The Security-Industrial complex: GE's airport puffers 

Amid the post UndieBomber talk of ramping up TSA spending on full-body-screening machines, we get an interesting note out of the security-industrial complex, regarding those air-puffer-machines you may have walked through in the past:

The Transportation Security Administration spent $29.6 million buying 207 of the machines from General Electric and Smiths Detection. However, puffers had one problem -- they continually clogged from dirt and dust, breaking and costing thousands to maintain.

Without ever detecting any explosives in real use, they were prone to false-positives and broke down after an average of 551 hours of use -- only 38% of how many hours they were supposed to serve, according to a Government Accountability Office report in October. This year, the puffer program was put out of its misery by the TSA, which concluded that newer technology of whole-body scanners was superior.

Both of the puffer-sellers, GE and Smiths, have healthy lobbying arms that certainly helped the companies land the nearly $30-million in puffer business. GE has spent more on lobbying over the past decade than any company in the U.S. I wrote about Smiths' lobbying team last week.

GE bought Ion Track back in 2002, as the Department of Homeland Security was being created. At the time, executives there were glowing about the future of the homeland security market:

"Electronic security is a $20 billion industry with strong growth ahead of it for the future," said Lloyd Trotter, president and CEO, GE Industrial Systems. "Ion Track's leading-edge technology brings GE into a new area of security....

"With Ion Track's technology leadership, we can now offer our customers a much broader portfolio of GE security solutions to challenges created by events in a changing world," said Kenneth Boyda, president and CEO, GE Interlogix, Inc.

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Timothy P. Carney

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