TSA Backscatter X-ray Backlash

Things are happening so fast that I don’t know if I should bother. But here are some links and observations.

The head of the Allied Pilots Association is telling its members to avoid both the full body scanners and the patdowns.

This first-hand report, from a man who refused to fly rather than subject himself to a full-body scan or an enhanced patdown, has been making the rounds. (The TSA is now investigating him.) It reminds me of Penn Jillette’s story from 2002.

A woman has a horrific story of opting-out of the full body scanners. More stories: this one about the TSA patting down a screaming toddler. And here’s Dave Barry’s encounter (also this NPR interview).

Sadly, I agree with this:

It is no accident that women have been complaining about being pulled out of line because of their big breasts, having their bodies commented on by TSA officials, and getting inappropriate touching when selected for pat-downs for nearly 10 years now, but just this week it went viral. It is no accident that CAIR identified Islamic head scarves (hijab) as an automatic trigger for extra screenings in January, but just this week it went viral. What was different?

Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.

Seems that once you enter airport security, you need to be subjected to it—whether you decide to fly or not.

I experienced the enhanced patdown myself, at DCA, on Tuesday. It was invasive, but not as bad as these stories. It seems clear that TSA agents are inconsistent about these procedures. They’ve probably all had the same training, but individual agents put it into practice very differently.

Of course, airport security is an extra-Constitutional area, so there’s no clear redress mechanism for those subjected to too-intimate patdowns.

This video provides tips to parents flying with young children. Around 2:50 in, the reporter indicates that you can find out if your child has been pre-selected for secondary, and then recommends requesting “de-selection.” That doesn’t make sense.

Neither does this story, which says that the TSA will only touch Muslim women in the head and neck area.

Nor this story. The author convinces people on line to opt-out with him. After the first four opt-outs, the TSA just sent people through the metal detectors.

Yesterday, the TSA administrator John Pistole was grilled by the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on full-body scanners. Rep. Ron Paul introduced a bill to ban them. (His floor speech is here.) I’m one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to ban them.

Book for kids: My First Cavity Search. Cover seen at at TSA checkpoint.

T-shirts: one, two, and three and four. “Comply with Me” song parody. Political cartoons: one, two, three, and four. New TSA logo. Best TSA tweets, including “It’s not a grope. It’s a freedom pat.”

Good essay from a libertarian perspective. Two more. Marc Rotenberg’s essay. Ralph Nader’s essay. And the Los Angeles Times really screws up with this editorial: “Shut Up and Be Scanned.” Amitai Etzioni makes a better case for the machines.

Michael Chertoff, former Department of Homeland Security secretary, has been touting the full-body scanners, while at the same time maintaining a financial interest in the company that makes them.

There’s talk about the health risks of the machines, but I can’t believe you won’t get more radiation on the flight. Here’s some data:

A typical dental X-ray exposes the patient to about 2 millirems of radiation. According to one widely cited estimate, exposing each of 10,000 people to one rem (that is, 1,000 millirems) of radiation will likely lead to 8 excess cancer deaths. Using our assumption of linearity, that means that exposure to the 2 millirems of a typical dental X-ray would lead an individual to have an increased risk of dying from cancer of 16 hundred-thousandths of one percent. Given that very small risk, it is easy to see why most rational people would choose to undergo dental X-rays every few years to protect their teeth.

More importantly for our purposes, assuming that the radiation in a backscatter X-ray is about a hundredth the dose of a dental X-ray, we find that a backscatter X-ray increases the odds of dying from cancer by about 16 ten millionths of one percent. That suggests that for every billion passengers screened with backscatter radiation, about 16 will die from cancer as a result.

Given that there will be 600 million airplane passengers per year, that makes the machines deadlier than the terrorists.

Nate Silver on the hidden cost of these new airport security measures.

According to the Cornell study, roughly 130 inconvenienced travelers died every three months as a result of additional traffic fatalities brought on by substituting ground transit for air transit. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.

Jeffrey Goldberg asked me which I would rather see for children: backscatter X-ray or enhanced pat down. After remarking what an icky choice it was, I opted for the X-ray; it’s less traumatic.

Here are a bunch of leaked body scans. They’re not from airports, but they should make you think twice before accepting the TSA’s assurances that the images will never be saved. RateMyBackscatter.com.

November 24 is National Opt Out Day. Doing this just before the Thanksgiving holiday is sure to clog up airports. Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that men wear kilts, commando style if possible.

At least one airport is opting out of the TSA entirely. I hadn’t known you could do that.

The New York Times on the protests.

Common sense from the Netherlands:

The security boss of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is calling for an end to endless investment in new technology to improve airline security.

Marijn Ornstein said: “If you look at all the recent terrorist incidents, the bombs were detected because of human intelligence not because of screening … If even a fraction of what is spent on screening was invested in the intelligence services we would take a real step toward making air travel safer and more pleasant.”

And here’s Rafi Sela, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority:

A leading Israeli airport security expert says the Canadian government has wasted millions of dollars to install “useless” imaging machines at airports across the country.

“I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747,” Rafi Sela told parliamentarians probing the state of aviation safety in Canada.

“That’s why we haven’t put them in our airport,” Sela said, referring to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the toughest security in the world.

They can be fooled by creased clothing. And remember this German video?

I’m quoted in the Los Angeles Times:

Some experts argue the new procedures could make passengers uncomfortable without providing a substantial increase in security. “Security measures that just force the bad guys to change tactics and targets are a waste of money,” said Bruce Schneier, a security expert who works for British Telecom. “It would be better to put that money into investigations and intelligence.”

I’m quoted in The Wall Street Journal twice—once as saying:

“All these machines require you to guess the plot correctly. If you don’t, then they are completely worthless,” said Bruce Schneier, a security expert.

Mr. Schneier and some other experts argue that assembling better intelligence on fliers is the key to making travel safer.

and once as saying:

Security guru Bruce Schneier, a plaintiff in the scanner suit, calls this “magical thinking . . . Descend on what the terrorists happened to do last time, and we’ll all be safe. As if they won’t think of something else.”

In 2005, I wrote:

I’m not impressed with this security trade-off. Yes, backscatter X-ray machines might be able to detect things that conventional screening might miss. But I already think we’re spending too much effort screening airplane passengers at the expense of screening luggage and airport employees…to say nothing of the money we should be spending on non-airport security.

On the other side, these machines are expensive and the technology is incredibly intrusive. I don’t think that people should be subjected to strip searches before they board airplanes. And I believe that most people would be appalled by the prospect of security screeners seeing them naked.

I believe that there will be a groundswell of popular opposition to this idea. Aside from the usual list of pro-privacy and pro-liberty groups, I expect fundamentalist Christian groups to be appalled by this technology. I think we can get a bevy of supermodels to speak out against the invasiveness of the search.

On the other hand, CBS News is reporting that 81% of Americans support full-body scans. Maybe they should only ask flying Americans.

I still stand by this, also from 2005:

Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else—Secure Flight and Trusted Traveler included—is security theater. We would all be a lot safer if, instead, we implemented enhanced baggage security—both ensuring that a passenger’s bags don’t fly unless he does, and explosives screening for all baggage—as well as background checks and increased screening for airport employees.

Then we could take all the money we save and apply it to intelligence, investigation and emergency response. These are security measures that pay dividends regardless of what the terrorists are planning next, whether it’s the movie plot threat of the moment, or something entirely different.

And this, written in 2010 after the Underwear Bomber failed:

Finally, we need to be indomitable. The real security failure on Christmas Day was in our reaction. We’re reacting out of fear, wasting money on the story rather than securing ourselves against the threat. Abdulmutallab succeeded in causing terror even though his attack failed.

If we refuse to be terrorized, if we refuse to implement security theater and remember that we can never completely eliminate the risk of terrorism, then the terrorists fail even if their attacks succeed.

See these two essays of mine as well, from the same time.

More resources on the EPIC pages.

What else is going on?

EDITED TO ADD: (11/19): Lots more political cartoons.

Good summary of your legal rights and options from the ACLU. They also have a form you can fill out and send to your Congresscritter.

This has to win for DHS Quote of the Year, from Secretary Janet Napolitano on the issue:

I really want to say, look, let’s be realistic and use our common sense.

The TSA doesn’t train its screeners very well. A response to a letter-writer from Sen. Coburn. From Slate: "Does the TSA Ever Catch Terrorists?" A pilot’s story. The screeners’ point of view. Good essay from the National Post.

Fun with the Playmobil airline security screening playset.

Meg McLain, whose horrific story I linked to above, lied. Here’s an interview with her.

EDITED TO ADD (11/20): I was interviewed by Popular Mechanics.

Woman forced to remove prosthetic breast. TSO officer caught saying “heads up, got a cutie for you” into his headset to the other officers. Complication news video of TSA behavior.

Here’s an alert you can hand out to passengers at security checkpoints where there are backscatter machines.

EDITED TO ADD (11/21): Me in an Associated Press piece on the anti-TSA backlash:

“After 9/11 people were scared and when people are scared they’ll do anything for someone who will make them less scared,” said Bruce Schneier, a Minneapolis security technology expert who has long been critical of the TSA. “But … this is particularly invasive. It’s strip-searching. It’s body groping. As abhorrent goes, this pegs it.”

President Obama comments:

“I understand people’s frustrations, and what I’ve said to the TSA is that you have to constantly refine and measure whether what we’re doing is the only way to assure the American people’s safety. And you also have to think through are there other ways of doing it that are less intrusive,” Obama said.

“But at this point, TSA in consultation with counterterrorism experts have indicated to me that the procedures that they have been putting in place are the only ones right now that they consider to be effective against the kind of threat that we saw in the Christmas Day bombing.”

TSA sendup on Saturday Night Live yesterday.

EDITED TO ADD (11/22): The thing about Muslim women being exempt seems to be based on a misreading of this press release. What they seem to be saying is that if you’re selected because you could have something under your hijab, then they only need to just pat down the area the hijab covers. It’s not a special exemption.

TSA Administrator John Pistole comments:

We are constantly evaluating and adapting our security measures, and as we have said from the beginning, we are seeking to strike the right balance between privacy and security. In all such security programs, especially those that are applied nation-wide, there is a continual process of refinement and adjustment to ensure that best practices are applied and that feedback and comment from the traveling public is taken into account.

EDITED TO ADD (11/23): Fantastic infographic. Excellent poster image. This, too. And another political cartoon.

Yesterday I participated in a New York Times “Room for Debate” discussion on airline security. My contribution is nothing I haven’t said before, so I won’t reprint it here. The other participants are worth reading too.

More from Nate Silver, on public opinion and the likely TSA reaction:

It is perhaps foolish to predict how the T.S.A. will respond this time—when they have relaxed rules in the past, they have done so quietly, rather than in response to some acute public backlash. But caution aside, I would be surprised if the new procedures survived much past the New Year without significant modification.

CNN’s advice to the public.

Things are definitely strained out there:

Through a statement released by his attorney Sunday night, Wolanyk said “TSA needs to see that I’m not carrying any weapons, explosives, or other prohibited substances, I refuse to have images of my naked body viewed by perfect strangers, and having been felt up for the first time by TSA the week prior (I travel frequently) I was not willing to be molested again.”

Wolanyk’s attorney said that TSA requested his client put his clothes on so he could be patted down properly but his client refused to put his clothes back on. He never refused a pat down, according to his attorney. Wolanyk was arrested for refusing to complete the security process.

From the same article:

A woman, identified by Harbor police as Danielle Kelli Hayman,39, of San Diego was detained for recording the incident on a phone.

That’s much more worrying.

Interview with Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior advisor at the RAND Corp. and a former member of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security.

Here’s someone who managed to avoid both the full-body scanners and the enhanced pat down. It took him two and a half hours. And here someone who got patted down, and managed to sneak two razor blades through security anyway.

How the TSA will deal with people with disabilities. How the pat downs affect survivors of sexual assault. (Read also the comments here.) Juan Cole on how airport security has shifted from looking for people with guns and traditional bombs to looking for people with PETN. And TSA-proof underwear.

EDITED TO ADD (11/24): Information on the health risks of the backscatter machines. And here’s a woman who stripped down to her underwear before going through airport security. This comes from a perspective I generally don’t buy, but it’s hard to dismiss his writing. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy, but I do think it’s a trend. “This Modern World” has a comic on the topic. Slate on the lack of guidelines. Why the TSA should be privatized.

EDITED TO ADD (11/25): I was on Keith Olbermann last night.

Posted on November 19, 2010 at 5:37 AM312 Comments


Joel Odom November 19, 2010 6:02 AM

My family and I purchased airline tickets for Thanksgiving travel several months ago. Now, because of the TSA and their threat to body search me, my wife, and my young children, we are forced to abandon or non-refundable airline tickets. I prefer not to undergo such a search myself, and I certainly can not consent to anyone touching my children in an inappropriate manner. I have been corresponding and speaking with the TSA for days, and no one there can provide me with anything that describes how my children would be touched if they were selected to undergo a body search. Not even the elected officials that I have corresponded with have been able to get an answer from the TSA. I can not believe that whatever small margin of security these invasive procedures afford, that additional security is not worth the treatment that the TSA is forcing upon travelers.

BF Skinner November 19, 2010 6:13 AM

“author convinces people on line to opt-out with him. After the first four opt-outs, the TSA just sent people through the metal detectors.”

Okay, while the story may not make sense IF this happened it was an effective protest. Neither patdown (aka 3rd degree sexual assault) nor body xrays were used.

The 3 year old search happened a couple of years ago and is being resurrected.

