The Secret US Government Laser That Instantly Knows Everything About You

Within the next year or two, the US Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 50 metres away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body -- agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you.

And without you knowing it.

The technology is so incredibly effective that in November 2011 its inventors were subcontracted by In-Q-Tel to work with the US Department of Homeland Security. In-Q-Tel is a company founded "in February 1999 by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of the CIA and with the support of the US Congress." According to In-Q-Tel, it's "tasked with building a bridge between the Agency and a new set of technology innovators."

Its plan is to install molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings all across the United States. The official, stated goal of this arrangement is to be able to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals or bioweapons at a distance.

The machine is 10 million times faster -- and one million times more sensitive -- than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.

Analysing Everything in Real Time

But the machine can sniff out a lot more than just explosives, chemicals and bioweapons. The company that invented it, Genia Photonics, says that its laser scanner technology is able to "penetrate clothing and many other organic materials and offers spectroscopic information, especially for materials that impact safety such as explosives and pharmacological substances." [PDF]

Formed in Montreal in 2009 by PhDs with specialties in lasers and fibre optics, Genia Photonics has 30 patents on this technology. The patents claim incredible biomedical and industrial applications -- from identifying individual cancer cells in a real-time scan of a patient, to detecting trace amounts of harmful chemicals in sensitive manufacturing processes.

The Genia Photonics' Picosecond Programmable Laser Scanner (pictured above) is capable of detecting every tiny trace of any substance on your body, from specks of gunpowder to your adrenaline levels to a sugar-sized grain of cannabis to what you had for breakfast.

Meanwhile, In-Q-Tel states that "an important benefit of Genia Photonics' implementation as compared to existing solutions is that the entire synchronised laser system is comprised in a single, robust and alignment-free unit that may be easily transported for use in many environments… This compact and robust laser has the ability to rapidly sweep wavelengths in any pattern and sequence."

So not only can it scan everyone, it would be able to do so everywhere: on trains, at traffic lights, at sports events... everywhere.

How Does It Work?

The machine is a mobile, rack-mountable system. It fires a laser to provide molecular-level feedback at distances of up to 50 metres in just picoseconds. For all intents and purposes, that means instantly.

The small, inconspicuous machine is attached to a computer running a program that will show the information in real time, from trace amounts of cocaine on your dollar bills to gunpowder residue on your shoes. Forget trying to sneak a bottle of water past security -- they will be able to tell what you had for breakfast in an instant while you're walking down the hallway.

If Genia Photonics' claims pan out, this will be an incredible leap forward in technology, and one with staggering implications.

Observation Without Limits

There has so far been no discussion about the personal rights and privacy issues involved. Which "molecular tags" will they be scanning for? Who determines them? What are the threshold levels of this scanning? If you unknowingly stepped on the butt of someone's joint and happen to be carrying a sugar-sized grain of cannabis like that unfortunate traveller currently in jail in Dubai, will you be arrested?

And since it's extremely portable, will this technology extend beyond the airport or border crossings and into police cars, with officers looking for people on the street with increased levels of adrenaline in their system to detain in order to prevent potential violent outbursts? And will your car be scanned at stoplights for any trace amounts of suspicious substances? Would all this information be recorded anywhere?

A page from a Genia Photonics paper (pictured above) describing its ability to even penetrate through clothing.

There are lots of questions with no answers yet, but it's obvious that the potential level of personal invasion of this technology goes far beyond that of body scans, wiretaps and GPS-tracking.

The End of Privacy Coming Soon

According to the undersecretary for science and technology of the US Department of Homeland Security, this scanning technology will be ready within one to two years, which means you might start seeing them in airports as soon as 2013.

In other words, these portable, incredibly precise molecular-level scanning devices will be cascading lasers across your body as you walk from the bathroom to the venching machine at the airport, instantly reporting and storing a detailed breakdown of your person, in search of certain "molecular tags".

Going well beyond eavesdropping, it seems quite possible that the US government plans on recording molecular data on travellers without their consent or even knowledge that it's possible -- a scary thought. While the medical uses could revolutionise the way doctors diagnose illnesses, and any technology that could replace an aggressive pat-down is tempting, there's a potential dark side to this implementation, and we need to shine some light on it before it happens.

The author of this story is currently completing his PhD in renewable energy solutions, focusing on converting waste to energy in the urban environment. Even while most of this information is publicly available, he wanted to remain anonymous.

Image: oleandra/Shutterstock



    There would have to be a call for privacy with this thing... surely? If the specs are real, US goals will be over flowing with doobie smokers alone! Stand up America and fight for your rights, before you lose them all. Oh, who am I kidding, this thing is due here soon as the Pollies here about it! We're all screwed...

    If it means not being man-handled by TSA staff, then I'm against it.

