The federal government is acting too slowly to protect transit facilities from suicide bombers, according to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Following the botched terror attack in a pedestrian tunnel near the Port Authority Bus Terminal last week, the senator is calling for the Transportation Security Administration to speed its rollout of a technology it believes can detect suicide vests or other wearable explosives before they are detonated.
“I am telling the TSA, ‘Wake up.’ Danger from suicide bombers is increasing. We need to be able to defend against them with increasing diligence and effectiveness,” Schumer said at a news conference Sunday night at the entrance to the Lexington Avenue-53rd Street subway station. “The idea that they have technology is good. The idea that it’s taking them so long to develop it is bad.”
The screening technology, known as Stand Off Explosive Detection Technology, works by identifying objects that block the “naturally-occurring emissions” of a person’s body, according to the TSA. If someone passes by the device wearing an explosive device, an alarm sounds. The screener doesn’t emit radiation or send sensitive information to its operator — it displays an image of a person similar to what’s seen by the naked eye, the TSA said.
Schumer said he’d like to see the scanners installed at every subway station entrance as soon as the technology is perfected, adding that Congress would be willing to pay for related installation and testing costs.
“I can guarantee the TSA that Congress will give them all the dollars they need to do this,” Schumer said. “This is not a partisan issue. Democrats, Republicans — people of every political ideology would come together to give the TSA all the money they need.”
The TSA has partnered with transit agencies in developing the technology since 2004 and it’s been used at major events like the Super Bowl. This week, TSA was screening equipment at Los Angeles’ Seventh Street Metro station. Still, Schumer said, the agency needs to speed its tests of the equipment and help roll it out as a permanent fixture for subways and transit hubs.
Terrorists have targeted New York twice in the last seven weeks. Last Monday, authorities said Akayed Ullah, 27, set off a concealed explosive device under Port Authority, injuring himself in the process. On Halloween, Sayfullo Saipov, 29, drove his rental truck onto the Hudson River Park bike path, killing eight people.
TSA spokesman Michael England said the screening technology is still being tested. “TSA is currently exploring testing options in other cities,” said England in an email.
President Donald Trump has issued calls to crack down on immigration in response to the attacks. During his most recent weekly address, he specifically criticized “chain migration,” a process that allows American citizens or green card holders to sponsor relatives abroad to enter the United States. Ullah came to the country from Bangladesh in 2011 through a visa made available through the program.
“Because these individuals are admitted solely on the basis of family ties — not skill or not merit — most of this immigration is lower skill, putting great strain on federal welfare,” Trump said in his address video. “And because there is no real selection criteria, the current system is totally incompatible with national security.”