I may have missed it above but there was a report last week of leaked scanner images. We’ve been assured that no images are being maintained in the system and when it was found they were it was a “misconfiguration of the contractor”. But the logic of the machines is that they provide a record of that passenger. TSA screeners would need images to both train with, especially for their dreadful weapon identification rates, and after the fact investigations.

Have also heard anecdotally that instead of a isolated room where the images are reviewed anonmously the screeners were on the concourse and were mixing genders to review the images. Pervy wankers paradise.

I can only believe that TMZ is cruising the TSA screeners bars looking for someone who would get them scanner pictures of Anniston and Pitt.

bob November 19, 2010 6:31 AM

“Deadlier” makes as much sense as “more deadly”. Either they’re kill you or they don’t.

Carlo Graziani November 19, 2010 6:33 AM

I actually feel bad for the TSA for once. They’re between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, the U.S. public is so scared of the big, bad, terrorists that it demands that the government go to any and all lengths to make sure we’ll all be safe from evil intentions for ever and ever. On the other hand, when this absolute security requirement translates into the inevitably colossal infringements of our freedoms and civil rights, TSA has to take the fall.

We’re a nation of responsibility-evading cowards. We’re perfectly prepared to defend the nation by undermining the very principles that make it worth defending in the first place, but we still get pissed off at the price when it affects us directly. TSA is giving us exactly what we deserve.

JRR November 19, 2010 6:39 AM

It’s not just the dosage that matters when calculating possible long term effects of exposure to ionizing radiation.

I was talking to a radiology expert recently, and the community’s concern is that because the backscatter machines by design use lower energy radiation that only penetrates a fraction of a millimeter into the skin, that means that even though the dosage is lower, it is ALL concentrated in the top bit of skin. This has potential for causing melanoma down the road.

anon November 19, 2010 6:48 AM

How hard is it to treat you carry-on clothes with an accelerant, and drop one match into it? I know for a fact if you treat flannel with a lot of dryer sheets and get near an open flame it goes up like flash paper. Get three or more similarly treated bags to go up and you probably go beyond the fire suppression available on the plane. Have it timed with another large item in the cargo and it’s done. The panic alone will probably kill someone.
Can I stuff a kielbasa down my leg and say “it’s me”… keeping it under super human size, what can they do when they feel that “resistance”.

yt November 19, 2010 7:09 AM

@Carlo Graziani: “I actually feel bad for the TSA for once. They’re between a rock and a hard place.”

Pun probably not intended, but I’ve also heard reports that some TSA screeners are not quite comfortable with having to perform such invasive pat-downs either. As one person put it, the government is requiring them to touch people’s genitals as a condition of their employment. I’m pretty sure that’s not what they (most of them anyway) signed up for.

ZG November 19, 2010 7:17 AM

I bet there is a cave in Somekindofstan hiding a bunch of guys who are saying something along the lines of “Wow, your whacky plans for terrorism have far exceeded expectations. Nice work Osama”. I wonder if there is a terrorist of the millenium award? An extra large helping of virgins? How do you reward that kind of effectiveness?

Frank Wilhoit November 19, 2010 7:22 AM

This is not entirely unrelated to the news stories about roads being plowed under. What has happened here from my standpoint is that air travel has been uninvented: there is no longer any such thing.

Greg W November 19, 2010 7:28 AM

Bruce, you say “airport security is extra-constitutional” and on the surface that makes sense to me about the basic search procedure; it’s a voluntary location that you go to that’s owned and operated by non-governmental bodies who subcontract back to the government(TSA).

Now in general, we should always be troubled with the government outsources its responsibility to agents who then claim they don’t have to abide by the constitution (or good governance)… but that’s a whole other big topic.

BUT the totally maddening and ironic and constitutionally-questionable part of this story is this… how can the government (TSA) have it’s cake and eat it too?

How can it claim that there are no constitutional protections for the search when you voluntarily fly, but at the same time say that they will fine you $10,000 for refusing a search if you leave the search area as they did with John Tyner? I would understand that John Tyner, if he made a private contract, could be liable for $10,000 to a private party, but if the government is using a coercive fine to ensure people are searched, they are clearly taking responsibility for the search and the constitutional protections should apply.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,…”

Now I can see an argument that there are two searches and the government is only coercing people for the second one (leaving-the-search-area-after-refusing-a-search). And I can see a government lawyer claiming that while the first search may or may not be “reasonable”, the second one is.

But it doesn’t look to me (and IANAL) like this extra-constitutionality would really stand up under significant legal scrutiny.

(A pointer to the $10,000 fine law can be found at http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/TPV3/Voices.php/2010/11/14/tsa-promises-10-000-fine-for-refusing-se )

Looks like there are potential interesting legal test cases here for any privacy groups who want to pursue them.

David November 19, 2010 7:37 AM

The CBS poll question that got such overwhelming support turns out to have been worded thusly:

Some airports are now using “full-body” digital x-ray machines to electronically screen passengers in airport security lines. Do you think these new x-ray machines should or should not be used at airports?

Notice the part about the TSA goons seeing you naked? Notice the mention of the TSA nickname for the devices: “porno scanners” and “dick-measuring devices”? Missed that? How about the sexual assault to which you’ll be subjected if you opt out of the scanning. Or the fact that if you opt out of being groped you can be detained and fined up to $11,000. Did you miss those parts?

And the TSA has the chutzpah to crow on its blog about how terrifically popular these things are.

Roy November 19, 2010 7:40 AM

While this ongoing assault on passengers and their possessions continues, air freight sails through unmolested.

It’s not the expense that’s the problem, as the government is willing to throw endless piles of money into security theater. It’s the fact that they really cannot screen packages without ruining them, costing the shipper to write it off as a loss.

Angel One November 19, 2010 7:44 AM

As much as I hate traffic, we’re driving this thanksgiving. I simply cannot put myself in a situation where I have to watch my 3 year old daughter get touched in the fashion by a uniformed officer.

John F. Fay November 19, 2010 7:45 AM

Concerning the accusation of racism, two other things are different in the present case. First, there is a video, so we can see for ourselves the TSA’s abuse of its power. It’s not just a case of “he said, she said.” Second, the new procedures are more invasive than the older procedures. I don’t object to being pulled aside and spending a few extra minutes, but I do object to being molested.

Let us also remember the falsehoods that TSA has put out concerning the whole-body imagers. They said that they did not show detail in the sensitive areas; then a case came out in which a TSA employee snapped after being teased for a year by his coworkers over his whole-body image. They said that the machines do not store images; as the article notes, images from that sort of machine have been put out on the Internet.

At this point, why should we believe anything that the TSA says?

Nisse November 19, 2010 7:54 AM

As an european it is easy: I do not visit the US of A, they insult their visitors. Even Candada is better.

UK is still possible, if expensive, to visit. You fly to Paris and then take the train.

moo November 19, 2010 8:02 AM

Regarding “leaked scanner images”, if you go to google images and type in “body scanner” you get hundreds of images. In many of them, the genitalia of the subjects are clearly visible.

Even if these damn things worked (which they don’t — they are easy for any dedicated terrorist to circumvent!), they would be a gross and unacceptable violation of individual privacy and an affront to the basic dignity of the passengers. If we have to treat the ordinary 99.9999% of air travellers this badly in order to try and protect against the ultra-rare threat of someone smuggling a weapon onto an aircraft, then the terrorists have definitely won.

Everyone involved in the pork-procuring decision-making processes that brought these scanners to our airports needs to be fired. Michael Chertoff, Gale Rossides and Hillary Clinton need to be fired. Airport security should be rolled back to about the levels we had 5 years ago.

HJohn November 19, 2010 8:08 AM

An unintended consequence of misguided airline security is that a large sum of the resources it consumes are not being directed at other risks.

Insofar as the risks and benefits: only a fraction of a percent of passengers intend harm, and only a fraction of a percent of those get materials past security, and only a fraction of those pull off an airline attack without getting beaten senseless by other passengers. Well, i’d take those odds in a minute to have a bit more privacy and sense in screening.

Vinny November 19, 2010 8:17 AM

“After the first four opt-outs, the TSA just sent people through the metal detectors.”

When I flew from San Diego a few weeks back, whenever the line would back up they would send folks through the metal detector to speed things up.

I didn’t opt-out, but I did file a complaint. The email response I got told me to follow their blog.

And on the airports not using the TSA – why is that a benefit? – its all the same rules.

SnallaBolaget November 19, 2010 8:24 AM

I’m happy that Bruce knows how to put links in text… a “how to put links in your text” how-to guide is all this blog entry is good for.

Just about the only part of the mess that I’d like to ask about;

Quote Bruce; “And the Los Angeles Times really screws up with this editorial: “Shut Up and Be Scanned.” ”

Uhm… why, exactly? Seems the writer backs up the article nicely.

Dirty Davey November 19, 2010 8:28 AM

I have seen reports indicating rather clearly that the “enhancement” of pat-downs actually has nothing whatsoever to do with security.

Too many people were opting out of the naked-picture scanners, so there was a decision that the alternative procedure needed to be made more intrusive and less comfortable in order to coerce folks into going through the scanners instead.

greg November 19, 2010 8:34 AM

If they cared so much, they would quit, or do the union action thing. Or even better, just not do it, since they are allowed to exercise “discretion”.

You can’t claim anything about believing in ideals if you won’t even give up a pay check for them. You are brought and sold, and you are guilty of following illegal(immoral) orders.

Excuses of “I am just doing my job” don’t wash. And “I did it because he/she told me too”, is something a 5 year old tries. Grown adults know better.

SnallaBolaget November 19, 2010 8:43 AM

Hey, moo. I think you misunderstand – I’m praising his linking technique – it’s just that I don’t agree with anything else he says. But disagreeing isn’t trolling… is it? 😉

bob (the original bob) November 19, 2010 8:45 AM

While I object to security theater in general, the big problem I have here is this “I am the government so you must submit” BS. Where do they get these TSA um, agents from anyway; are they seeking out candidates rejected from the Hells Angels for being too obnoxious?

Allehaande November 19, 2010 8:53 AM

I think I will do my own protest next time I fly within the USA: Undress before scanning.

If I risk being arrested for the ‘full monty’, I could also just wear very tight underwear and keep it on.

In a national campain it would make good pictures for tv and long queues if enough people went through a time-consuming undressing just before the security check

Laura November 19, 2010 8:53 AM

The San Mateo (California) District Attorney promised to prosecute TSA agents who perform patdowns that are “inappropriately done with a sexual or lewd intent” (http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/local/peninsula&id=7793386).

The TSA blog (http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/11/tsa-myth-or-fact-leaked-images.html) contradicts the article that says Muslim women will be searched only in the head and neck area.

I think whoever suggested asking for “de-selection” for children under 12 may have interpreted a statement that under-12s are exempt from the enhanced patdowns (http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2010/11/16/131364772/tsa-head-defends-enhanced-pat-downs-and-safety-of-scanners) as meaning they won’t be patted down at all. But the TSA blog post I referred to above says there’s a modified patdown procedure for kids under 12.

Also, it’s Dave Barry, not Dave Berry. And his story is yet another reason to avoid the scanners — going through them doesn’t guarantee you’ll avoid a patdown.

SnallaBolaget November 19, 2010 9:01 AM

@JRR; “…that means that even though the dosage is lower, it is ALL concentrated in the top bit of skin. This has potential for causing melanoma down the road.”

Okay, so by this reasoning, it’s worse to have a papercut in your skin than to be stabbed in the spleen, for example? Weaker radiation is better than stronger, that’s just the way it is.

Hasufin November 19, 2010 9:04 AM

A friend recently pointed me to the “Israelification” article.
What I really got out of it was realizing that the “Israeli” method focuses on human judgment, whereas the current US method tries to take humans out of the picture as much as possible.
Many of the Israeli methods detailed entail individuals making judgment calls based on their perception of how an individual is acting. This is, to a certain way of thinking, very risky. on the one hand, it would provide even more opportunity for someone to engage in racial profiling (as opposed to the behavioral profiling for which it is intended), and second, it means that a calm individual could easily slip through most of the security. However, I think that this is still better – TSA is clearly allowing, or at least failing to prevent, racial profiling already, and regardless of screening methodologies that needs to be addressed. And, well, there’s no such thing as a professional suicide bomber.
The Israeli method seems to work. I suspect a good part of why it works better than the US method is because it directly addresses the common thread of terrorism: the terrorists. The more technological, less human approach is to focus on the methods which might be used – and it has been demonstrated that while the terrorists may remain basically the same, they are more than willing to change their methods.

ap November 19, 2010 9:05 AM

What’s the best way to complain about this? Congressmen, senators, TSA, something else? I want to make sure any effort I spend against these practices will be of some value.

dob November 19, 2010 9:06 AM

“Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.”

There’s much to this, but this wouldn’t have achieved the resonance it has without the active assistance of the corporate media. And it wouldn’t be getting that assistance if the corporate media weren’t interested in embarrassing a Democratic administration. Honestly, if this were to have been introduced three years ago? There wouldn’t have been coverage of the protesting passengers.

I’m glad of the resistance, it’s long past time the TSA got checked in their expensive, dangerous, and futile procedures, but let’s not kid ourselves about the reasons why this has become a hot issue.

dob November 19, 2010 9:11 AM

The Israeli airport procedures get a lot of love here, but I have to wonder what the experience is like for Palestinian or Muslim travelers. I’ve read anecdotal reports of capricious cruelty inflicted on those groups, which seems consistent with the behavior of Israeli security in other contexts. I’m not averse to behavioral profiling, but we shouldn’t ignore the negative consequences that approach can cause for powerless groups.

