Bombs in Bodies

An elegant solution to the BiBs problem may be found, however, in a technology called Quadrupole Resonance (QR). (ALL – Morpho Detection)

Yotam Margalit, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Morpho Detection Inc, talks about responding to the threat of BiBs; also know as Bombs in Bodies.

An elegant solution to the BiBs problem may be found, however, in a technology called Quadrupole Resonance (QR). (ALL – Morpho Detection)

On August 27, 2009, at 11:30 PM, there was an attempt to assassinate Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was also the country’s Deputy Interior Minister for Security.
The attack was carried out by a suicide bomber and al-Qaeda activist, Abul-Khair, who deceitfully turned himself in, claiming to have important information he could convey only to the prince.  Abul-Khair was carrying an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which was detonated, supposedly by Khair’s mobile phone, once the terrorist and his target were in the same room.  In the attack the prince suffered only minor injuries to his hand.
At the time it was presumed that the IED was concealed in Khair’s abdomen. This notion, although later diminished in likelihood by Saudi officials, sparked the interest of security-minded professionals worldwide, and likely did the same for their terrorist adversaries, as well.
Concealment of various types of contraband, most commonly narcotics, in a courier’s abdomen has been a modus operandi of various criminal organizations since well before the invention of security technologies capable of defeating it.
Threats and the defences against them commonly develop in sync out of necessity and such is the case with detection of weapons and explosives concealed on and in the human body.  When the threat was mostly characterized by large weapons with great masses of ferrous metals, rudimentary metal detection gateways were adequate solutions.  As threats started including smaller masses of metal and strayed away from simple iron, metal detection technology evolved accordingly and can now reveal most, if not all, metallic threats.
And in an age when non-metallic knife blades and IEDs with little or no metallic components threaten protected targets such as civil aviation – and VIPs – recent threat defence development has focused on an impressive collection of body imaging devices.  Recently re-named Advanced Imaging Technologies (AIT), these devices now stand ready to detect anomalies on the human form at an increasing number of checkpoints around the world.
The introduction of AITs into aviation and other checkpoints does mark a significant improvement in threat detection capabilities.  Despite the controversy regarding privacy issues – for which we are likely to see a solution in the form of airport operational procedures, computer-assisted detection, or both – AIT systems bring a new level of anomaly detection capability to the checkpoint, a feature that has been missing since the opening of the first checkpoint lane.
But the problem with such synchronous development cycles is that threat development often continues in spite of or even because of defensive developments and in this case, threat development could very well move in the direction inspired by the original notion of the attempted Saudi prince assassination.
Moreover, the very presence of AITs themselves could contribute to the development of such threats from surface level, or skin deep, to internally concealed ones.
Current solutions
Abdominally concealed explosives can be initiated by firing devices that contain very few, even no, metallic components at all.  This can render conventional and more advanced metal detection technologies useless against them.  AITs, although capable of explosives detection through detection of anomalies, can only penetrate light clothes and up to about one millimeter of skin, depending on the AIT technology.  In either case, an explosive threat hidden behind a wall of flesh, centimeters thick, is simply not visible to any AIT technology.
A scan using QR technology currently takes less than ten seconds per person and the results are available immediately following the scan.

