Following a CTAC assessment of system efficacy, the U.S.
Customs Service is purchasing 40 Vehicle and Cargo
Inspection Systems (VACIS) for deployment at U.S. ports
of entry for nonintrusive imaging of sea going containers,
trucks, and other vehicles that may contain narcotics,
explosives, or weapons. VACIS units—which use low-dose
Gamma rays to detect and define anomalies—have been
essential to successful investigations by Customs and
other agencies resulting in major seizures of narcotics and
arrests that damaged the operations of some narcotrafficking
organizations. CTAC has also sponsored the development
and testing of the railroad version of the system.
Meanwhile, CTAC is supporting the research of two teams
of scientists in different parts of the country who are closing
in on what may well become next- generation, highly
effective, nonintrusive inspection technologies that could
further impair the drug cartels’ use of U.S. ports of entry.
Under development: Western Kentucky University’s
Neutron Probe is easily transportable and designed to rapidly
determine whether sealed sacks are the legal goods
their shippers’ manifests describe. The system detects and
analyzes electronic signatures unique to specific substances
and therefore should be able to differentiate
between bags of legal chemicals and grains and illegal
drugs hidden in the same bags.
At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, other CTAC sponsored
scientists are developing CAFNA, the Coded
Aperture Fast Neutron Analysis system. The goal of this
research is to develop a system that not only detects
anomalies inside any cargo container but also reports the
nature of the contents to the law enforcement officer
operating the system. CAFNA, like the Neutron Probe,
uses advanced signal processing to determine the elemental
composition of the contents of the container under
suspicion. These projects are very promising, but until
rigorous field testing is completed, we will not know if the
systems will ever be tactically deployed.
|ABOVE: At an M.I.T. nuclear engineering lab in Boston, CTAC-sponsored scientists
working to develop CAFNA, a neutron interrogation technique which they hope will be
the next generation of nonintrusive technology, met with Dr. Brandenstein during a quarterly
review of the project.
RIGHT: Three nonintrusive inspection applications of the Vehicle and Cargo Inspection
System, currently being deployed at U.S. ports of entry: fixed position for trucks and
tankers, portable for vehicles, and rail site to inspect trains.