Nicholas Weaver November 19, 2010 9:18 AM

On the safety front, its not the passangers I worry about: it probably is more radiation in the flight itself…

What I worry about is the poor TSA screeners themselves. This is a SCATTERING X-ray machine. Where are their dosimiters?

HD November 19, 2010 9:43 AM

Radiation damage is cumulative. So yes, I get a dose in the airplane. I get a dose at the dentist. I can accept the risk for getting to travel to another continent in a reasonable amount of time, or to keep my teeth.

I don’t want to accept that risk for security theater.

Texaninthesnow November 19, 2010 9:46 AM

81% agree is a little miss leading by CBS. Questions were vague and there was no indication that the 1200 individuals asked even if they flew.

More political pole between dems and reps feelings, useless survey.

Petréa Mitchell November 19, 2010 9:48 AM

“[…] men wear kilts, commando style if possible.”

My SO, who has a history degree with a particular interest in military matters, tells me the appropriate term with kilts is “regimental style”.

“[…] 81% of Americans support full-body scans. Maybe they should only ask flying Americans.”

You’ll still get a majority in favor, as various local media are reporting from their local airports with the scanners. The survey of people at airports I’d like to see goes something like this:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the safest, how do you feel about flying now?
  2. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most improved, how safe do you feel about flying compared with 6 months ago?

Compare results from airports with and without scanners (and make sure first that the subjects know whether or not they’re going be facing the scanners), and I would expect the ones with the scanners would show higher levels of reassurance, but also higher levels of insecurity. Because it isn’t the terrorism that’s triggering the fear, it’s the visible reaction of the government in the form of the ever more ridiculous security procedures.

paul November 19, 2010 9:52 AM

As someone else pointed out, airports using another contractor rather than the TSA doesn’t change the rules under which frontline workers will be operating. What it apparently does is enable five for-profit security companies to compete for the contract, which one is sure will be awarded to the bidder who offers the combination of lowest price and best service, with no improper inducements to the local officials awarding the contract whatsoever.

Sean November 19, 2010 10:19 AM

THERAC-25. The problem is not the amount of radiation that the machines have been measured to produce under most circumstances. The problem is the amount of radiation that the machines are capable of accidentally producing due to flaws in design, implementation, or operation.

Pascal November 19, 2010 10:25 AM

The health issue that I find the most worrisome with X-ray is the risk of a machine malfunctioning. There have been quite a few documented cases of medical X-ray devices overirradiating people, often because of software problems. What is the likelihood of such an event occurring with a TSA scanner, which is probably under less scrutiny than medical devices? When that happens, how many people (passengers and TSA agents) will be harmed before the problem is detected?

AlanS November 19, 2010 10:25 AM

Here are links to concerns expressed by experts in imaging and oncology on the safety of the machines.

Letter from the UCSF professors to Presidential Science Adviser John Holdren concerning the health risks:

FDA response is here:

One of the UCSF authors responds to FDA:
“The response is deeply flawed. It’s double-talk. It doesn’t answer any questions. Sadly, I have to say we still don’t have the information we need to decide what are the dangers of this device.”

David J. Brenner director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research and a member of the government committee that set the safety guidelines for the x-ray scanners voices concerns.

Brian November 19, 2010 10:41 AM

Bruce, you should write a full book on this matter, then do a press tour. You seem to have enough content to fill a book, and a full press/book tour will get you on a lot of TV screens and websites to promote this. Otherwise, I feel like you are sadly toiling away in relative obscurity when you should really be at the front and center of this debate.

Petréa Mitchell November 19, 2010 10:42 AM


Therac-25 machines had the ability to overdose people because of the two modes, one of which required much more powerful radiation than the other. The backscatter machines have only the one mode, and thus no need to have a hugely overpowered radiation source.

Yes, I realize that’s not quite the same as saying they don’t actually have one…

kog999 November 19, 2010 10:49 AM

From one of the links

But anyone who refuses to complete the screening process will be denied access to airport secure areas and could be subject to civil penalties, the administration said, citing a federal appeals court ruling in support of the rule.

“The ruling, from the 9th U.S. Circuit

Court of Appeals, says that “requiring that a potential passenger be allowed to revoke consent to an ongoing airport security search makes little sense in a post-9/11 world. Such a rule would afford terrorists multiple opportunities to attempt to penetrate airport security by ‘electing not to fly’ on the cusp of detection until a vulnerable portal is found.”

So let me get this logic straight. A terrorist is attempting to board a plane with a bomb. Presumably he is willing to kill himself along with everyone else, and there is a good chance he is using a false name. He gets randomly chosen for screening, pww that was lucky. Knowing he would get caught if patted down he chooses instead not to fly, and tries again at a later date and possibly a different airport and eventually succeeds. So to prevent this terrorist from having a chance to try again the TSA slaps him with a fine. Now I’m not an expert on terrorist but I suspect that they don’t give a crap about a fine, there about the blow themselves up! This fine does nothing to stop the terrorist from trying again. I don’t understand how anything other the arrest and prison after the cops find a bomb could possibly be a deterrent to a terrorist. I could however see how it would be a deterrent to an upstanding American citizen trying to exercise his rights.

Petréa Mitchell November 19, 2010 10:50 AM

In addition to wrinkled clothing and blurry groins, it’s also being asserted that you can get a pat-down by leaving any object in your pockets for the scan. (Sorry, my search-fu is failing me on finding the article again.) The opt-out protest on Wednesday may not involve a lot of people, but imagine the number of occasional travelers who, told to empty their pockets, will just take out metallic stuff like they’ve always done for metal detectors, then discover that’s not enough anymore when they have to endure the pat-down.

No One November 19, 2010 10:53 AM

After Mark’s posting about the National Guard trooper losing his nail clippers I thought it’d be hilarious (not right, mind you, just funny) for the trooper to clock the TSA agent with the butt of his rifle.

Though the TSA agent side of the story really underlines how sad this is: the misinterpretation by Congress of the acts of terrorists is allowing one half of our citizens to do something they think disgusting to the rest of the residents and visitors to our country who also find it disgusting.

Maybe the TSA agents should have their own opt-out day. Can they go on strike or does the law prevent that somehow?

greg November 19, 2010 10:55 AM

It is quite possible that these machines are fine from an x-ray safety point of view. At least from a physics perspective (ie the physics works such that you could build them for very low doses).

The fact remains that its cheaper to use a “harder” xray source and let the dose be a bit higher. We really lack good data on these machines.

Simple things that i can’t seem to find: What is the xray source (probably a xray tube, if so at what voltage and what target? whats the brightness). What dwell time is there (ie how fast are you scanned by what sized beam)? What training is provided and are there calibration procedures in place?

I trust the medical profession by and large. I do not trust TSA.

But even more so. How does seeing me naked make anyone safer?

I don’t feel safer seeing me naked that’s for sure.

JRR November 19, 2010 11:02 AM

@SnallaBolaget – you misunderstand

There are TWO factors here. The strength of the radiation and the ENERGY level. This is sort of equivalent to the color of visible light versus how bright it is. The two are different things.

Most higher energy X rays pass entirely through the body. Rays that pass through the body, by definition, do not cause cancer or anything else. It’s when they are stopped by the body that they cause trouble.

Lower energy X rays used in backscatter machines are specifically used because they’re absorbed very quickly by the body. That means that the majority of the energy is affecting living cells in the body. Even though there is less total energy, it’s being concentrated in a small part of your body.

A more apt description would be, how do you want 20 pounds of force applied to your body, by someone poking you with a bean bag chair or by someone poking you with a knife? It’s the same force either way, but when you concentrate it on a small area of the body, it can cause a lot more damage.

BJJB, Jr November 19, 2010 11:02 AM

Deer Mr. John S. Pistolero,

Ya know, I think you TSA fellers may be onta somethin’ here with this “security the-ater” i-deer. Ya jist ain’t carryin’ it far enough.

Now, jist suppose that you was one o’ them Ay-rab terrurist jokers, an’ you walked inta a airport, an’ instead o’ cops an’ guards an’ soldiers, there was nothin’ but, say, jugglers an’ mimes an’ David Lee Roth impersonators an’ such. Ya step up ta git yer ticket an’ the joker behind the counter honks yer nose an’ squirts water inta yer eye from a plastic lapel flower. The speakers is all a-pourin’ out real bad muzak renditions o’ “Welcome To The Jungle” an’ “I’ve Got Big Balls”, an’ the ‘nouncements on the speakers is all a-gittin’ read in that E-bonics language by, say, Gilbert Gottfried or maybe one o’ them coke-snortin’ Hollywood bimbos with her lips all puffed up like a blowfish.

‘Stead o’ them radio-active back-scanner booths, we could jist have ever-body step inta one o’ them lil’ booths that spits out a strip o’ bad black-an’-white photos of ya. That way, we’d have mugshots o’ EVER-damned-body. Anybody opts out, ya send ’em to a line where a coupla guys in Porky Pig costumes is a-slatherin’ up their hands from a big ol’ tub o’ bacon grease.

(Ya wanna be careful ya don’t git accused o’ pro-filin’, so maybe ya’d need ta have, say, every fourth or fifth groper wearin’ a Catholic priest outfit or somethin’.)

Reg-lar Amerkin folks’d be used ta that stuff, what with their schoolin’ an’ all that C-SPAN an’ Spike-TV stuff they watch, but them Ay-rabs’d think they’d bin shot up with bad dope an’ dropped straight inta Goatroper Hell. Be a dead giveaway when they started screamin’ like little girls an’ runnin’ fer the exits, an’ we could jist shoot ’em in the back while they was a-clawin’ at them door handles.

Hey, we’d be helpin’ create JOBS, too. We’d need popcorn vendors (so crop output’d hafta go up), an’ ushers (think o’ all them pore laid-off flashlight factory workers out there), an’ ticket takers (we could charge people jist ta walk INTA the airports!) — not ta mention all them folks out there with valuable innertainment skills that’re jist wastin’ away (like skateboardin’ groin-smashers, Homer Simpson vocal imitators an’ so on).

Anyhow, fergit all them yay-hoos sayin’ yer gittin’ outa control. This security the-ater stuff IS the right ticket, ya jist gotta quit inchin’ toward it an’ go for the Cecil B. DeMille approach, so ta speak.


Bubba Joe Jim Bob Beets, Jr.
c/o Raylene’s Titty Bar, Bait Shop & Innernet Cafe
US Hwy 41 S, Dunnellon, FL 34432

PS — Also, if ya kin git that Roadie Roddy Piper feller ta cough up a couple hunnert pair o’ them special sunglasses an’ git them guvvermint eggheads ta figger out how ta make ’em show terrurists AN’ them illegal aliens, wellsir, Bubba’s yer uncle.

JRR November 19, 2010 11:04 AM

…or to make the analogy a little better:
You’re put up against a wall, and you have a choice; person A will push against you with a sofa cushion using 100 pounds of force for 3 seconds. Person B will push against you with a butcher knife but using only 20 pounds of force.

You would choose person B, because he’s using less force, right?

Brianary November 19, 2010 11:06 AM

CBS’ unscientific push-poll seems to have been stuffed at the last minute.

Also, I don’t think the concern is the amount of radiation, but the fact that it’s all concentrated in the skin. I think people are worried about breast and testicular cancer, mostly.

SB November 19, 2010 11:22 AM

I am a Canadian, and have retired in Turkey. I have refused for years to fly through the US even though it can be cheaper, or now through the UK and France. I fly through Germany, good security, and civil minded. If you fly to the US, UK or Canada direct from Istanbul Ataturk Airport, you will get a great taste of intelligent security, starting with the many spot checks and questioning will queing, it does work.

A N O'Ther November 19, 2010 11:25 AM

Are these machines a waste of time and money? Of course!

But after warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detention without trial, detention after acquittal, black prisons, state-approved torture, and presidential execution orders, this is the line in the sand that Americans won’t cross?

jason November 19, 2010 11:34 AM

This article, like others, have the same problem. The cost of a terrorist attack is far higher than the number of bodies alone, and is why there is something wrong too, with comparing how many are killed in ordinary activities such as driving with those killed by terrorists. Think a little harder about this.

SL November 19, 2010 11:57 AM

“I expect fundamentalist Christian groups to be appalled by this technology.” – With the exception of how the rest of us are already appalled by this technology, why do you think this would be the case? I’m not doubting it, I just can’t think of the answer… and while I don’t consider myself “fundamentalist”, I certainly am a Gospel-preaching evangelical devout Christian, so I’m sure I’m closer to it than many.

Mark November 19, 2010 12:02 PM

To this day, I remain absolutely gob-smacked that there have been no attempts by the terrorists to explode themselves AT the security lineup, where the TSA is conveniently making bigger and bigger every day with their increased screening times.

Doesn’t anybody test these idiotic machines prior to rolling them out? It sure doesn’t seem like it.

Hal November 19, 2010 12:13 PM

I have been through Israeli airport security many times. It is slower than US security and can be more personally invasive. Imagine being asked everwhere you stayed, who you met with, the names of relatives you visited, etc. I do believe it works better than the U.S. focus on physical screening, but Americans would react very negatively to it.

Nobody In Particular November 19, 2010 12:16 PM

@ SnallaBolaget

“Quote Bruce; ‘And the Los Angeles Times really screws up with this editorial: “Shut Up and Be Scanned.” ‘

Uhm… why, exactly? Seems the writer backs up the article nicely.”

Actually, there are two things that jump out at me. The first is “Shut up and Be Scanned.” Why should we give away our ability to voice concerns or complaints simply because an editorial writer at the Los Angeles Times thinks that we have nothing to complain about? Who decided that it was up to him what’s too intrusive, and what isn’t? Bruce pointed out that there are better defenses of the scanners than “I, as a member of the media who is smarter than you, think that they are okay.”