Beyond the millimeter wave technologies, whether passive or active, and the back scatter X-ray systems that ‘bounce’ off the skin, there are the transmission X-ray systems that, like a medical X-ray, penetrate the body from side-to-side to display a very vivid image of the target’s internal organs.  But these technologies still do not offer true BiBs detection capability simply because the images they produce require expert human interpretation.  An operator looking at these images would need to be able to reliably discern, for example, between parts of an intestine and a similar size rubber tube filled with plastic explosive.  And, as with today’s AITs, they are subject to myriad legal, social, health and privacy concerns.
An elegant solution to the BiBs problem may be found, however, in a technology called Quadrupole Resonance (QR).  Although not without its own limitations, QR seems to have a collection of very favorable attributes that may make it a very successful solution from the detection, operational and customer-service standpoints.
QR technology
QR is a Radio Frequency (RF)-based technology in which radio waves, at very specific frequencies, are aimed at the object to be interrogated.  These RF waves have been found to excite the molecular structures of certain materials, causing them to return a faint resonating signal of their own.
QR technology-based products first ‘sound off’ the RF wave and then ‘listen’ with the use of very sensitive antennas, for any faint response.  If such a response is received, it is very strong indication that the specific material searched for is present because the RF signal that was broadcast and the one returned are molecular-specific.  This in turn means that the technology has a very low rate of false-positive occurrences.
QR technology can be configured and tuned to detect very small masses of explosives regardless of the shape the explosives may be in.  This is a very important feature when dealing with a target mass that may not only have no specific shape, but in fact may be broken up and distributed in many smaller pieces within the abdomen.  Detection of threats with this technology is automatic – algorithms analyze the RF signals picked up by the antenna coils and the system issues a ‘clear’ signal when nothing was detected or an ‘alarm’ signal if an explosive is found.
Perhaps the most attractive feature of QR is that it does not generate, nor does it require, an image of any kind, a fact that would be especially welcome to those concerned with privacy issues – or with human error.  Also, as QR is RF based, there are no safety issues regarding the operation of this technology, or at least none more severe than mobile phone or two-way radio usage.
Design and application
QR technology has already been incorporated into shoe scanning devices and a design and prototype of a full-body QR portal that can scan a whole person at once exists today and is currently being evaluated from security and operational perspectives.
Whatever the outcome of these full-body scanning evaluations, it is clear that the abdominal threat does not require the same magnitude of antenna coil sizes or power as may be needed for other QR applications.  It is possible to use a smaller, more focused sensor when dealing with a small part of the body to which closer proximity can be achieved.  This is analogous to the way a full-sized medical MRI machine may be required for scans of the entire body, however, when a scan of a smaller area is required, such as an arm or shoulder, a smaller sensor is used much closer to the body part in question.
Additional application options for QR technology include the potential for integration of these same coils into a variety of AIT systems that are becoming more common at security checkpoints.

The benefit of QR from a design standpoint is that the actual sensors are nothing more than copper coils that can be embedded in a variety of RF-friendly materials.  The electronics and the computers running the inspection algorithms can be in the background and out of the operational area.
In the first image in this article, a QR coil design works as a queue management or ‘people sorter’ device such as those seen at entryways to public transportation and other venues.  The coils, esthetically embedded in clear Plexiglas, can be lifted to different heights and are laterally movable to accommodate different girths.  A scan using this technology currently takes less than ten seconds per person and the results are available immediately following the scan.
Additional application options for QR technology include the potential for integration of these same coils into a variety of AIT systems that are becoming more common at security checkpoints.
In closing
The rule that the only constant is change takes on a sobering meaning when applied to the development of threats in reaction to new security methods and technologies.
The threat of BIBs is real and the introduction of wide-spread AIT systems may drive those planning attacks based on explosives carried on bodies to instead plan attacks based on threats carried in bodies to avoid checkpoint detection.
Current body-screening technologies do not offer a sufficient solution as BiB threats do not necessarily require metal components.  AIT’s performance, although an improvement over metal detection, is limited to detection of threats that are on the body’s surface.
QR offers a detection capability that does not require operator interpretation, is safe, using non-ionizing RF signals, and does not involve the use of images of any kind.  This technology has been proven in many product applications including those in the aviation security space.
QR’s detection qualities are known, measured and documented.  The cost associated with an operational unit is estimated in the tens of thousands of dollars – small compared to the investment in AIT systems – and the development schedule is expected to yield the first products in approximately two years.
The specific application of QR as a dedicated BiBs detection sensor is currently being evaluated, designed and engineered by Morpho Detection’s research and development facility in San Diego, California.
The Author
Yotam Margalit is director of strategic initiatives for Morpho Detection Inc, formerly GE Security’s Homeland Protection business.  In recent years he held strategic and marketing positions focusing primarily on the company’s CTX family of CT-based explosives detection systems.  Prior to this, Mr Margalit worked for the Israeli Ministry of Defense (ISA) where he was responsible for evaluation, testing and certification of explosive detection systems for the Israeli government.  Before joining the ISA, he was an explosive ordnance disposal team leader with Israeli Defense Forces.