What does it take to become a successful x-ray screener?


The evolving threat and innovation of terrorism over the last 30 years has completely changed the security screening landscape.   It was once the case that all an x-ray screener needed to concern themselves with was the detection of guns and knives.

Now, all types of items have to be considered as threats as they may be concealing an explosive device. Whether it is a pair of shoes, a bottle of liquid, a tennis ball filled with TATP explosive or a pair of underpants; terrorists will try any possible means to get past security,

The easiest way to identify a concealed IED is through the use of an explosive trace detector. However, due to time constraints, security screeners are unable to use these machines on every single item that passes through the security checkpoint.

X-ray machines are therefore still the most common way of screening items that pass through security checkpoints. Although many x-ray machines are configured to automatically identify explosives, they cannot be relied on at 100%. They still lean heavily on the ability of the x-ray screener to identify threats.

For this reason, we have compiled a list of the key capabilities required to identify well concealed threats and become a successful screener.


Security x-ray screening is a monotonous task that requires deep concentration for as much as 30 minutes.

On busy security checkpoints, screeners only have a few seconds to identify each bag. They must therefore find the right balance between analysis and speed.

The perfect screener needs to have confidence in their ability to detect a threat. Not enough confidence and the screener will send too many items for search or deliberate too long on a bag, creating queues and annoyed passengers.

Attention to Details

If an IED is well concealed within an item, the item may only have small anomalies. In a packed bag these small differences can be almost impossible to detect.

The likelihood that a screener comes into contact with a concealed IED is very low and this only increases the level of attention to details that is required.

It means a screener must treat each bag that goes through the x-ray machine with the same high level of attention. Something that after 20 minutes of screening is very hard to maintain.

Visual Dexterity

An x-ray machine generally only produces two x-ray angles of each bag that passes through it. Items will therefore not always be at the optimum angle for x-ray screeners to identify.

Screeners must possess some visual dexterity in order for them to virtually rotate the items in their mind and identify them correctly.

Threat Knowledge

Without knowing what a threat looks like, it’s impossible to identify it. When it’s an IED that’s been concealed in another item, it’s even more difficult.

Given the evolving nature of threats, screeners need to be given continuous training and testing to ensure they can identify them.


Experience is not something you can get overnight but if you work at it, you can get it quicker. The use of realistic simulators like Simfox can help accelerate the learning process.

Getting experience isn’t always about spending days on end in front of an x-ray simulator. In this case quality is far better than quantity. It’s all about getting focused training that improves the weaknesses of each individual screener.

Knowing your weaknesses helps and with Simfox; trainers are able to identify it quickly through an easy to use statistical interface. The information can then be used to create training that will help the screener improve on their weakness.

Click here to get more information about Renful Premier Technologies and the security training products we provide. 


Security Training Essentials – Drill Items

It is important to test xray security screening operations are functioning correctly and that screeners are able to detect threats correctly.

Many organisations have covert tests or red team testing carried out on their screening operation, either from their governing body or internally.

Renful has developed a range of inert replica concealed Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that can be used in security drills such as covert testing and hand search testing.

  • Drill Items are made using CT correct explosives
  • Drill Items are validated by intelligence gathered by our Infogence Terrorism Intelligence Reports.
  • Drill Items are available to rent which enables you to return them after you have used them and rent a new one.

Please contact us to see our library of over 50 different types of inert IED replicas.

The Underwear Bomb

The underwear bomb used during the attempted bombing of flight 253 on Christmas day, 2009 was innovative in that no component within it was metallic. The terrorist was therefore able to walk through the metal detector completely undetected; completely negating the effectiveness of the x-ray machine.

Our replica concealed IED contains 80g of simulant penta erythritol tetra nitrate (PETN) enclosed in a small see thru plastic bag and placed in a pocket within a pair of underpants.