The other miss in the editorial is the idea that we should wait until someone in authority (like the editorial board) decides that the TSA has become too intrusive, THEN do something. The time to “explore less invasive methods” isn’t AFTER a unanimous decision that the TSA has gone too far, as there will be a move to protect the investment that’s been made. The TSA should be about getting the job done in the most efficient and effective way possible, and be able to make a reasonable defense of what it’s doing, rather than simply demanding that we trust them.

It’s common to decide that since someone else isn’t being as reasonable/intelligent as you think they ought to be, that their concerns can simply be dismissed out of hand, rather than intelligently addressed. That doesn’t make it a smart way to deal with the issue.

Bryan Feir November 19, 2010 12:18 PM

What I really got out of it was realizing that the “Israeli” method focuses on human judgment, whereas the current US method tries to take humans out of the picture as much as possible.

Not surprising. Partly, as you imply, the American approach is CYA: having people making decisions means they can be blamed (and sued) for making those decisions, but if you have a machine ‘make’ the decision, everybody can just shrug and say ‘it’s not my fault’.

Another part of it is that nobody actually seems to want to have to spend time training people (and then presumably have to pay them more because they’re valuable people); they just want to set up the magic box and get someone at minimum wage to look over it. It means the budget goes towards obvious things they can show off, rather than less obvious things like people who know what they’re doing.

@A N O’Ther:
But after warrantless wiretaps, indefinite detention without trial, detention after acquittal, black prisons, state-approved torture, and presidential execution orders, this is the line in the sand that Americans won’t cross?

But you see, most of the other things don’t actually directly and obviously affect ‘ordinary’ well-off Americans, so they can be mentally written off by people as only happening to other folks, who obviously deserved it.

See also the ‘Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.’ line above.

Ben Rosengart November 19, 2010 12:24 PM

I don’t usually make this kind of comment, but — I think Janet Napolitano has got to go. I have completely lost faith in her judgement.

And where is the Congressional oversight? Do we have to wait for the Republicans to do something constructive? That could be quite a wait, if recent history is any guide.

Andrew November 19, 2010 12:29 PM

“Using our assumption of linearity, that means that exposure to the 2 millirems of a typical dental X-ray would lead an individual to have an increased risk of dying from cancer of 16 hundred-thousandths of one percent…”

This “analysis” (from a lawyer, not a physicist) is based on an assumption that the risks of radiation are linearly proportional to total exposure. That assumption is unproven, and basing safety arguments on unproven assumptions puts public health at unacceptable risk.

George November 19, 2010 12:34 PM

The scanners are pointless. The only person a scanner stops is the idiots. Most of which would be stopped just like in Isreal if they employed proper screening and intelligence.

If one wants to bring down an airliner it isn’t that hard. A poorly funded group or even individual with little to no funds could easily take a plane out of the sky. It just requires a bit of knowledge.

Body scanners have more to do with control then safety and even more to do with someone making a buck than anything else.

Gomez November 19, 2010 12:40 PM

If someone were to react violently to a TSA employee in this “extra-constitutional area”, how would they be prosecuted?

If TSA can abuse me arbitrarily…

IIRC when a ship enters international waters it signals its legal zone with its flag of origin — absence of flag defines piracy.

AlanS November 19, 2010 12:43 PM

On the health issues read the letter from the UCSF scientists. PDF hosted on NPR here:

“The majority of their energy is delivered to the skin and the underlying
tissue. Thus, while the dose would be safe if it were distributed throughout the volume of the entire body, the dose to the skin may be dangerously high.The X-ray dose from these devices has often been compared in the media to the cosmic ray exposure inherent to airplane travel or that of a chest X-ray. However, this comparison is very misleading…”

“…it appears that real independent safety data do not exist. A search,
ultimately finding top FDA radiation physics staff, suggests that the relevant radiation quantity, the Flux [photons per unit area and time (because this is a scanning device)]
has not been characterized.”

And then they go on to issue other concerns but the crux is that the exposure level may be very high around the skin and there is no data on this type of exposure to support the safety claims being made.

Peter November 19, 2010 12:55 PM

cryptome has a the reports for the tests done on the security and safety of the backscatter x-ray machines. they seem to confirm what the TSA has been saying (and what Bruce mentions above) that these things don’t give a significant amount of radiation.

That said, why is it that the TSA will not allow their employees to wear dosimeters (radiation badges)? The following link is to an AFL-CIO representative’s testimony before a congressional committee. To quote from it:

“In order to address our members’ concerns, AFGE has offered to conduct an independent study of radiation emissions and has identified a research team to conduct it. We explored the possibility with TSA, and our offer was declined. AFGE has also been willing to fund the purchase of dosimeters for TSOs since TSA refused to provide them. When they asked if they could wear their own dosimeters, TSOs were told by TSA management that they would not be allowed to wear dosimeters not issued by TSA. TSOs have continued to request dosimeters over the years that TSA has been in existence, yet TSA has not changed its position.”

If there is nothing to hide about the safety of these machines, then why not issue dosimeters to the TSA employees?


greg November 19, 2010 1:00 PM

@Mark at November 19, 2010 12:02 PM

The fact is, there simply isn’t a big group of would be terrorist that want to blow up America. There is the odd nut job and out there extremest. That’s it. And most of them simply don’t care about America.

well, November 19, 2010 1:01 PM

Media hysteria (from before 9/11 to this very day). But since 9/11 most people have tuned out, yet the media hysteria is still so loud.

  1. Why does it seem that the more the “MSM” shrinks, the more politicians rely on them? Why do contemporary Americans have such a twisted view of “news” in the first place (I’m looking at you Jon Stewart).
  2. IMHO there’s a huge issue w/the outcry, because of media ownership. With private equity firms we really do not know just who (in what country) owns a piece of various media outlets. Congress needed to look into the ownership issue after the “ground zero mosque” debacle. There’s more than one way to create news, and there are many reasons one might want to go about creating news.

–I’m not saying that I support the current screening/pat downs (in fact IMHO it is another example of big corporation finding a way to smother ingenuity), however, supposedly this is exactly what those “security moms” (remember that from election ’04) asked for. Heck some of the very same politicians…

  1. Racial profiling is a red herring “radical Islamic terrorist (or whatever you want to call them) run the gamut as far a complexions goes or did we forget about the fair skinned blond hair blue eyed North Carolinians?. Also, I’m pretty sure the current crop of boogie men/women aren’t the only terrorist groups that would like to cause chaos.
    –Let’s not even talk about loan wolves. They say that those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. Many people don’t have a firm grasp of American history.
    –I’ve imagined air travel in an alternate reality in which congress did not save the American/Canadian auto industry (w/at least 2 million out of a job). Not a pretty thing at all.

  2. We can debate about what might kill someone, but it interesting that the MSM (for the most part) fails to actually shed the light on thing that will actually kill innocent people (I’m talking about the Arizona donor transplant story).
    see the link

Tony November 19, 2010 1:05 PM

The “enhanced pat downs” are conducted by a TSA employee of the same gender as the passenger. I have some questions:

1) Does the TSA always rigorously check the passenger’s ID to confirm this – or do agents just make assumptions based on appearance? Any reports yet of mixed gender patdowns (either because the passenger is a transvestite … or just extremely androgynous)?

2) Presumably the same gender rule is because it is considered improper for male TSA employees to grope female passengers, and likewise for female TSA employees and male passengers. But this appears to be another case of the federal government ignoring the existence of gay people (both among the passengers and amongst TSA employees – TSA has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation, so there presumably are gay, lesbian and bisexual TSA employees). If they believe it is wrong to have a female TSA agent grope a male passenger’s genitalia – then surely it is just as wrong for a gay male TSA agent to be groping male passengers? But it should theoretically be fine to have gay male TSA people pat down female passengers (after all they aren’t going to get a “thrill” out of touching someone for whom there is no possibility of sexual attraction!). But where would that leave the bi-sexual TSA agents? They wouldn’t be allowed to pat down anybody – thus the TSA would have to violate their own non-discrimination policy by keeping bi-sexual employees out of these jobs.

TheDoctor November 19, 2010 1:11 PM

that was some kind of upchuck…
…looked as if Bruce “intellectual stomach” revolted. There is enough reason…

By the way, at Hamburg (Germany) airport, the scanners there in test have currently a false positive rate close to 100%…

well, November 19, 2010 1:14 PM

Gomez, where was all this abuse “ME” stuff 8 years ago. We are truly living in the golden age of Narcissism. I lived in Oklahoma, there’s lots of different people society a large could/should “fear”. I care about your rights because I know infringement won’t stop w/you or people who look like you.

Ben November 19, 2010 1:14 PM

“I’m one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit to ban them.”

Thank you. I’m not American and hardly ever go there, but this has world-wide reach.

Thank you.

well, November 19, 2010 1:19 PM

Greg, please tell me how you know that is a “fact”? Also, what is America, I ask to bring up the point that different people have diverse ideas on just what America is and who is an American.

greg November 19, 2010 1:29 PM

It is trivial to carry out a “attack” yet how many have you had? And no, setting your scrotum on fire is not a credible risk.

They are not being “kept out” by the TSA (why do you need to screen people inside the country if they are?)

They are not “waiting for a soft target”. Its as plain as day. There have been no bombings or the like, because they don’t in fact exist.

Most of the rest of the world don’t want to live in the USA, and simply don’t really care about the USA. Even the bombers the extremest can find, are busy in their home countries doing there thing there.

Bahggy November 19, 2010 1:33 PM

I would be interested to hear if the latest TSA screening has any economic impact on tourism to the USA and how flight numbers are affected.
Would you all mind just putting up with it for about twelve months so that some useful metrics can be accumulated?

Smoking Hot November 19, 2010 1:34 PM

The day will come when some nutter or maybe an actual terrorist (<doubtful) will attempt to blow up an airport security screening station.

lt matters not if the attempt is viable or not … what the hell are the TSA going to do then?

Have a pre security security scanning station?

Maybe roadblock security scanning stations a mile from the airport?

l’m not frightened of terrorists … respective governments/security are doing their work for them. lt’s totally insane!

Petréa Mitchell November 19, 2010 1:40 PM


Also under 1), consider transgender people, particularly in mid-transition. Even the ID may be wrong in that case. (And I hate to think what it’s like for them if they have to have a pat-down and the screener wants to make a big deal of not encountering, um, what they expected in the junk department.)

Patrick November 19, 2010 1:40 PM

Apparently Canadian airports are only allowed to use low-level millimetre-wave, radio-frequency (RF) scanners instead of x-ray scanners.
Privacy issues still arise, but perhaps the health issue is minimized?

well, November 19, 2010 1:48 PM

Trying not to snark so hard… I just can’t control myself.

Wow those facts that you linked too totally made my (devil’s advocate) point.

nccamaro November 19, 2010 1:54 PM

The TSA, nor Congress will listen to average American citizen.

But they will listen to the airlines.

Remember, wether we like it or not, this is a government bought and paid for by corporations. And the only thing corporation care about is profit. So hit them where it hurts, in the pocketbook.

Don’t fly. Drive. Especially if it is for pleasure or for the holidays. Do not buy tickets on any Airline. And send a letter to that Airline explaining why you will not fly anymore.

Once they start to hurt again financially you will see the Airline industry loobying for the removal of these invasive proceedures.

This use to be the land of a free and the brave. We are neither today. We have become the land of the controlled and the timid.

Our founding fathers would be ashamed of what we have become.

By all means, irradiate me, I tend to be a passive aggresive tool. And fondle my wife, she uses sex and a weapon, God know that will bring a plane down. And while you at it can you molest my children please, they are ipod-nintendo freaks that need a lesson in humility because I am to lazy a parent to accually parent. Oh, and make sure not to forget that 50 year old nun over there, 12 years of Catholic school has scared me enough to know she has a RULER under that habit!!!! And do it all for my safety, cause I know you doing it because you love me.

No one is promised tomorrow people. Everytime you get up out of bed in the morning it is a blessing and a risk. That is called LIFE! So make the best of today. I remember my gradmother telling me, “when it is you time to go, it is your time to go.” And you know something… she was right.

well, November 19, 2010 1:55 PM

Smoking hot
What is the difference between a “nutter” an a “terrorist?”

Also, I love how so many in the MSM rushed over to Harlem when the NYPD first started frisking random people on the street…

The reason this is happening to a “wealthy white guy” is because it was allowed to happen to non wealthy people first. The people are the government, the people gave tacit agreement for the agencies to do these type of pat downs long before November 2010. Narcissism, arrogance and delusion… yummy.

greg November 19, 2010 1:58 PM

So you should have no problem proving that all these terrorist really exist, but for some reason can’t pull off an attack.

well, November 19, 2010 1:58 PM

People continually hit the airlines in the pocket book, why do you think the government continually bails out the (legacy) airlines. I’m going to resist the urge to elaborate.

Ben Hallert November 19, 2010 2:02 PM

Excellent resources, thanks! Of possible interest, I have put together a pamphlet that I plan to hand out at the nearest backscatter-equipped airport to people waiting in line for the checkpoints. I will take care not to create a confrontation and may only have a few minutes of exercising my first amendment rights before being asked to leave the premises, but if I do it right, it should make a positive difference.

Here it is in case anyone else might want to do something similar: http://hallert.net/operationgrabass/Backscatter_FAQ.pdf

I plan on making another version to use at my local airport (which does not have the scanner yet) and plan to distribute it on Opt-Out Day.

TSADumbaz November 19, 2010 2:04 PM

If the goal of a true terrorist is to cause terror, then why would a terrorist bother blowing up planes anyhow? Now since they know they are going to get the x-ray treatment, they will just target the scanning area.

