NDIA reserves the right to delete or take other action with respect to postings (or parts thereof) that NDIA believes in good faith violate this Legal Notice and/or are potentially harmful or unlawful. If you violate this Legal Notice, NDIA may, in its sole discretion, delete the unacceptable content from your posting, remove or delete the posting in its entirety, issue you a warning, and/or terminate your use of the NDIA site. Moreover, it is a policy of NDIA to take appropriate actions under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and other applicable intellectual property laws. If you become aware of postings that violate these rules regarding acceptable behavior or content, you may contact NDIA at 703.522.1820.

  Bookmark and Share