The underwear I.E.D also comes with a syringe containing simulant acid which was intended, when injected into the PETN, act as a detonator and create an explosion. The PETN simulant used to create this concealed I.E.D is ideal for use in airport security training as it remains inert while providing the exact Visual, Tactile, Colour and Texture characteristics and CT and Z effective number as the original.

Replica Concealed Book IED

In December 2009, the Infogence Report uncovered the use of concealed IEDs in hollowed out books by terrorists in Baghdad. In this instance, terrorists used a poetry book to conceal an IED containing 400-550g of plastic explosive wrapped in nylon.

The explosive device used a wireless initiation system, consisting of a Nokia mobile phone, with a safety amplifying system connected to the earphone socket while the charge’s voltage source came from a 9V battery. Pellets were also glued on pieces of cardboard.  Fortunately attempts made to detonate the charge failed due to a malfunction in the initiation system.

The same technique was later used in November 2010 during the Athens mail bombs. In this instance the concealed IEDs were detected during security x-ray screening at Athens Airport.

Contact us for more information about our Inert, Simulated IED Drill Items.

Infogence Incident Brief: The Athens Mail Bombs

Written by: 

This image was captured by an X-ray Operator at Athens International Airport recently. The image is of two IEDs discovered during the routine screening of mail & cargo which forced Greece to halt all international air mail for 48 hours. The IEDs were destroyed by the Greek authorities soon after.

hollowed Out Book IEDsThe IEDs shown are concealed within “hollowed out” books. The explosive has shown up as green under x-ray, suggesting a Gunpowder explosive such as black powder or other variant which could have been taken from Fireworks. The detonator appears to be a light bulb filament (glass cap cut-off) possibly from a strong 12V light bulb. The power supply is provided by eight 1.5V batteries which under x-ray appear as small dark blue cylinders. The larger blue metallic cylinder is thought to be a can of aerosol which would have added flame and pressure to the charge and even provided shrapnel.

Both IEDs appear to have simple booby trap mechanisms consisting of a clothes peg connected to the cover of the book and to the electrical circuit. While the book is closed, the peg holds a non-conducting material which stops any electricity flowing from the power supply to the detonator.  Once the book is opened, the non conductive material is removed, the circuit is closed and the electric current causes the light bulb filament to heat up which, in turn, would burn or detonate the explosives.

There is a good chance that this explosive would not have achieved detonation, mainly because it is a slow-burning explosive which needs to be packed in a closed container to achieve detonation. Having said that, it could have caused serious burn injuries to the person who would have opened the “book”.

The terrorists have been declared “Amateurs” by Greek authorities, and indeed there is no attempt to conceal the IEDs in any way. However, the IEDs were fully functional, and were apparently capable of causing death or serious injury.  There is even the possibility that they could have accidently triggered mid-flight causing damage to an aircraft. According to Greek investigators, the two IEDs were destined for the International police organisation Europol in the Netherlands and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Co-ordinated Campaign of Terror

These explosive devices are thought to be connected to the string of mail bombs sent to several embassies in Athens and foreign leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the beginning of November. All the explosive devices sent out are thought to retain similar characteristics including concealment within books and the use of gunpowder.

Although no-one was seriously harmed in any of the attacks, two of the parcel bombs did detonate at their intended destination.  One parcel, left outside the Swiss embassy, burst into flames when its external packaging was removed while another exploded shortly afterwards at the Russian embassy. Another parcel, addressed to the Chilean embassy, exploded in the offices of a private courier company.

One IED successfully managed to breach Air Mail security checks, making it all the way to the German chancellery’s mail room. Fortunately, the containing package was detected by mail room staff as having marks that indicated the possibility of explosives and was deactivated by security forces. Mrs. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said “the package contained sufficient explosive to have caused harm to people”.

Another package, addressed to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was detected at the Bologna airport in northern Italy and caught fire when it was searched. Nobody was hurt, but the airport was temporarily closed down and several flights got re-routed to other Italian airports.