A Terrorist could easily get a bomb that goes off with x-rays and it will cause far more panic and terror.

well, November 19, 2010 2:08 PM


Read up about Portland, Dec 2008, I think that was a (somewhat) successful terrorist attack. I could also point to Birmingham church bombing 9/11, the OKC bombing, the various ELF operations. and then of course there are the people the authorities catch right before the attack, again, if it doesn’t fit a certain MSM meme these, it the stories are only reported locally.

Again, I am not saying that I disagree w/your point (or what I think your point is). I just think you bringing the full boat load of hyperbole.

Smoking Hot November 19, 2010 2:11 PM

Well … “What is the difference between a “nutter” an a “terrorist?”

A nutter always becomes a terrorist no matter how tenuous the link so, in effect, none.

Lil'D November 19, 2010 2:15 PM

I guess it’s good to see some pushback against national security fascism, but it’s sad that it only came after white middle class men started getting bothered. Try being black. Or Turkish. The 4th amendment doesn’t really apply anymore.

well, November 19, 2010 2:16 PM

Considering how many people there are in the world and how many terrorist attacks happen, I would guess that to be a terrorist you have some nuttery/ personality disorder (aka evil as f*) going on.

Martin Williams November 19, 2010 2:21 PM

Looking at the articles, the two airports you list as opting out of using the TSA appear to be the same airport.

Jordan November 19, 2010 2:21 PM

Quite a few airports already use non-TSA security contractors. SFO is the largest.

While contractors are required to follow TSA procedures, “firing” the TSA hits the organization in its only real weak spot: the wallet.

jay November 19, 2010 2:33 PM


Dental and other x-ray machine actually use aluminum filters to FILTER OUT low energy radiation. It is considered more dangerous.

BF Skinner November 19, 2010 2:35 PM

Ron Paul (R-TX14)has been submitted a bill to outlaw the devices. called “American Traveler Dignity Act”
I haven’t found it’s HR number yet. It made need to be read into the record still.
Not that it’s surprissing but of the 11 years he’s spent in congress and the 64 bills he’s sponsored only 1 has made it to law.
I’m banking on the lawsuits.

@moo “needs to be fired. Michael Chertoff…”
moo you don’t understand how corporations work do you? You get rewarded for increasing your
companies sales. He sure did that.

@Nicholas Weaver “Where are their dosimiters?”
They just talked about this on Science Friday. They report that screeners don’t like to/aren’t
encouraged to wear them and if they DO wear them to hide them. That Baggage handling screeners have been found to
get higher rads than thought was reported recently.

The question I’d like Mr Pistole and Secretary Napolitano to answer is:
“How many terrorists have your screening methods identified?”
The answer is 0 but what they would say is ‘airport screening isn’t to discover terrorist by the time they are at the airport it’s too late…our methods discourage terrorist attempts’
To which the follow up should be ‘…and how many have you prevented from flying?’
To which the only answer is ‘it’s hard to prove a negative Senator.’
So the answer is 0. If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist and you don’t get funding.
Finally…How many millions of dollars have you spent to discover and disuade NO terrorists?

other effects….ummmmmm…oh yeah use of the term ‘security theater’ is going WAY up.

Josh M November 19, 2010 2:56 PM

Gizmodo didn’t “leak” those photos (even though they claim to). They properly requested them by FOIA and are releasing the public data they acquired. If anyone “leaked” them, it’s the government itself.

Steve November 19, 2010 3:01 PM

I feel less safe now (which is still very safe) than before backscatters because this is forcing anyone serious about taking out an airplane to swallow explosives. Which means there is a near zero chance of stopping them if they make it to the airport.

How many pounds of explosives can fit in a human stomach? Here’s a hint a lot. Just search for human mules.

Geekoid November 19, 2010 3:02 PM

Try to get some people to help you, have them put copies of flyers on cars in the parking structure, and hit more then one line at once.

Mark November 19, 2010 3:24 PM

About a month ago I went through the X-Ray with my mother. I did not know she didn’t want to go through before and she did not know she could opt out.

Last night I was telling her we should opt out next time, but she wouldn’t listen, fearing retribution – she thinks TSA will detain her and make her miss her flight.

It is these kind of things that bother me immensely. Even more so than the X-Ray itself.

Fred Posner November 19, 2010 3:24 PM

I posted my thoughts this morning at http://bit.ly/no2tsa

Basic thing to remember here is that we are subjecting those who fly to a more invasive search than those arrested for misdemeanor crimes and taken to jail.

It sickens me. The fact that it doesn’t sicken others, frightens me.

Richard Kulawiec November 19, 2010 3:41 PM

And it’s all to protect the airplanes. Not the people: the airplanes.

Consider: where’s the perimeter being drawn? At the terminal? At the airport entrance? At the parking lot/parking garage?

No. It’s being drawn at the last step before getting on the plane. Nothing, NOTHING stops anyone from mounting a low-budget, low-tech, highly-effective attack using, let’s say, 4 attackers, 4 bags of explosives, and a hijacked shuttle bus.

Of course that attack won’t get to the planes: it’ll kill people in the terminal or on the concourse or somewhere else. Lots of ’em, depending on how it’s done. But it won’t reach the planes.

And that’s what the TSA is really protecting, despite all their blather about the safety of passengers. If they REALLY wanted to protect passengers, then the security checkpoints would be at the entrances to the airport — you wouldn’t even be able to drive into the parking lot without going through one.

John Scudder November 19, 2010 3:46 PM

Regarding the relative hazard of radiation used by backscatter machines, in addition to your observation that put in context, the (allegedly low) hazard is still a net lose, these:

  • Backscatter scanners are allegedly not subject to auditing for radiation leakage the way medical machines are. So I’m not confident that the dose is as advertised. Plus, the operators should be worried.
  • Are backscatter machines intrinsically incapable of emitting higher levels of radiation? Because if power output is software controlled… well, as a programmer and code reviewer, I’m scared.
  • Finally, hand-waving arguments are all very well but since the techniques used by backscatter machines are qualitatively different from those used in medical machines, and no meaningful safety testing has been done, those forced to go through them are being made subjects in a vast, uncontrolled medical experiment. Perhaps in 20 years we’ll have epidemiological data to tell us whether these things are safe or not. Until then, show me your data, or shut up.

None of these are original to me (well I haven’t read the third elsewhere but it’s inconceivable I’m the first to think of it).

AgentDarkApple November 19, 2010 3:58 PM

I am with those who advocate avoiding flying unless one absolutely must. “We the people” need to remember that despite what the government does and what the airlines allow, we have the purchasing power to help put an end to it. If people do not fly, airlines and airports will lose money. Then they will have to choose between the porno scanners/grope searches or our money. They have the option to kick the TSA out. Why don’t we basically force them to do it?

BF Skinner November 19, 2010 4:20 PM

@Richard Kulawiec ” all to protect the airplanes. Not the people: the airplanes”

Thank you! Forgot about that though I’ve said it a couple of times.

Dulles has established a beautiful screening area below the ticket level. I was there on an off day and there were HUNDREDS of people there.

Thank you TSA for bottlenecking us at a point were a suicide vest could do serious damage (More people than a single aircraft). Not to mention the disruption afterwards. Should the mythical suicide bomber detonate themselves there…will any aircraft fly for a LONG time? I think not.

ab November 19, 2010 4:30 PM

There is one result of 9-11 that is not much discussed. Namely that because the official story of 9-11 was never properly questioned, elements in the U.S. government are bound to repeat the control attempts until they get the populace to where they want it.

This does not mean that EVERY time there is some Nigerian with a bomb in their underwear or that EVERY time someone tries to blow up something in a New York subway that the terrorist has been hired by some element of the U.S. government.

But on 9-11 the U.S. government pulled up a false flag/cover-up stunt of a magnitude that has not been attempted before (actually, has perhaps been ATTEMPTED but not carried out as on 9-11). The official story, full of holes as it is, has been obediently accepted by majority of people and never much challenged publicly.

If people stop stripping their cloths when told, we will have “Nigerians” with underwear bombs until the population starts obeying and stops the protesting nonsense.

infrequent flyer November 19, 2010 4:30 PM

@as several of you hinted at

If the current security screening procedures prevent a terrorist from boarding a plane with a “dangerous thing”, then the entry point will just move.

Many airports have food vendors inside the “secure area”, that is, on the concourses, past the screening area.

What is to stop a terrorist from visiting his co-conspirator at a food vendor, and obtaining the “dangerous thing” from him? How much screening of the incoming food supplies, that probably come in through the “back door”, actually takes place?

Mark November 19, 2010 4:36 PM

I feel the most uncomfortable in the security lines of major airports. Tons of people in confined spaces and there’s no security line to get in the security line.

What are they going to do when someone detonates something in one of the TSA lines?

Mark November 19, 2010 4:37 PM

How about we get rid of all of these crazy TSA stuff and just have one or two fully-armed marines in the cockpit/first row of every plane?

I’d feel safer, and I bet you it’d be a hell of a lot cheaper.

Bob November 19, 2010 4:40 PM

Nov 24 is national “I OPT OUT” day in airports across the US to protest the TSA nude image machines and public groping of private parts including mothers, grandparents, children, babies, and you!

Get your Anti-TSA t-shirt today:


*No one should need to see you naked to fly

*No one should be exposed to excessive x-rays without a medical reason

*Violating your right to privacy and to not be searched without probable cause or warrant.

*These machines can not detect explosives, and haven’t been proven to making flying anymore secure.

  • Tell everyone, file complaints, get heard and don’t give in. Fight for your rights!

also a national petition is getting organized and will be launched soon at:


Stop TSA now!

Chris November 19, 2010 4:48 PM

In regards to Orlando “Opting Out” of the TSA Service… They still must abide by the law and have the contractors provide a Patdown. No difference in my mind.

N. Frances Moritz November 19, 2010 4:54 PM

I wonder… can we opt to disrobe publicly instead of being groped publicly? Or would that result in an indecent exposure charge?

ab November 19, 2010 4:58 PM

@infrequent flyer:
“If the current security screening procedures prevent a terrorist from boarding a plane with a “dangerous thing”, then the entry point will just move.”

At what locations can a terrorist find about the same amount of people as in an airplane but with lot less security?

How about a Greyhound bus? A hospital? Wal-Mart on some special sale day? Or some large church meeting?

The problem is, we cant have scanners and strip searches everywhere…

UltimateOutsider November 19, 2010 5:03 PM

@Alfonso Armenta – You yelled at the author because he worded things differently from how you would have, even though his original sentence was perfectly grammatically correct. You are an embarrassment to the pedants of the Internet.

@Bruce – Thanks for the comprehensive post!

BF Skinner November 19, 2010 5:07 PM

Latest news – Pilots are being ‘excused’ from the screening.


So only pilots not other flight crew?
Why? Because their argument that they would cross those xray machines 4-500 times a year during their work day and they had thier hands on all the weapon they needed while flying was reasonable and cogently phrased?

Or they’ve got a good union and thier threat is implicit. We’ll stop flying. Try routing everyone through general aviation.

Major Variola November 19, 2010 5:10 PM

I found some safety/hazard -type documents about the backscatter machine, cryptome has posted them.
They’re actually part of the TSA / FDA

The machines are designed with the redundant safety mechanisms you’d find in a medical device. They’re safe, but
obvious naught bit violators, and won’t catch cavity bombs.

If you can fill a puppy with heroin, you can sew a bomb into your kid.

Folks in glass empires shouldn’t fly drones. Its that simple.

“We only have to be lucky once” –the IRA, which demonstrated (much like Moses) that terrorism works.

MV November 19, 2010 5:19 PM

It would be extremely cool if someone cavity bombed congress, so they all had to undergo ionizing screenings (or cuppings) to go to work.

Deirdre Saoirse Moen November 19, 2010 5:30 PM

There’s a problem with your analysis (and the one you link to) about cancer risk.

First, you assume a person has normal risk of cancer, which isn’t always the case. Second, as any cancer survivor will tell you, it’s a real pain in the ass for not only one’s self, but all one’s friends and family, to get cancer.

I’m extremely fair skinned. I’m at elevated risk for skin cancer. I’m at elevated risk for breast cancer due to family history.

Also, what about the risk of, say, lupus? It’s often first triggered by a sunburn because of the radiation effects on the skin. Is that something a backscatter machine could trigger? I don’t know, but if someone would otherwise have had years (or a life) lupus-free, I doubt it’s a tradeoff they’d make. Who wants one’s body attacking its own cell nuclei?

For those reasons, the backscatter machines are not ones I can perceive as safe without decades of long-term exposure data and good, independent, epidemiological studies. We don’t have that.

BlogReader November 19, 2010 5:31 PM

Comment from above
and second, it means that a calm individual could easily slip through most of the security.

Perhaps, but I imagine that the first time suicide bomber (and if they aren’t a first timer they suck) is going to be pretty nervous. Tapes of the 911 hijackers can be examined to see if this is the case.

I don’t think the US will go towards the Israeli style for the following reasons:

  • unions get power through membership numbers. Less members == less power. They want many lower quality workers.
  • big business wants to sell the latest gizmos to save us from the mushroom cloud
  • investing in human resources (by that I mean training screeners, intelligence officers, etc) seems to be a bad word in the US. We would much rather throw money at some product that will do a job.

delta November 19, 2010 5:32 PM

If anyone wants a metaphor for non-penetrating x-ray radiation, I offer this — Which would you rather get hit with, a normal bullet or hollow-point? It’s the same metal, the latter traveling at a slower rate. The first might go through you entirely, while the latter will shred all of its mass and energy in your tissues.

Maybe a few more people of a certain persuasion might grasp that.