    Airport security? With adequate training and protocols, okay. Medical instrument? Definitely, okay. Mounted on police cars scanning everyone in public? Hell no! Scanning an individual? Get a warrant if you have to invade an individual's privacy to that degree. This technology will be so easily abused without adequate legislation.

      Yes, because legislation stops criminals and other naughty people dead in their tracks.

        Legislation is what will make abusers of this technology criminals, thus prosecutable. In a civil society, what else is there?

    Well, yet another reason why i dont want to go to America - there is just something not right about they way they are attacking this 'everyone is a terrorist' assumption

      That sounds dangerously like terrorist-speak to me.

        if you don't walk around wrapped in the American flag you are a terrorist

          Accusing others of being a terrorist means you're a terrorist.... It's the 'Whoever smelt it, dealt it' of the War on Terror.

      Just because they have the tech and some of the laws in place for this sort of stuff doesn't mean that's all the country's about. Americans are friendly people in general, everything is much cheaper there, there's a lot to do and see... Basically it's a really nice place and it's silly to be turned off by this sort of stuff.
      Most other countries around the world have security services are far, far more invasive and brutal. In the US you won't even notice them.

    So now that the authorities have all the information they could ever want on everyone, now what? Prosecute everyone with grains of illegal substances in their shoe / wallet? Force people to regulate their heartrate before stepping foot in a plane? I'm not sure what is the point of all the surveillance. One could say "the pursuit of power and control", and to that I would inquire: to what end?

    Welp, another reason not to go to the US.

      Doesn't look like they don't want tourism income!

    Another company promising a fantastic new(and i'm sure very expensive) security device, that's totally untested

      Yeah sounds like a regurgitation of the media release. Low powered lasers are defeated by water vapor. Probably wouldn't be that hard to defeat this.

      Besides its a good thing I only like to take drugs that are active in the UG range. This laser still isn't sensitive or capable of penetrating my body/luggage to be able to detect 100ug of material that is vacuum wrapped in the spine of my luggage.

      hell i defeat ion scanners all the time. They're meant to be a sensitive as this device. Walked through the airport just months ago with a stash similar to that in fear and loathing.

      I don't think airports will stand for a device like this. As is the case with prisons drugs in our society are so widespread and in use that if they installed something that was truly as effective as the hyperbole claims then you'd see a massive decline in air travel. It'd decimate the industry.

    Mmmm, finally giving a use for tin-foil hats!
    I'm sure there'd be ways to semi-evade this kind of tech with some sort of reflective lining.
    You come up with a way of doing something, someone will find a way to evade it.

    What about the health risks? Can't be good for you

    Soooo getting closer to Tricorders then?

    10 million times faster — and one million times more sensitive

    Those are some pretty big claims... I'm very interested to see some real world test results

    If the UAE get this, holy fuck. They already regularly send people who transit their airport to jail for 4 years for trace amounts of over the counter drugs and residue on shoes and clothes and banknotes (!). Prison Planet Indeed ... Even if flying becomes unaffordable due to fuel prices, stupid security makes it VERY unattractive anyway.

    Medical implications for this sound interesting. But I'd be rather interested in seeing their evidence that this has no health implications....Radiation in the Terahertz range? Sounds awfully like instant-cancer to me. But I know nothing of that stuff, may not affect us.

    Security wise, if it worked safely, I honestly wouldn't care if it was implemented, specially if they give me a free health report and it means I can take my own water or anything on board since they can scan everything (apparently)

      Terahertz radiation is mostly just heat. It spans the range from long infrared (heat) to microwave wavelengths. It is almost certainly not dangerous at low powers since the effect on tissue would be thermal (it will warm you up a undetectable amount when you are scanned). Saying that they will be able to see what you had for breakfast is a little aggressive though, as far as I know this wavelength range will only penetrate a couple of millimeters of tissue.

    After visiting the US last year and being exposed to the border security pat down.
    I would much rather this as it's considerably less invasive then the current X-Ray system.
    I have nothing to hide and would like to get through customs as quickly as possible.

    Calm the f**k down tinfoil hat people.

    1. Teraherz radiation is in the far infrared range, we're not talking gamma rays here.
    2. The laser has a picosecond pulse, it doesn't do the analysis in a picosecond. It doesn't even do any analysis, you need to supply some other hardware for that. That analysis takes time. This isn't scanning everyone in a football stadium in an instant.
    3. It doesn't penetrate everything, just material transparent to that wavelength. It's not going to be able to see on the far side of things. It won't go through tinfoil.
    4. There's a limit to the angular resolution of any scanner built to use it. It's not going to pick up a grain of salt in your pocket at 100m.
    5. There's a limit to how much noise the spectrographic analysis can deal with. What clear liquid is in this plastic bottle? Yes. What hormones/drugs are in your bloodstream through your clothes from across the street with other people in the frame? No.

    As long as you haven't done anything wrong, stop worrying ಠ_ಠ

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