The Suspects

Two young Greeks, Panayotis Argyrou, 22, a chemistry student, and Gerassimos Tskalos, 24, have been arrested in connection with the wave of attacks after being found in possession of a package addressed to President Sarkozy and another destined for the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

They are believed to be linked to the radical group “Conspiracy of Cells of Fire,” which has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks against government buildings and banks. The group is thought to be linked to the urban guerrillas who have killed police officers and a prominent journalist, and vowed to turn Greece into a war zone.

The anarchist movements are fuelled by popular anger over harsh austerity measures passed by the Papandreou government in return for an EU-IMF bailout earlier this year.

Both men refused to recognise the court when they were charged with committing acts of terrorism, belonging to a criminal organisation, possession and use of bombs and explosives, as well as lesser offences including refusing to give their identities and fingerprints.


Although it is arguable whether these IEDs were part of a serious terrorist attack aimed at killing or seriously injuring their intended recipients or just a way of gaining publicity ahead of upcoming Greek local elections, it is clear that they provide more proof that the mail and cargo industry is extremely vulnerable to the threat of terrorism.

The explosive devices used in these attacks were not expertly concealed and should not have been difficult to identify, especially by an experienced x-ray screener. The bomb maker used books to conceal the IEDs which under x-ray are simple and clear and therefore do not provide the necessary complex or dense shield that can provide effective concealment. It is therefore worrying that two of these types of devices were able to make it through security checks, onto aircraft and all the way to the German Chancellery’s office and Bologna Airport.

Know the Threat with Infogence

Although they proved unsuccessful, these attacks, together with the recent discovery of IEDs concealed within printer toner cartridges on Cargo planes, provide another reminder that terrorists are extremely imaginative when it comes to the concealment of explosive devices.

Infogence offers a range of tailor made monthly terrorism intelligence reports each providing valid, up to date and relevant information, analysis and videos on terrorist activities throughout the world. They provide the type of information that is invaluable to screeners; opening their eyes to the possibilities of the different types of threats, concealments and methods of delivery that terrorists have used and are currently experimenting with.

For example, in December 2009, Infogence’s Insight Report uncovered a similar concealment of IEDs in hollowed out books by terrorists in Baghdad. In this instance, terrorists used a poetry book to conceal an IED containing 400-550g of plastic explosive wrapped in nylon.  The explosive device used a wireless initiation system, consisting of a Nokia mobile phone, with a safety amplifying system connected to the earphone socket while the charge’s voltage source came from a 9V battery. Pellets were also glued on pieces of cardboard. Fortunately attempts made to detonate the charge failed due to a malfunction in the initiation system.

Actionable Intelligence

The intelligence gained from an Infogence report can be tailor made to meet the needs of any organisation. They contain a variety of information that can be used immediately to update and improve security structures, update training plans and increase awareness. These include:

  • trends in terrorist explosive manufacturing including chemical explosives, incendiary devices, powder explosives, liquid explosives, plastic explosives, improvised explosive devices, etc…
  • trends in concealed explosive devices and concealed weapons
  • detailed analysis of recent terrorist attacks throughout the world including bombings, assassinations, hijackings, recent failed terror plots
  • terrorist training manuals

For more information on Infogence Systems’ range of actionable terrorism reports and to get a free trial, contact Renful on 0208 457 9111 or email us at info@renful.co.uk

Detect the Threat with Inert, Simulant Explosives

Renful also provide a range of inert, simulant explosive training aids that provide great non-hazardous tools that can be used to teach security screeners how explosives and IEDs look like visually and under xray. These inert explosives are available as individual simulants, in training kits or as replica IEDs that can be concealed within other innocent items.

All inert, simulant explosives are visually, texturally and CT correct. This means that when placed within an x-ray or CT machine, they will produce the same exact image the real explosive or IED would produce.

This makes these inert training aids perfect for familiarising security screeners with all the different types of explosives they may require to detect as well as test their detection skills through covert testing.

For more information on our Inert, Simulant Explosives, please visit our dedicated website: http://www.simulants.co.uk