Laser beam spy camera joins war on terrorism
By Jason Lewis
Last updated at 11:01 PM on 25th October 2008
A laser that can scan a crowd and identify people who have been handling explosives is being secretly tested at British airports and railway stations.
The device – no bigger than a shoe box – could also be used by police and MI5 surveillance teams to identify Islamic terrorists outside mosques or community centres.
The laser can pick out suspects in large crowds and highlight explosive residue on their clothing and luggage.
A laser that can identify people who have been handling explosives is being secretly tested at British airports and railway stations
It could also be used to guard against terrorists targeting the 2012 Olympics in London.
The Explosive Residue Detection system can be covertly attached to CCTV systems and automatically highlights people who may have been handling explosives or who recently fired a weapon.
Professor John Tyrer, of Loughborough University, who helped to develop the equipment, said: ‘When you handle an explosive, the chemicals -such as Semtex and TNT – leave traces. With this technology we are able to see this telltale residue and identify possible suspects.
‘Using laser technology we can see the explosives on people’s clothes, on their hands or on items like backpacks such as those used by the July 7 London bombers.’
He added: ‘This equipment could be carried by surveillance teams or could be set up to monitor a street, a railway, airport terminal or national stadium.’
When the equipment scans a crowd, it alerts an operator when explosive particles are detected. The system uses a combination of lasers and the latest camera technology to produce images showing the suspect and highlighting the explosive traces.
Once explosive residue is detected, the system automatically alerts the operator. It does not need to be constantly monitored.
Unlike sniffer dogs detecting particles in the air, the system can be operated just a few metres from a target without anyone knowing they are being monitored.
Prof Tyrer said the laser system would also pick up people who had legitimate reasons for handling explosives, such as police officers and firearms experts.
The team cannot say where their new equipment has been installed, revealing only that ‘its operational uses have been recognised and would include airports, train stations, underground systems and ports, and would prove useful to police forces, forensic services and the military’.