Surgically implanted bombs possible, but unlikely

In the age of suicide bombers, maybe the latest warning from federal authorities was only a matter of time.

Government officials warned airlines Wednesday that terrorists might have explosives surgically implanted in their bodies. This is apparently just an idea terrorists are talking about. Federal officials told us today they have not uncovered an actual plot.

CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes reports that the notion creates problems for airport security nonetheless.

The devices the TSA warned of today would be tough even for full body scanners to spot - plastic explosives buried deep inside the body.

"The U.S. government has received information, intelligence about terrorist intent to use this type of concealment and this technique to try to carry out plots to blow up planes," says John Pistole, TSA director.

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A law enforcement source tells CBS News that al Qaeda operatives in Yemen recently expressed interest in recruiting a surgeon to implant the explosives.

On a jihadist website, a man claiming to be a surgeon described the appeal last year: "Through surgery, I could place the bomb device inside the body of the suicide bomber, without the need of suicide vests. Isn't this way better than all the other options?"

The tactic has never been used successfully, and CBS national security analyst Juan Zarate says terrorist bomb makers are far from perfecting it.

"There are numerous technical problems to trying to make an effective explosive devise operate inside a human body, especially one that has to incubate for some time and then explode. Certainly the body itself will act as a bit of a cushion to the effect of the explosive," Zarate said.

That's just what happened in October of 2009 when a suicide bomber in Saudi Arabia made it through two airport security checkpoints with a device strapped between his buttocks. When the bomb detonated, he was killed, but his target, a top Saudi counterterrorism official, was barely harmed.

Still al Qaeda's newest approach shows how desperate the organization is to place a bomb on a plane after two previous plots failed. The first involved underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in December of 2009; The second and more sophisticated attempt involved bombs embedded in printer cartridges shipped on cargo planes last fall.

The TSA says passengers, particularly those traveling to the U.S. from abroad, can expect more random interviews and pat-downs in light of these newest warnings. However officials insist there is no indication of any specific or imminent plot.

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  • Nancy Cordes On Twitter»

    Nancy Cordes is CBS News' congressional correspondent.

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