SCOTLAND'S top anti-terror police officer has called on the government to introduce full-body scanners in the country's airports to thwart would-be suicide bombers.
• A full-body scanner in action in the US. The devices cost 100,000 each and are currently being trialled at Manchester airport, possibly to be rolled out across the UK
Allan Burnett, head of counter-terrorism for the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, said the alleged attempted bombing of a United States-bound airliner seven days ago put the case for the controversial scanners beyond dispute.
His call came as Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the government would move "quickly" to enhance passenger security and was considering introducing the scanners in UK airports.
Mr Brown said he had ordered an immediate review of physical security and the systems used to identify potential terrorists, and it would report within days.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is accused of trying to blow up a plane carrying 278 passengers on Christmas Day, after boarding in Amsterdam with explosives hidden in his underpants. The 23-year-old Nigerian was overpowered by passengers and crew shortly before the Northwest Airlines flight landed in Detroit.
The Dutch government has announced it will introduce full-body scanners for all flights to the US, and now Mr Burnett is calling on Scottish ministers to do the same to prevent terrorist attacks.
He said: "At the end of the day, the terrorists will exploit any gap in the security system, and it appears this individual has been able to get explosives on to an airplane, which is obviously very worrying.
"Regrettably, part of the solution to that could well now be the fact that we have all got to go through full-body scanners. This has all sorts of implications about invading people's privacy, but that has to be balanced against the safety of the public, especially in vulnerable sectors like aviation.
"We have got to try and stay a step ahead of the terrorists, rather than be a step behind."
Unlike the metal detectors currently used at British airports, the scanners can see through clothes and project an image of the passenger's body on to a screen.
But their use has been controversial, with privacy campaigners and politicians complaining they infringe human rights.
Mr Burnett said he backed calls from Professor Paul Wilkinson of St Andrews University, one of the world's leading terrorism experts, to introduce the scanners following last week's incident on the Detroit-bound flight.
"Professor Wilkinson is very much behind this and I would support what he says.
"We have seen that if you leave any loophole for terrorists, they will exploit it. There is no magic solution, but these scanners would help," Mr Burnett said.
He acknowledged using full-body scanners was a particularly sensitive issue among Muslims but said protecting lives had to come first.
Prof Wilkinson said full-body scanners would close a major hole in airport security.
"There's no doubt a full-body scanner would help to fill a very important gap in the present security arrangements," he said. "All the modern equipment for X-raying bags is capable of identifying a range of explosives, but if someone goes through the archway and has managed to hide materials strapped to their body parts, the only way that will be picked up is through a thorough pat-down search.
"Very few airports have been kitted out with these full-body image scanners capable of spotting anything that looks at all odd.
"At the moment, we are managing with a technology that's slightly behind the technology the more cunning terrorists have developed.
"It would require investment, but when you think of cost in terms of loss of life, it is clearly a very useful investment. There are some people very sensitive about body shape, but flight safety is more important – you're taking about hundreds of lives being at risk."
Full-body scanners, which cost at least 100,000 each, are on trial at Manchester airport. A final decision on whether to deploy them rests with Transport Secretary Lord Adonis.
A Department for Transport spokesman said body scanners were being "urgently" assessed.
"The security of airline passengers and crew is our highest priority," he said. "We are constantly reviewing the operation of airport security, given the ever-changing threat from global terrorism.
"Body scanners are being assessed urgently as part of a package of measures to respond to the latest incident. Trials of body scanners have already taken place and these are being assessed urgently as part of an immediate review of airport security. The Secretary of State will make a statement on additional measures shortly."
MSP Bill Aitken, the Scottish Tories' justice spokesman, backed Mr Burnett's call, despite privacy concerns.
"My inclination would normally be to regard these devices as an invasion of privacy but unfortunately, in the times we live, we do have to sacrifice these principles," he said.
However, human rights lawyer John Scott said there was a danger of a kneejerk reaction.
"Some measures have been introduced which aren't effective and it is not clear these body scanners would be able to have detected what was eventually found on the aircraft," he said.
A spokeswoman for BAA, which owns six UK airports, including Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, said: "The introduction of full-body scanners would require a change in European legislation. The European Commission is meeting member states next week, and we will watch the outcome of those discussions closely and respond accordingly."
Brown hints full-body scanners coming sooner rather than later
GORDON Brown said last night that the use of full-body scanners would be among measures considered by the government to prevent a repeat of the attempted US airline bombing.
British ministers have been accused of acting too slowly to introduce the scanners, which produce "naked" images of passengers and are being trialled at Manchester airport.
The Prime Minister said that new techniques being used by al-Qaeda meant security had to be improved. "We need to continually explore the most sophisticated devices capable of identifying explosives, guns, knives and other such items anywhere on the body," he said.
"So, in co-operation with President Obama, we will examine a range of new techniques to enhance airport security systems beyond the traditional measures, such as pat-down searches and sniffer dogs.
"These could include advancing our use of explosive trace technology, full body scanners and x-ray technology. Working alongside the US and other partners, we will move things forward quickly."
US president Barack Obama has blamed "human and systemic failures" by US intelligence for failing to put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on its "no fly" list despite receiving warnings that he posed a threat.