PDX 'swabbings' to start in 2 weeks

PDX 'swabbings' to start in 2 weeks »Play Video
A bag is swabbed in advance of random swabbings at the Portland International Airport.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Airport screeners for the first time will begin roving through airports collection "chemical swabs" from passengers and their bags to check for explosives, the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday.

Screeners will push carts with bomb-detection machines around airport gates and checkpoint lines, and then randomly swipe a small swab along a bag or passengers hands.

Dwayne Baird, spokesman for TSA at the Portland International Airport, says the "swabbing" will start at PDX in about two weeks. The program, already tested at five airports after the Christmas Day plot, begins nationwide in a few weeks.

We're told it was the botched Christmas Day bomb plot on a U.S.-bound airliner that led to this latest security measure. USA Today reports that metal detectors now used at checkpoints can't spot materials such as the powdered explosives that bombing suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – accused of trying to blow up Northwest Flight 253 over Detroit – allegedly hid in his underwear to get through a checkpoint in Amsterdam airport.

"Had Abdulmutallab been subjected to a (chemical) inspection, there's a high probability it would have picked up the explosives," RAND Corp. security analyst Brian Jenkins told USA Today. "The machines are extraordinarily sensitive."

Jenkins said the machines are so sensitive that alarms can sound for passengers who have recently taken heart pills containing nitroglycerin, or if they have recently fired guns. The machines also are used on checked luggage.

The TSA plans to spend $40 million next year to buy 800 new briefcase-size bomb sensors that are even more portable, according to USA Today's reporting on TSA's 2011 budget.