Terrorism and Drug Trafficking:

Technologies for Detecting Explosives and Narcotics

NSIAD/RCED-96-252: Published: Sep 4, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 4, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on explosives and narcotics detection technologies that are available or under development, focusing on: (1) funding for those technologies; (2) characteristics and limitations of available and planned technologies; and (3) deployment of these technologies by the United States and foreign countries.

GAO found that: (1) aviation security and drug interdiction depend on a complex and costly mix of intelligence, procedures, and technologies; (2) since 1978, federal agencies have spent about $246 million for research and development on explosives detection technologies and almost $100 million on narcotics detection technologies; (3) most of this spending has occurred since 1990, in response to congressional direction, and has been for technologies to screen checked baggage, trucks, and containers; (4) difficult trade-offs must be made when considering whether to use detection technologies for a given application; (5) chief among those trade-offs are the extent to which intelligence-gathering and procedures can substitute for technology or reduce the need for expensive technology; (6) decisionmakers also need to evaluate technologies in terms of their characteristics and limitations; (7) some technologies are very effective and could be deployed now, but they are expensive, slow the flow of commerce, and raise issues of worker safety; (8) other technologies could be more widely used, but they are less reliable; (9) still others may not be available for several years at the current pace of development; (10) despite the limitations of the currently available technology, some countries have already deployed advanced explosives and narcotics detection equipment because of differences in their perception of the threat and their approaches to counter the threat; (11) should the United States start deploying the currently available technologies, lessons can be learned from these countries regarding their approaches, as well as capabilities of technology in operating environments; and (12) the Federal Aviation Administration estimates that use of the best available procedures and technology for enhancing aviation security could cost as much as $6 billion over the next 10 years or alternatively about $1.30 per one-way ticket, if the costs were paid through a surcharge.

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