3-D November 19, 2010 5:34 PM

I’d like to opt out of the TSA altogether. Can we just go back to pre-9/11 airport security with heavier doors on the planes, please? I’d feel just as safe, but a whole lot less violated. Could we please organize mass protests around this? I’d like to start taking back the feeling of happiness and freedom from when I was younger.

Jewels Vern November 19, 2010 5:42 PM

Bear in mind that an awful lot of people choose to drive rather than get molested, with the usual chance of dying in a wreck. So the TSA checks are killing more than they are saving, no matter how you count them.

PC.Tech November 19, 2010 5:45 PM

Bill of Rights: 4th Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

We don’t need the Supreme Court to adjudicate a find in our favor that groping the crotch is an “unreasonable search”, and I am sick and tired of finding so many instances where:
“The Bill of Rights is VOID where prohibited by law”.

Glee November 19, 2010 5:46 PM

I’m remind of a rule that states that no employer can ask an employee to perform any illegal actions and that the employee cannot penalize or fire said employee for refusing to act illegally.

Moreover, as this is clearly a violation of the law (and our rights), why is this persisting? The TSA should have been ordered immediately to desist until an investigation is performed. Where does it say that the TSA is above the law?

They shouldn’t BE stopped. They should already HAVE BEEN stopped!

I’m shocked that the TSA is continuing this practice with all the complaints that we have seen! I’m also wondering why no one has used the law to halt this practice. How long can it take to get a judge to sign an cease and desist order anyway? Is there some legal wrangling involved that I am not aware of?

Geeze! Someone call a lawyer.

Anon November 19, 2010 5:50 PM

How would TSA distinguish between a soiled menstrual pad and plastic explosives in a woman’s underwear? Neither the scanner, nor the pat down can tell? What’s next, disrobing people?

Mark November 19, 2010 5:54 PM

The bullet analogy is actually pretty crappy. It’s wave energy traveling through or reflecting off the body… it’s not a mass striking another mass.

Kenneth Mark Hoover November 19, 2010 5:55 PM

Somewhere OBL is hooked up to his dialysis machine in a cave, and laughing his goddamn ass off at the American sheeple getting their cranks grabbed for the sake of “security.”

jack November 19, 2010 5:55 PM

Tapes of the 911 hijackers can be examined to see if this is the case.

Poor people.

U.S. Gov can also provide tapes showing Santa Claus and the reindeers. That does not mean they even exist.

James November 19, 2010 5:58 PM

Thanks for the list of links. I am actively trying to help you guys down in the US, while also trying to keep this garbage technology out of Canada.

Don November 19, 2010 6:06 PM

Does no one remember the explosives detectors that were yanked out of airports last year because they were too much hassle to maintain?

well, November 19, 2010 6:47 PM

I dislike people like Ab because they are good at deflection, and making a real issue, seem crazy. The issue is that the CIA as well as other government agencies and non government agencies (see C-Street) have paid terrorist in the past, and they don’t really care/checkup on what those people do w/the money. IMHO The enemy of my enemy is not my friend.
Until recently the CIA (and non governmental agencies). paid a warlord/ (a guy as bad if not worse than Bin Laden) in Afghanistan that the Pakistan intelligence agency classified as untrustworthy . Now this guy is suspected in financing most of the current unrest in Afghanistan. The 9/11 report recommended changing some of our intelligence practices.

One former congressman faces terrorism charges because he gave this guy over 300k no question asked. We do not even know what the CIA’s budget is, even the Mossad publishes their budget. The CIA is a whipping boy, but all of our intelligence agencies need to be overhauled or scraped. I’m not saying there aren’t some people in positions of power that have ulterior motives. In fact there have been several times in American history when factions, tried to take over (or in the case of a certain prophet)/ cause serious unrest. Heck look up Aaron Burr or famous “filibusters.”

AT the end of the day though, I go back to blaming the American public, for being unwilling to force the long necessary changes to our intelligence agencies, or allowing themselves to get distracted. I mean heck, they elected the a former head of the CIA as president. I am not saying that drawing the Soviets into a expensive war in Afghanistan was a bad proposition but to give money to Bin Laden an other networks after the Soviets pulled out… There’s a lot more I could say, but I’d also like to point out that State government can/has a history, of tyranny as well.

Click on my name for a link to a recent article about government/NGO funding of shady folks.

Lew Glendenning November 19, 2010 7:04 PM

The Israeli guy who said he could defeat the scanner likely meant that he could get enough C4 into his rectum to take down the plane.

As soon as there is a ‘rectal bomber’, we all get cavity searches?

well, November 19, 2010 7:09 PM

How dare you bring Rosa Parks into this. Shameless. This would not surprise Rosa Parks, (again the states have been tyrants to a staggering extent). She would have been aware that this “intrusion” did not occur overnight. Agencies (county, state and federal) pat other people down, and some on this board didn’t bat an eye, or looked the other way, but omgosh pat me down, strip cavity search me and it becomes earth shattering. “How can this happen in my America!” My mom was pulled over and stripped search in the 80’s. They arrested her because despite her nice car (and the dozens of birthday cupcakes in it) they didn’t think she belonged in that neighborhood. On top of that she has an extremely common name, and there was someone w/an arrest warrant (20 years younger) who used that name as an alias (I think something like 1 -20 people in that state have my mothers name).

There was a class action lawsuit, and the DOJ was called in because so many other people underwent similar treatment. This was in the 80’s, but I wonder how many people on this board gave a rat’s bottom then?

Imagine your 1st grader waiting for you at their school, wondering why you didn’t show up for their birthday, and haven’t picked them up. Imagine your significant other stripped searched w/ no same gender cop in the room.

I made a vow that day not to be like the people who pulled over my mom;not to hold hatred, and I pleaded to God for wisdom.

Last thought, what would the bus driver, or the guy who wanted Rosa to move, say about this?

John November 19, 2010 7:25 PM

Get it right, it wasn’t Meg McCain. Even your link got it wrong by saying it’s McClain. I believe it’s McLain (But hey, I can’t be bothered to check either!).

bob November 19, 2010 8:05 PM

I work in an area with a small airport; we do 14 week 12/hour shifts with 2 weeks off. The site is secure and security clearance is required to work there. We travel in company transportation from the airport to site. There is no security checkpoint at the airport itself. We board a commercial flight to our home city and on the way back, a commercial flight to the job site.

On the trip home, the airplane makes a stop, 2 hours flight time from the job site. Everyone who lives in that city just hops off the plane and leaves.

All the luggage is removed from the aircraft, and everyone who is going to the next stop, 20 minutes flight time away, goes through security, and then re-boards the aircraft. The stop for security takes 1 hour.

So, for the greater duration of the flight, no-one has gone through security. No luggage or cargo is checked. Then for the final 20 minutes, some passengers have gone through security, with the same luggage, cargo, and personal belongings as before.

Because this is a fairly intensive job, most people have to remove their footwear (steel toed boots), belts (needed to carry gear on the job), and often people have tools that are actually prohibited in carrry-on, but could not do their jobs without. They never complain about the tools.

It’s silliness, is all. There is no actual added security involved in the whole process. It’s just an annoyance and a hassle, plain and simple.

Richard Kulawiec November 19, 2010 8:05 PM

@Baylink: As a physicist, I get the KE angle.

But (a) this further makes the point that TSA is all about protecting the planes; screw the people.

(b) Planes are hardly the only things with large KE. Although I’ll grant you that because they fly, they can be directed against targets that are otherwise difficult to reach. (Contrast with, say, high-speed trains, which can’t be directed against arbitrary targets.)

(c) All the KE doesn’t really matter unless the end result inflicts substantial casualties. (For example: gulf oil spill. Large-scale damage but the only direct casualties were those who died in the initial explosion. Societal response, 6 months later: a yawn.) Terrorism doesn’t terrorize very well unless people die. So while I’ll agree that KE makes it easier to strike a putatively hardened target, I’ll counter-argue that large KE is not the only path to mass casualties.

(d) The adversary isn’t a one-trick pony. They used planes, maybe next time it’ll be barges. Or something else unexpected. Or maybe it WILL be planes again — but a strategy predicated on presuming that’s the only possibility is too narrow.

bob November 19, 2010 8:07 PM

Sorry; an edit:
“… we do 14 week 12/hour shifts with 2 weeks off … ” should be:

“… we do 14 day 12/hour shifts …”

Harry November 19, 2010 8:12 PM

“What’s the best way to complain about this? Congressmen, senators, TSA, something else? I want to make sure any effort I spend against these practices will be of some value.”

I will be writing the major airlines, explaining why I went from flying 6x/month to less than 2x/year – the security theater is costing them a lot of money.

R cox November 19, 2010 8:21 PM

@Greg W
“Bruce, you say “airport security is extra-constitutional” and on the surface that makes sense to me about the basic search procedure; it’s a voluntary location that you go to that’s owned and operated by non-governmental bodies who subcontract back to the government(TSA)”

I dont know if it Bruce that is saying it is extra-Constitutional, I think it might be the supreme court. I am not sure if there are any cases, but I have heard ex-Justice Stevens indicate that this is the case.

In this case I suspect that the SCotUS might think this is a policy issue, and our best hope might be that a more conservative congress might defund the DoHS in the same way they might defund DoE.

Sam November 19, 2010 8:26 PM

Bruce, I may have missed it, but regarding the man fined for leaving the security area…


Specifically, this part: Such a warrantless search, also known as an administrative search, is valid under the Fourth Amendment if it is “no more intrusive or intensive than necessary, in light of current technology, to detect weapons or explosives, ” confined in good faith to that purpose,” and passengers may avoid the search by electing not to fly. [See United States v. Davis, 482 F.2d 893, 908 (9th Cir. 1973)].

Since he elected not to fly, he should have been able to avoid the search.

Also on that page, a list of airports that have opted-out for quite a while (including SFO). Opting-out doesn’t mean they don’t follow TSA procedures though.

Doug Bostrom November 19, 2010 8:31 PM

Further to nccamaro’s remarks, this “enhanced screening” isn’t about political control, it’s not about establishing a police state. The rationale for inserting these devices into our path is as American as apple pie, namely that of free enterprise with a small “f,” as opposed to “Freedom” with a big “F.” The outfits selling these machines are in a tight orbit around the local star radiating money– colloquially known as “the Feds”– soaking up revenue in the pursuit of profit. They’ll continue doing that until they’re squashed, either by legislation or bankruptcy.

If you’re an air-traveler, you’re part of a business plan, or rather you’re actually part of many schemes for making money. Assuming you’ve got a problem with being naked in front of strangers, the solution to your dilemma lies in pitting one business plan against another.

Airlines will always have a greater financial stake in this matter than do the vendors of props for security theater. If the airlines find their prospects for profitability severely impaired by too much dramaturgy at the groundside-airside interface, they’ll attempt to save their particular business plans by interfering with plans of those outfits vending full-body scanners.

Temporal friction is the mortal enemy of airlines; delays are unacceptable in the face of scanty supplies of aircraft and optimistic scheduling, particularly when the airline system is running full-throttle. If enough passengers don’t make it to boarding gates on time, airlines will suffer profit-sucking on a breathtaking scale. It’ll be very interesting to see what happens in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. Or maybe the critical threshold of logistical impossibility will happen at Christmas? Who really knows, but it certainly won’t take many balking passengers to create the equivalent of a snowstorm on a national scale.

Tom November 19, 2010 8:46 PM

How did airports become “extra-constitutional”? Just because flying is optional? Can my local grocery store implement TSA security checks because I have other grocery shopping options?

That is my question, I just don’t understand how this is “extra-constitutional”? What about major sporting events and concerts? They can implement “porno scanners” and “enhanced gropes” because its an optional activity?

valkyrie November 19, 2010 8:55 PM


Yes, the Puffers. They were constantly breaking down.

Bruce, thanks for a very comprehensive overview of the current debacle surrounding travel by air. I was wondering when and if you were going to post anything.

Anonymous Coward November 19, 2010 9:55 PM

What interests me most in all such security matters is the apparent human tendency to care a lot, a whole lot, more about the things humans think they can control versus the things they think they cannot control. About 7000 citizens of the USA die every day. Even the most ingenious terrorist plot can only barely hope to double that number for a day or two, which would make no difference to the annual death rate.

In fact, if you exclude military engagements in war zones, the odds of a citizen of the USA to be killed in a terrorist attack are lower than that same citizen being killed by lightning, drowning, starvation, and it wouldn’t even be a blip on the screen in comparison to cancer or heart disease.

Yet “terrorism” warrents spending trillions of dollars more, but the other causes of death do not.

Every year many more citizens of the USA take their own life than have ever been seriously harmed by terrorists.

It’s true that dedicated terrorists can harm many millions in a single blow. But that has never actually happend, there are no indications it ever will, and all the measures we hear about do not really affact any “millions-scale” plot. There is very little reason for any terrorist to engange in a “millions-scale” plot, most likely it won’t work, and you’d have about 7 billion people against you and your goals, making sure this could never happen again, to no benefit to you. Remember that terrorists actually have goals in what they do, harming people ist just a means to an end.

Consider how the USA would look like today if all the money that has been spent on war, and will be spent on war, be it for the interest to be paid on the loans the USA had to take to wage war, had instead been spent on improving education, or infrastructure, or on helping other nations to bring their population out of poverty. Had been used to help the people of Somalia to keep their coasts free of illegal fishers so their source of income didn’t run dry and they didn’t have to engage in hijacking ships, demand ransom, and probably be killed in the process.

