Trying to Find the 'Secure' in Security
How new technical fixes could help defend the homeland
A thousand flowers. But that was before Cohen was in charge. In mid-August, he publicly solicited ideas for liquid explosives testing methods and attracted 60 submissions. "The biggest difference is his entrepreneurial approach," says Hawley, who added that Cohen reached out to "individual inventors, mom and pop companies, and labs" that aren't typical TSA contractors. The 10 devices previously tested, meanwhile, were moved to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology for rigorous "real world" tests. Next up: Studying simulated explosions to determine if some small volumes of liquids should be tolerated in flight because they couldn't produce dangerous explosions.
The liquid-screening technologies are varied: Machines using so-called Raman technology shoot a beam of light into containers and analyze a liquid by how it's refracted. (Ahura's device, already used by New York firefighters and the U.S. military, has almost 3,000 chemicals in its library of images.) Others use sound waves or electromagnetic pulses to similar effect. Cohen hopes to deliver recommendations on the technology to TSA by the end of 2006. He also wants to encourage new technologies. "You plant a thousand flowers," says Cohen, before you "decide which ones to harvest."
Cohen also plans to reorganize the directorate into themed research areas by October. And he held a meeting with all of his employees during his first week to buoy morale. At least a few workers who had already offered resignations decided to stay, but Cohen still needs to persuade a skeptical Congress that was ready to slice his funding almost in half to stick by him. "The consensus up here," says Gregg, "is that we should give him a chance." And in a world of experiments, a chance is a lot.