Reuters -- British Firm Breaks Ground in Surveillance Science

David Chessler chessler at
Tue Mar 15 22:24:46 EST 2005


British Firm Breaks Ground in Surveillance Science
Mon Mar 14, 2005 08:08 AM ET

By Mark Trevelyan, Security Correspondent

MALVERN, England (Reuters) - The "suicide bomber" clips a shrapnel-filled 
belt around his waist and buttons up his jacket to conceal it.

As he turns back and forth in front of a semi-circular white panel, about 
the size of a shower cubicle, a computer monitor shows the metal-packed 
cylinders standing out clearly in white against his body.

This is no real security alarm: it's a demonstration at the British 
technology group QinetiQ of a scanning device that sees under people's 
clothes to spot not just metal but other potential threats like ceramic 
knives or hidden drugs.

The electromagnetic technology, known as Millimeter Wave (MMW), is just one 
aspect of a potential revolution in security screening being pioneered at 
QinetiQ, formerly part of the research arm of the British defense ministry.

"Actually, detecting a suicide bomber in the lobby of an airport is not a 
great thing to happen," Simon Stringer, new managing director of QinetiQ's 
security business, says with British understatement.

"It's slightly better than having him do it in the departure lounge or 
perhaps on the plane, but you're still doing to have to deal with a 
significant problem."

That's why, he says, the trend for the future will be to move the scanners 
outside the terminal building and operate them in "stand-off mode" -- 
checking people from a distance before they even set foot inside.

The advantage is obvious: to spot potential attackers without alerting them 
to the fact, and gain precious seconds for security forces to prevent an 


Another prospect in store for air travelers is "hyperspectral sensing" that 
will check for chemicals called pheromones, secreted by the human body, 
which may indicate agitation or stress.

"People under stress tend to exude slightly different pheromones, and you 
can pick this up ... There are sensing techniques we're working on," 
Stringer said.

The stress may have an innocent cause, such as fear of flying, but could 
also betray the nervousness of a potential attacker. The point is to alert 
security staff to something unusual that may need further investigation.

As with MMW, the technology could function at a distance and without the 
need for people to wait in line. By conducting such checks while people are 
approaching the airport and moving through it, authorities could avoid 
bottlenecks and queues.


As the passenger proceeds through the terminal, the next layer of 
surveillance could be carried out through "cognitive software" which 
monitors his or her movements and sounds a silent alarm if it picks up an 
unusual pattern.

"Someone who's been back in and out of the same place three times or keeps 
bumping into the same people might be something that's worthy of further 
investigation ... I think that's really the sort of capabilities we're 
going to be looking at," Stringer said in an interview.

While many of these technologies are still under development, others have 
already been rolled out to clients by QinetiQ, which made group operating 
profit of 28 million pounds ($53.9 million) in the six months to last 

Millimeter wave, for example, has been tested at airports and, in a 
different application, is being used by British immigration authorities and 
Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel to detect illegal immigrants trying to 
enter the country as stowaways in the back of trucks.

Stringer says the potential market for MMW runs into the hundreds of 
millions of dollars and goes well beyond the transport sector.

"We're spending quite a lot of time talking to multinationals who want to 
establish perimeter security systems around plant, installations and 
buildings," he said.

QinetiQ -- owned 30 percent by private equity group Carlyle and 56 percent 
by the British government -- expects rapid growth for its security business 
as it gears up for a stock market launch.


But how will ordinary people embrace the prospect of surveillance 
technology that sees through their clothes, checks how much they're 
sweating and tracks their airport wanderings between the tax-free shops and 
the toilets?

Stringer acknowledges that some might see this as George Orwell's Big 
Brother come true. "There are always going to be issues of privacy here and 
they're not to be belittled, they're important."

But he says smarter technology will actually make the checks less intrusive 
than those now in standard practice, such as being searched head to foot 
after setting off a metal detector alarm.

"Personally I find that more irritating than the idea of someone just 
scanning me as I walk through," he said.

"You're under surveillance in airports anyway. What you're looking at here 
is just being applied more intelligently."

All rights reserved. Users may download and print extracts of content from 
this website for their own personal and non-commercial use only. 
Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or 
similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of 
Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks or 
trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.


*** FAIR USE NOTICE. This message contains copyrighted material the use of 
which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. This 
Internet discussion group is making it available without profit to group 
members who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included 
information in their efforts to advance the understanding of literary, 
educational, political, and economic issues, for non-profit research and 
educational purposes only. I believe that this constitutes a 'fair use' of 
the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the U.S. 
Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of 
your own that go beyond 'fair use,' you must obtain permission from the 
copyright owner.

For more information go to:


The Cryptography Mailing List
Unsubscribe by sending "unsubscribe cryptography" to majordomo at

More information about the cryptography mailing list