30,000 suicides each year among citizens of the USA. That’s over 3 million per lost soul among those who took their own life since 9/11, compared to spending on war. Was it really worth to spend all the money on “terrorists” vs spending it on people so sick, so unhappy, that they would take their own life in your midst? Who would take their own life if they had 3mil in their bank account? Or did you see 300,000 people die of terrorism lately?

MJMcEvoy November 19, 2010 10:10 PM

I wore a kilt on a flight from Austin, TX to Chicago, IL in 2006. The male TSA person didn’t know what to do, and was so embarrassed that he just let me go, especially after a female TSA person offered advice on how to check a “skirt”.

Yaara November 19, 2010 10:20 PM

I work overseas and fly several times a year. I’m a modest woman who dresses conservatively. That said, the new procedures don’t bother me. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty sure I’m not hot enough for anyone to look at my scans with lust or to pat me down with inappropriate intentions… but whatever, dude, I just want to get on the plane. If it turns out that the scanners really are bad for us, I’ll revise my opinion; and I have empathy for people who are more conservative than I am about being touched or seen. But if all the protests and “opting out” mean that it’ll take longer for us to get through security, THAT will piss me off. And I won’t be pissed at TSA. I’ll be pissed at the protesters.

Rebecca November 19, 2010 10:20 PM

Awesome post. Just a note, the livejournal post you quote from includes “cisgender” (that is, not transgender) in the phrase “Suddenly an able-bodied cisgender white man is the one who was complaining.” As someone who is trans, and terrified of flying due to worries about being groped, harassed, arrested, raped, or killed by security forces worried about my genitals, I think it’s important to highlight that gender-nonconforming people are particularly hard-hit by these new procedures.

kdt November 19, 2010 10:34 PM

So now the pilots get a free pass around the scanners and the pat-downs – hasn’t the TSA just created one of the classic forms of security holes that you’ve discussed many times in the past?

An excellent post, by the way.

Bob Staudenmaier November 19, 2010 10:38 PM

Is it any surprise that this is happening? We have created an obvious Frankenstein; a government agency that assesses its own worth; its own value.

We do not decide how much we need the TSA. The TSA decides how much we need THEM! – rs

Paul November 19, 2010 10:49 PM

Apparently the TSA agents really hate the new procedures too. But it’s their job, and they don’t want to lose it. OK, I get that.

Here’s an idea. If one TSA agent just refuses to molest passengers, they will get fired. If most TSA agents refuse to molest people, like a union agrees to strike, well, I think the government will realize it can’t just do whatever it likes.

How about it, how about you guys grow a pair, and instead of just complaining about how much you hate grabbing genitals all day, you know, just refuse to do so. All of you. Give people regular pat downs that you feel comfortable doing. Anyone thought of that? A little All-American “we refuse to violate the dignity of our fellow citizens” taking a stand?

WE the people can opt out for months, the government will care when YOU, the TSA, refuse their orders.

MMC November 19, 2010 10:54 PM

An effective protest would be a hundred cheap airline tickets between two close cities and a hundred drag queens keen for a “freedom pat”. Especially if they were part of the “Security Theatre Review”.

Ben November 19, 2010 11:13 PM

Reading more and more of these stories, I’m so incredibly glad I decided to not visit the USA anymore. Big deal you say, but I also took my business with me, since I don’t want to be in a position where I must meet clients in the USA and travel there regardless.

And I know I’m not the only one who’s done this, so besides shredding the last vestiges of privacy, personal dignity, and public service, the TSA and associated lawmakers are also managing to damage the USA’s economy, which is still shaky enough as is without needing foreign capital to move back to foreign shores.

Somewhere in a cave, the terrorists are laughing.

Carl "SAI" Mitchell November 19, 2010 11:45 PM

“There’s talk about the health risks of the machines, but I can’t believe you won’t get more radiation on the flight.”

Remember, cellular damage from ionizing radiation is cumulative. Just because flying at a high altitude exposes you to more radiation than the scan does not make the scan’s radiation negligible.

Christian Marks November 20, 2010 1:07 AM

The TSA can pat me down in the crotch or scan it until they’re blue in the face: they’ll never find a thing.

anonymous November 20, 2010 2:23 AM


the original post which Bruce quoted from didn’t make the cisgender distinction – you’ll note that she states she’s cleaned up the post. please don’t bring personal agendas into this; we all suffer when we’re assaulted regardless of how we identify.

Whiskers in Menlo November 20, 2010 3:09 AM

The enhanced pat down procedures and the full body scanners are apparently linked. If there was a need for full body searches in lue of full body scans they should have been inplace long before the scanners were in place.

There is a clear (to me) interaction between the extraordinary expense of the scanners and the procedures that are now in place. This has gone beyond security theater and become self serving vendor driven regulation. Enhanced body searches if they are intended to coerce individuals toward the scanners are sexual assaults little different than some of the humiliation inflicted on detainees at Abu Ghraib.

Had there been enhanced pat down procedures to the capacity and limits of staff in response to threat the presence of scanners would be an improvement especially with an opt-in to the scanner fast lane option.

A sad result may be a dismantling of the good bits that DHS and TSA have generated because of overreaching and inappropriate regulations that step on persons, personal privacy as well as state and federal constitutions and laws.

uk visa November 20, 2010 3:53 AM

@ Christian Marks
I assume you’re single but… let me lead you down a path…
As a person with an IQ you understand that the TSA have to employ people without discrimination ie if the TSA have no gays in their ranks that would be a problem for them legally.
So as an adult I understand that the person patting people down may see that as a perk of the job.
As a parent… well now if I think the woman patting down my kid or the guy at the scanner is subjecting her to a little more radiation for his enjoyment; well now we’re in another realm; a realm in which I’d end up being cuffed.
Why should some moron at the TSA make me decide whether it’s OK to be a bad citizen in order to be a caring parent.
Let me know when America gets its TSA back on a leash and I’ll enjoy visiting again, but until then…

Christian Marks November 20, 2010 5:07 AM

uk visa, thanks for your encouragement.

In response to increasing public concern over perceived invasion of privacy and a heavy-handed implementation of enhanced security measures apparently calibrated to specialized tastes, the TSA might consider the following public relations gesture: inform airline passengers that their backscatter images will be retouched on request in case of an inadvertent data breech.

Clive Robinson November 20, 2010 5:29 AM

@ Bruce,

With regards the EM radiation used in these and other scanners and the effects on humans.

The scientific community know way to little on the subject to actually draw any valid conclusions about their actual safety.

Put simply any EM radiation has energy, when it enters your body it either comes out or it stays there. When it’s non ionising radiation we generaly consider the energy is converted to heat in the body tissues. When ionising we assume it is actually capable of causing other more serious effects as well…

Now there is a series of inconsistant assumptions made about the “linear effects” of EM radiation on the human body (one of which is the bodies ability to transport heat away from one part to another). Usually these assumptions are made for “safety” reasons and are picked to be way way down on the curve where you can make a loose assumption of linear behaviour (think the first 5% of an exponential curve for instance).

However outside of these very limited (supposedly) safe limits, all we can realy say is that as we investigate the effects of EM radiation we find more and more anomalies. And importantly they vary very greatly from person to person.

And we get caught out often, for instance with respect to heat, we have recently seen that laptop computers actually used on the lap have been causing persistent changes to the users skin colour without causing the traditional recognisable burns…

Now is this change in colour harmless or is it increasing the risk of cancer?

The answer is we realy don’t know and testing to find out is at best unethical.

Likewise with backscatter scanners we know to little to say if they are safe or not, and testing on humans or animals is unethical. Further any ethics committy doing the risk calculation on them (as is done for medical diagnosis equipment) would almost certainly say the (assumed) small radiation risk is way way greater than the actuall terrorist risk.

BF Skinner November 20, 2010 7:06 AM

@Christian Marks “…pat me down in the crotch … until they’re blue in the face: they’ll never find a thing.”

Oh Christian. Oh my. I’m sorry. Oh I’m so sorry. Gosh, have you seen a doctor? I’m sure they could help. Were you born like that or was it a terrible accident?

Shay November 20, 2010 7:28 AM

There is actually a backscatter machine recently installed in Ben-Gurion airport. But it isn’t use to find bombs, rather by the customs authority, to search for smuggled goods.

@dob: as you guessed, the Israeli airport security is humiliating to anyone who isn’t an Israeli Jew. As in Israeli Jew standing in the security line, I’m embarrassed to be waived fast, seeing how security treats others.

Roger November 20, 2010 7:28 AM

Hi all,

From a vantage point afar, the score of the battle of the wits is US – 0 and Terrorist 10. This only shows the total lack of intelligence in US. A spoof by terrorist which does not need much money to orchestrate and the US authority starts spending millions to rape their travelers – males or females. Does US has understand what morality and civil liberty mean?

No wonder they cannot win and so far the record of winning is on the terrorist’s side.

US is broke financially and mentally!

Michaelc November 20, 2010 8:38 AM

I remember years ago reading about some agency (cia I think) training manual that detailed how to coerce/kill an enemy with everyday objects like pens, the earpieces of glasses, a piece of wire or string, and even a rolled up newspaper. All of these things are allowed on a plane by the TSA.

I am not particularly interested in killing people and even I know about these techniques, I can only imagine that a more curious/motivated person could do much more damage.

Seven Lowe November 20, 2010 10:36 AM

Perhaps you missed Adam Savage of Mythbusters telling of his recent experience with the TSA. He submitted to the new scanner & got through onto the plane before realizing he’d accidentally left 2 12″ steel razor blades in his laptop bag & they wen’t through undetected. Don’t see how scanners will keep us safe with stuff like that making it through in carry on.


MBY November 20, 2010 11:01 AM

The academic world must do more to stop this nonsense. It is not just invasive, improper and unjust, it is also a matter of clear pseudoscience. This things must be evidence based. No government organization has any right to apply policies that is humbug. Why is people accepting this at all? Maybe we should bring firearms and bombs to the checkpoint to fend off the TSA people?

Nofx November 20, 2010 11:17 AM

Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.

…or it could be that an able-bodied white man was just the first to write a well-written and well-documented blog post dealing with the indignity and so it went viral. Most people didn’t know his race, or anything until the media got a photo from the family and ran it. Running the race card, though handy for stirring up the pot, is not useful for anyone in the end. I would’ve thought you were above that.

Mark Jaquith November 20, 2010 12:20 PM

The video evidence about Meg McLain (note: not McCain) is inconclusive. There are no timestamps. She claims a portion is missing. In the first video, she’s only partly visible. In the second video she is obscured except for the top of her head.

Doesn’t mean she’s telling the truth, but there’s not enough evidence to say that she lied about the main issues (ticket ripped up, handcuffed to a chair).

John Smith November 20, 2010 12:23 PM

“Given that there will be 600 million airplane passengers per year, that makes the machines deadlier than the terrorists.”

The difference is perhaps in who is the dead, from the perspective of those who created the rules. An airplane can be used to fly into a building containing such rules. That the passenger dies may be nearly irrelevant. It’s horrible.

J November 20, 2010 2:10 PM

Did Pistole just accidentally give us a short-term opt out of the opt out?

Transportation Security Administration Oversight Hearing
Jena Longo – Democratic Press Office (202) 224-8374
Nov 17 2010 9:30 AM
Russell Senate Office Building – 253

Time: 102:20

Subject :John Tyner

Sen. Hutchison: I would hope that we wouldn’t go overboard if someone decides that they have the right to their privacy and therefore they walk out without injury to anyone . . . I can’t see that that would be a fine event.

Pistole: No and I am again trying not to preview too much because I just want to make sure that I have all the facts. But I agree completely with you on that senator. so, it is something that . . . again the fines historically have been for people who try to smugle items onboard and that is not this situation.

ThePaganTemple November 20, 2010 3:57 PM

If I have to fly I’ll have fun with it. I’ll find me the biggest strap-on dildo I can find, one with some flexibility to it and an inner motor that will make it vibrate, as well as expand and contract. Maybe even ooze some kind of warm liquid from the tip. Let the groping begin.

CharlesT November 20, 2010 5:31 PM

I’ve been reading through these and other sites, and I have one concern with the whole process that I haven’t seen addressed.

We’re allowed to opt for a private screening, and if we would like a witness, we may ask for a second TSA officer (flying alone, so a friend isn’t an option). As a single flyer, are we similarly guaranteed a public screening if we would prefer that?

Laurie Mann November 20, 2010 7:59 PM

I’ve been flying a lot this year, and I’ve already been through the full-body scanners twice this year (in Pittsburgh) and have the potential for being scanned at least twice more in December.

Frankly, the scanner bothers me less than the notion of a pat-down. While I agree that the scanners are a stupidly expensive incarnation of security theater, we have the reactionary government that too many people voted for. So much for change. It’s more of the same-old/same-old.

Since we’re stuck with the TSA, I’m reluctant to harass TSA folks in the airport, because most of them are not the problem – we’re hearing about the idiots who are not capable of thinking.

The bigger problem is with the federal government and TSA management. Unfortunately, more reactionary idiots have been elected to Congress, so any genuine, rational change to the problem of airport security won’t be happening any time soon.

Steevo November 20, 2010 8:50 PM

Terrorists have attacked airplanes, buses, subways, trains, bridges, buildings. Nothing we can do at any airport will prevent any type of terrorism, especially aimed at all those other things. We only need to worry about terrorists, not 3 year old girls or grandmothers in wheelchairs.

The government response to the toner cartridge bomb is to ban toner cartridges. Terrorists may be crazy but they’re not stupid. If they can’t bomb airplanes they will bomb buses, trains or buildings, which they have already done. If they can’t put a bomb in a toner cartridge they will put it in a movie camera. Or a toaster. Or pay a baggage handler to put it in the plane.

