The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 75.0°F | Mostly Cloudy

News Briefs

Man Gets Past O'Hare Checkpoint With Weapons, Chemical Spray


Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced yesterday that United Airlines faced substantial fines and would have to retrain all of its baggage screeners at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport after a man carrying several weapons got past a security checkpoint.

Subash Bahadar Gurung, 27, was arrested Sunday in Chicago on charges that the night before, he tried to bring knives, chemical spray and a stun gun onto an airplane. Screeners at an airport security checkpoint confiscated two knives he had on him, but they did not notice other weapons that were discovered by airline employees at the gate. Argenbright Security Inc. suspended eight screeners and a supervisor pending the outcome of an investigation.

“I consider the O’Hare case a failure of dramatic dimensions,” Mineta said at a news conference in Chicago yesterday. He said it underscored the need for the federal government to “take direct control of the security system.”

Currently, airport screeners are contract employees of the airlines. After the Sept. 11 hijackings, the government promised to swiftly reform airport security. The House and Senate have each passed bills that would reassign control of the security system to the federal government. But they are locked in a contentious debate over whether the screeners themselves should be federal workers or work for private firms.

The Senate voted unanimously to create a workforce of 28,000 baggage screeners, arguing that it was a national security function that the Justice Department should handle. The House would give President Bush the option of choosing private screeners or federal workers, who would be supervised by the Department of Transportation.

Bush this morning at a weekly breakfast meeting will urge congressional leaders to “come together” quickly on a compromise, said Claire Buchan, the deputy White House press secretary. The White House, too, sees the incident as evidence that the system needs to be overhauled, she said.

Scientists Study New Anthrax Tests


Scientists have developed a DNA test that may identify anthrax spores in a letter, building or person in just 30 minutes- and this week will begin studying whether a “smart bomb” type of medical test can diagnose inhaled anthrax well before symptoms appear.

The first test, developed by the Mayo Clinic, is intended to prove that anthrax and not some other bacteria is present in the environment- not to diagnose a sick person.

But researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center are hopeful the second test, called LeuTech, might help people survive inhaled anthrax by identifying such patients before they become seriously ill. To prove that, researchers on Tuesday will begin enrolling 500 people recently exposed to anthrax in the study.

Both tests are highly experimental. Roche Diagnostics, which manufactures Mayo's DNA test, said it plans to begin shipping test kits to certain laboratories later this week, although the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the tests' use. Roche must meet federal rules for labs to use the tests experimentally, said FDA spokeswoman Sharon Snider, but is expected to do so.

As for LeuTech, it can diagnose certain infections well enough that the FDA next year is expected to approve its use in diagnosing atypical appendicitis, said manufacturer Palatin Technologies Inc. The Walter Reed experiment marks its first attempted use against anthrax.

Two major problems have dogged anthrax testing since the bioterror attack began: how to quickly prove whether people were exposed to anthrax or to related but harmless germs, and how to diagnose the potentially deadly inhaled form of anthrax quickly enough to save those patients.