December 28th, 2010
By: Roger Simon
On the day after Christmas, readers of The Washington Post were given a real treat: pictures of naked men.
The men in the pictures were fully clothed, but they were naked nonetheless, because the pictures came from airport full-body scanners.
The machines provided graphic pictures of the male anatomy. True, they were no more graphic than Michelangelo’s David or Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (that’s the naked guy with his arms and legs stuck out), but both of those were depictions, not actual people trying to heft their wheelie bags on the conveyor belt, take off their shoes and jackets, remove their laptops, take out their baggies full of fluids no more than 3 ounces in size, take the metal out of their pockets and somehow get through security before their planes take off.
According to the Post, by New Year’s Day, there will be 500 such machines in use nationwide and 1,000 by the end of 2011, or roughly one machine for every two security lanes in every airport in the land.
If the machines offend your sense of modesty or decency for yourself or your children, then you can request a pat-down where your naughty bits may be touched by a Transportation Security Administration screener rather than projected on a video screen.
Officials say 98 percent of people go through the machines rather than request a pat-down, which is not surprising: First, who likes to be touched by a stranger? And second, going through the machines is faster, and flying has becomes such a cumbersome and aggravating experience that most people will do anything to get it over with.
(There is a company called Flying Pasties, which claims to have a product that you slip inside your clothing to screen your private parts. “It’s simply not against the law to keep your private parts private,” the company says.)
Some parties are suing the government over the new machines, claiming an unreasonable invasion of privacy, while others claim the machines expose people to too much radiation, which the government denies.
Most people, however, accept it as just another agony associated with flying (along with fees to check baggage and crowded luggage bins).
And, after all, the machines are worth it because they detect explosives.
Except they don’t. As it turns out, the machines don’t detect explosives at all. They detect images on your body that shouldn’t belong on your body.
“It’s not an explosive detector; it’s an anomaly detector,” Clark Ervin, who runs the Homeland Security Program at the Aspen Institute, told the Post. “Someone has to notice that there’s something out of order.”
Which means those security employees who stare at the screens have to be sharp enough and well-trained enough to detect things that are abnormal. (And some experts think that if the explosives are flat and pancake-shaped and taped to your stomach, they could not be detected anyway, because the picture would look too normal.)
The machines cost $130,000 to $170,000 each, and by 2014, the federal government will have spent $234 million to $300 million for them.
Which would be a bargain if they actually did something besides embarrass people. In May, a TSA screener at Miami International Airport who went through a full-body screening as part of his training was arrested for beating a co-worker with a police baton after co-workers made fun of the size of his private parts.
The solution for passengers? Get used to it.
Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, was interviewed Sunday by CNN’s Candy Crowley, and Napolitano said nothing was going to change “for the foreseeable future.”
“You know, we’re always looking to improve systems and so forth,” Napolitano said. “But the new technology, the pat-downs, is just objectively safer for our traveling public.”
But Crowley decided to screen and pat down that assertion.
Citing an ABC report, Crowley said, “There are some major airports who had a 70 percent failure rate at detecting guns, knives, bombs, that they got through in your tests…. So how good can it be when you have major airports with a 70 percent fail rate?”
Napolitano dismissed those results as old and questionable and said, “Let’s set those aside.” One of the real successes of the machines and procedures, Napolitano said, is that they discourage terrorists from even trying to get on planes.
In other words, the machines keep us safe even if they don’t work at all.
“What we know is that you can’t measure [how] the devices … are deterring [terrorists] from going on a plane,” Napolitano said.
“Just people who just are discouraged, thinking they’d be found out,” said Crowley.
“Exactly,” said Napolitano.
In which case, we do not need machines that cost upward of $130,000 each.
All we need are archways made out of $30 or $40 worth of sheet metal that are labeled: “Official Destructo Machine — If You Are a Terrorist, This Machine Will Not Only Zap You, but Put a Picture of Your Private Parts on YouTube.”
That ought to do it.
December 8th, 2010
By: Jonathan Benson
Airports have become a minefield of health hazards, and an investigation into airport safety has revealed that radiation emitted from various scanning machines is sometimes much higher than intended, putting workers and passengers at serious risk. And while the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) insists that the machines are safe, the agency refuses to release the actual safety inspection reports to back its claim.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted an investigation back in 2003 and 2004 exposing several X-ray machines that were in violation of federal radiation standards. Policy states that the TSA is in charge of inspecting its own machines, but the agency has allegedly neglected this responsibility for years, while continuing to install increasingly more X-ray machines like the new full-body scanners that emit even higher amounts of dangerous radiation.
Reporters from USA Today recently petitioned the TSA to release inspection reports for the 4,080 X-ray machines used across the country, as well as the 221 full-body scanners. But the TSA refused to release them while still insisting that they all passed inspection, even though the previous investigation had revealed that the agency has a track record of failing to identify faulty machines.
Some TSA workers have filed complaints about poor maintenance and monitoring of X-ray machines, citing high cancer rates among agency employees that regularly work near the machines. One employee requested that a hazard assessment be conducted, which the TSA denied because it said that at least three employees had to jointly make such a request for it to happen.
The TSA’s blatant lack of transparency in verifying the safety of its machines points to the fact that something is amiss. Officials admit that some radiation is emitted from the machines, but that regular levels are below maximum thresholds. Even so, radiology experts say that perpetual exposure to even low-dose radiation from airport X-ray machines can lead to cancer and other health problems.
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November 2nd, 2010
By: Kimberly Kindy
Since the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports.
What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. The relationship drew attention after Chertoff disclosed it on a CNN program Wednesday, in response to a question.
An airport passengers’ rights group on Thursday criticized Chertoff, who left office less than a year ago, for using his former government credentials to advocate for a product that benefits his clients.
“Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected this particular type of explosive,” said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, which opposes the use of the scanners.
Chertoff’s advocacy for the technology dates back to his time in the Bush administration. In 2005, Homeland Security ordered the government’s first batch of the scanners — five from California-based Rapiscan Systems.
Today, 40 body scanners are in use at 19 U.S. airports. The number is expected to skyrocket at least in part because of the Christmas Day incident. The Transportation Security Administration this week said it will order 300 more machines.
In the summer, TSA purchased 150 machines from Rapiscan with $25 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Rapiscan was the only company that qualified for the contract because it had developed technology that performs the screening using a less-graphic body imaging system, which is also less controversial. (Since then, another company, L-3 Communications, has qualified for future contracts, but no new contracts have been awarded.)
Over the past week, Chertoff has repeatedly talked about the need for expanding the use of the technology in airports, saying it could detect bombs like the one federal authorities say Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, carried onto the Detroit-bound aircraft.
“We could deploy the scanning machines that we currently are beginning to deploy in the U.S. that will give us the ability to see what someone has concealed underneath their clothing,” Chertoff said Wednesday in an interview on CNN. The incident on the Detroit-bound plane provided “a very vivid lesson in the value of that machinery,” he said.
March 10, 2010
A senior official in the United Nations has warned that the growing use of full body scanners at airports breaches individual rights.
Martin Scheinin, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur, said the scanners are more of a political response to terrorist attacks than a carefully designed security measure.
He added that the technology which intrudes excessively into individual privacy is also ineffective in preventing terrorism.
Not only are they “ineffective in detecting a genuine terrorist threat” but they also create “a false feeling of security and allow the real terrorists to adapt their tactics to the technology in use.”
Scheinin also told journalists that although the scanners violate human rights generally, there are “particular sensitivities in respect of women, certain religions and certain cultural backgrounds.”
The top official, who has been in charge of monitoring the impact of anti-terror measures on individual freedoms for the last five years, suggested that other existing detection technologies which do not harm privacy should be used instead.
Scheinin’s comments come just days after the US Transportation Security Administration announced that eleven more airports will begin using the technology soon.
The full-body scanners, otherwise known as the “virtual strip searching,” see through clothing to produce images of the whole body.
The plan to use the device at airports was introduced after the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US-bound airliner by a young Nigerian man.
January 08, 2010
By Leithen Francis
The Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA) has warned against regulators over reacting in the wake of the recent terrorist attempt on a Delta Air Lines passenger aircraft bound for the USA.
“It takes real political maturity to remain calm and not fall into the trap of knee jerk reactions such as imposition of new security measures,” it says.
“Additional security measures are only justified when it can be demonstrated that the benefits outweigh the additional burdens they impose on society.” it adds.
Following the 26 December attempted bombing of a Delta Air Lines flight from Amsterdam Schiphol to Detroit, the Dutch airport announced it would be introducing full body scanners.
But the AAPA says “there is insufficient evidence regarding the effectiveness” of full body scanners, “to justify their immediate deployment”.
“Rather than focus on ever more intrusive passenger screening, the key lesson from this, and previous terrorist incidents, is the critical importance of effective intelligence gathering and analysis,” it adds.
January 08, 2010
By Paul Joseph Watson
The full body scanners that President Obama last night authorized to be rolled out in airports across the country at a cost of over $1 billion dollars not only produce detailed pictures of your genitals, but once inverted some of those images also display your naked body in full living color.
And you don’t need to be a graphics wizard using a $600 software suite like Photoshop to pull off the trick – inverting a photo is a simple process that takes one click and is an option available even in the most basic image editing software.
We were sent examples of the process by readers and then tested it for ourselves to confirm that simply inverting some of the pictures produced by the body scanners creates a near-perfect replica of a naked body in full color.
It is important to stress that this is a low resolution image. Airport screeners will have access to huge high definition images that, once inverted, will allow them to see every minute detail of your body.
The inversion trick doesn’t work for all the sample images produced by body scanners, but with or without its application, every image will still show details of your sexual organs. Even without being inverted, the images already break child porn laws in the UK.
Reassurances that airport screeners won’t be abe to save the images will provide little comfort to parents who know that the crystal clear image of their naked son or daughter being ogled by a TSA thug can merely be snapped with a handheld camera for their enjoyment later.
Apologists for the scanners have routinely described the images they produce as “ghostly” or “skeletal” in an effort to downplay the intrusion of privacy they really represent.
As we reported yesterday, claims that the body scanners did not provide details of genitals were disproven after a London Guardian journalist who was present at a trial for the machines earlier this week reported that the devices produce an image which make “genitals eerily visible.”
German Security advisor Hans-Detlef Dau, a representative for a company that sells the scanners, admits that the machines, “show intimate piercings, catheters and the form of breasts and penises”.
Indeed, as was admitted when the scanners were first being rolled out over a year ago, they don’t function properly if areas of the body are blurred out.
A report from October 2008, when the naked body scanners were first being introduced at Melbourne Airport in Australia, detailed how the X-ray backscatter devices don’t work properly unless the genitals of people going through them are visible.
“It will show the private parts of people, but what we’ve decided is that we’re not going to blur those out, because it severely limits the detection capabilities,” said Office of Transport Security manager Cheryl Johnson.
“It is possible to see genitals and breasts while they’re going through the machine,” she admitted.
TV news reports have been deliberately misleading viewers by blurring out faces and genitals of people in images produced by the scanners. When it comes to the real thing, your sexual organs and those of your children will be on full display to officials sat alone in back rooms, and with a simple inversion trick, your daughter’s naked body in full living high definition color will be there to be enjoyed by screeners.