I don’t intend to give up my rights without a fight. I don’t want to live in a world where stormtroopers accost you on the street demanding “Where are you going?”.

It’s a known fact that if you want low performance get the government to do it. We have it now. Groping 3 year old girls to stop terrorist bombs. That little girl didn’t weigh enough to be carrying a bomb. By groping people who don’t fit the terrorist profile and ignoring the actual terrorists the government and the TSA are proving how liberal they are. It’s liberalism at work.

The solution? Let people with concealed carry permits take a certification class as a auxiliary air Marshall and give them a 40% airfare discount. How could a terrorist do anything on a plane with 30 or 40 armed trained civilians on board? I’d take the class and get a CCW immediately.

Vicki November 20, 2010 10:19 PM

A reminder that when I get my dental X-rays, everything but my head is covered by a lead-filler apron. So, different.

One thing that disturbs me a lot about the whole patdown thing is that they offer the option of doing this “in a private room”. If I need “privacy” then something is about to happen that is unacceptable anywhere but my bedroom or doctor’s office.

Have you seen the Japanese animation? They really “got” the part about the Private Room.

frequent traveler November 21, 2010 1:35 AM

I have been quite surprised by the comments I’ve seen around which say something to the effect of “get over it”. I suppose if you only fly one or two times year it would seem a small thing to be exposed to the potentially harmful rays of a backscatter, have random strangers viewing your naked body or be subjected to being touched/groped/fondled. Unfortunately, my career (which I enjoy tremendously) requires me to board 6-8 flights a month so that “little bit of radiation” and the absurd manhandling quickly amount to much more.
I suggest the airlines take a poll of their frequent flyers because I am pretty sure 80 % of US are really over the BS. By the way, how often does TSA find/detour a threat? I would guess none to very, very few since it’s pretty doubtful they wouldn’t be giving press conferences everyday touting their successes.

Mike from Vashon November 21, 2010 3:01 AM

The number of times that the word “Israelification” crops up in a Google search has increased by a lot the last couple of days. I expect it to become next week’s meme. I can only imagine what the Sunday talk shows are going to bring up. I’ve seen fake checkpoint stories go by on Twitter, the Urine story is making the rounds as I type (my sympathies go to anyone that has to endure this kind of dehumanizing experience), and I expect TSA wedgie stories by Wednesday.

matti kinnunen November 21, 2010 5:13 AM

how about wearing a diaper? Would it not render the groin touching quite useless? Or would one be required to strip naked and remove the diaper for closer inspection?

Some older people use diapers daily.

So: on the 24th, let us wear diapers?

another anon November 21, 2010 7:38 AM

Baylink –
1. 9/11 happened because the the hijackers were able to control the cockpit to use the KE of the aircraft.

  1. A locked door is very effective in stopping 1.

  2. PO’d passengers beating the snot out of the crotchbomber & anyone else attempting to take over the aircraft becomes very effective in stopping 1.

  3. As I’ve posted before, in the 1960’s two airliners collided over NYC. Total killed on the ground – 6. Turns out without controlled flight into ground, killing large #’s with aircraft is difficult. sure, you kill all on board, but that’s it. There’s many other ways to kill multiple people (OK City bombing comes to mind).

  4. Note how the attempts have never duplicated. Yet our response is to “ban what they did” – keep it up and we’ll ban flying (which would put an end to any airplane threats). Better to use money to find the terrorists beforehand than to keep trying to prevent the last form of attack.

Marcwolf November 21, 2010 7:59 AM

Consider this piece of warped humor.
Do you congressmen go through the same screening process as you do?, The same with their families.
Could this be just a side plot to faze out the average American due to sterility and leave the elite to populate the country?
Just a random thought..

get the truth November 21, 2010 10:31 AM


NY Times article on AQAP claiming for $4,200, they caused the west to spend billions on security – a win for them – by the toner cartridge attack. From the article:

“This supposedly ‘foiled plot,’ ” the group wrote, “will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. That is what we call leverage.”

Best thing we could do is NOTHING – they want us to change, we deny them the priviledge of seeing us respond.

J. J. Ramsey November 21, 2010 10:41 AM

“Have you seen the Japanese animation? They really ‘got’ the part about the Private Room.”

Actually, that “animation” (really a live-action “comedy” sketch) wasn’t making fun of American airport security. It was just about a dirty old man abusing his job as airport security (at a Japanese airport?) to feel up pretty women and make one of them strip down to underwear. More creepy than funny if you think about it.

Freak-went Flier November 21, 2010 11:32 AM

Someone above essentially made a similar point…but it bears repeating (imho). Osama bin Laden, et al (i.e., “terrorists”) have succeeded in creating chaos. They have already won.

How many wasted billions of dollars in equipment, man hours in TSA employees, idle time spent in line, etc. have we wasted on a broken security system?
Great article in the Toronto Star about the “Isaraelification” of security we need in the US/Canada. Call it profiling if you want, but it has got to be better than what we have now. First, the liquids ban, now a toner cartridge ban (most people don’t need to carry one of these on a plane..so no big deal)…but what about the next time someone plants explosives inside a laptop? Are we going to institute a laptop ban and cripple business travel?

Kearse November 21, 2010 1:06 PM

How about this for a solution to all this degradation, humilation and inconvenience. Since us Americans are all about the freedom to choose, give everyone a choice. You can take a less expensive flight without the inconvenience and humiliation of the enhanced pat downs, back scatter xrays, etc. Just walk right up, get on the plane and take your chances OR you can opt in for a “terrorist free” flight with all of the enhanced security, inconvenience and cost that goes along with it.

What would you choose???

Werner November 21, 2010 1:57 PM

@matti kinnunen: “how about wearing a diaper?”

Diapers aren’t a bad idea, also considering the general unpleasantness associated with removing them. But for a more manly choice, how about a codpiece ?

  • Werner

Alastair November 21, 2010 4:19 PM


In 2009 an attacker bypassed two airport security checks with explosives concealed in his rectum:


The attack is attributed to Al Qaeda, the group whose name we’re all familiar with.

Since Al Qaeda have been known to be employing this technique for more than a year now, would the TSA care to comment on how these new procedures protect us from an already established mechanism of attack, and to what lengths they are willing to go to do so in future? If the new procedures do not protect us from attacks that terrorists are actively using, what benefit do they hold for our security?

Vice Magnet November 21, 2010 4:38 PM

Despite my username, it is not my wish to be fondled by strangers…well, unless I consider them to be attractive. I went through the backscatter machine at YVR Vancouver. I don’t think I had a choice nor legal protection as I had not yet gone through customs. I didn’t know they had those machines at YVR.

Clive Robinson November 21, 2010 9:42 PM

@ Freak-went Flier,

“Are we going to institute a laptop ban and cripple business travel?”

If you think back it has already been tried, and the backlash via the airlines got it lifted.

The simple fact is the TSA and all the other enhanced procedures over that of say traveling on the railway does not actually make you any safer in fact it can be shown to have actually been detrimental to your safety in many ways.

Before people say “that cann’t be true” you need to consider what the TSA are actually aiming to do and if that is possible, then you need to consider what the cumalitive effects are on those wishing to fly in to or over the USoA.

The TSA has made varous statments as has the DHS of how it is there to make flying in US airspace safer, and to do this they aim to stop pasengers taking dangerous items onto a plane.

The simple fact is if you think about it they cann’t achieve this aim (also as has been demonstrated). The simplistic reasons being,


“What is a dangerous object?”


“how do you recognise it?”


“How do you stop it getting on the aircraft?”

You need to invert the first question to see how difficult it is and ask “what object is safe” and the further questions arising from that will quickly make you realise “prepared and used correctly all objects are dangerous”. So the first step is compleatly inclusive of all objects including the human body.

As one person has pointed out you could take items of clothing and treat them in various ways to make them highly flamable. And we know that certain fabrics whilst burning relase poisons such as cyanide gas, and this can easily be augmented.

Further you can treat parts of the clothing to become the ignition device, the activation of which could be for arguments sake adding a small quantity of water or sugary drink or simple mechanical force. Think for instance of the old practical joke of a little bit of carbide in the trouser cuff etc.

So onto the second step how would you recognise such treated clothing from untreated clothing?

The simple answer without a laboratory and knowledge of what to look for is you cann’t.

So logicaly the first and second steps fail to practical realities. That is you could have a blanket ban on all clothing but are the flying public going to fly under those conditions? probably not.

However the third step is not achievable by the TSA either in that they only examine (1) some potential passengers and their possessions, who (2) depart in US airports. Further where (3) only some of those going air side are checked, and (4) the checks in no way prevent those who have been checked picking up dangerous objects airside after they have been checked…

As has been demonstrated on many occasions not just by terrorists but journalists and forgetfull passengers dangerous items do get carried onboard by TSA checked passengers (for instance the US departing passenger who was found to have rounds of live amunition in their pocket on landing in the UK).

All the TSA checks no mater how intrusive they are can acheive is an at best an imperfect, known to be fallible and compleatly avoidable hinderance.

Further it can be shown that the TSA induced hinderance has been harmful and is increasingly becoming more halmful to passengers, such that the cumulative effects have contributed more injury and death than terrorists since the TSA’s inception.

So aruguably the TSA checks should be eased off to reduce the injury and death they cause passengers.

Then there is the economic cost in lost productivity etc of the passengers that the hinderance causes. Again arguably the TSA checks should be eased off.

Then there is the societal cost in the lost economic development that the TSA hinderance costs society not just through taxation but also for taking a considerable number of people out of economicaly productive labour. Not just as TSA staff but also those who support them by the manufacture of the inefective technology the TSA deploy.

I could go on but as was once pointed out there is only so much fun you can have with “shooting fish in a barrel”.

Browndog November 21, 2010 10:48 PM

Remember when USEPA was forcing homeowners to spend on the average $5000 each to remediate indoor radon on the basis of equivalents to chest X-rays? The USEPA’s estimate was based on the assumption that all radiation is dangerous and the 4 picocurie per liter limit was based on what the USEPA estimated that the homeowner could afford to bring radiation to minimal levels. Suddenly the government that proclaimed low level radon as responsible for 20,000 deaths each year is now selling frequent flyer full body X-rays as just a wonderful idea. What a PACK OF LIARS! We need to vote out EVERY incumbent be they Democrat or Republican until truth and sanity is restored in this clearly out of control, incompetent Federal government.

AC2 November 22, 2010 12:56 AM

And yes Discovery/ TLC might as well stop showing travel/ leisure guides for US locations, as least outside the US…

John Smith November 22, 2010 12:57 AM

When is the American public going to stop whining and do something about it?

Are ye sheeple, or are ye men and women of action?

Peter A. November 22, 2010 5:07 AM

@Richard Kulawiec: Planes are hardly the only things with large KE. Although I’ll grant you that because they fly, they can be directed against targets that are otherwise difficult to reach. (Contrast with, say, high-speed trains, which can’t be directed against arbitrary targets.)

During several decades of terrorism there were exactly 3 (maybe 4) cases in 1 terrorist attack of using a large KE object as a guided missile. In all the other numerous cases the terrorists did not give a s**t of where the damn thing would end up. Sorry, Rich & Baylink, you are trying to draw conclusions from a singular case as the Gov. of USofA is doing all this time.

The whole thing is purely irrational. The terrorist are targeting mostly the airplanes just because people are irrationally afraid of being blown out of the sky more than anything else, the attacks – successful or not – make the people even more afraid, which makes this kind of plot even more appealing to the terrorists – and so it goes.

Werner November 22, 2010 7:21 AM

@Peter A.: there were at least two more attacks where the plane itself played a role in the destruction:

  • Air France 8969, where the hijackers had planned to crash the plane in Paris.
  • Pan Am 103, which (supposedly unintentionally) crashed into Lockerbie.

Of course, after 9/11, anyone trying the hijack-to-crash-to-bomb type of attack will have to consider finding crew and fellow passengers reluctant to cooperate.

  • Werner

H. November 22, 2010 7:25 AM

The dollar is low and the US would make a nice tourist destination, but all these recent US security theater measures have encouraged me not to visit the USA for travel any time soon. Sadly, my own country is beginning to go bonkers as well. We already have one of these useless backscatter devices at my home airport in Hamburg.

Randall Munroe November 22, 2010 8:41 AM

The source about Muslim women being exempted from the pat-down comes from Canada Free Press, which I’ve seen a lot of specious stories on before. It looks a bit like a right-wing tabloid to me.

The source it cites for more information in return cites Canada Free Press, so that’s a bit circular, and the whole thing seems to be based on a Muslim-advocacy group suggesting to its own members that they should claim religious exemption, nothing more. Nobody from the TSA seems to be in any way involved in the story.

I would dismiss that story until it’s reported by a more reliable source or corroborated by more information.

hiddenone November 22, 2010 9:10 AM

Wonder what would happen if people just started wearing burkas and get passed through without hassle because of ‘special PC consideration’.

It could be a new extremely profitable airport concession,
‘Get your travel burka and avoid security patdowns and scanners’.

At the very least, it might force someone to examine how many people in burkas get routinely waived on, and how many actually get checked, as opposed to the general public.

Khannea Suntzu November 22, 2010 9:26 AM

Very simple.

If I’d be a third rate somewhat hasbeen moderately sexy movie star, I’d set up a fake X Ray photoshoot showing me in nudified, wearing a BDSM sex toy – of which the oics were ‘allegedly’ leaked.

The act would require the ‘actress’ actually travelling with this sex toy (say, an anal plug, actually being questioned about it – “my Master made me do it to punish me”) and then leaking photo’s of this pretending as if the actual immigrations people had leaked these pics.

Instant winning lawsuit.

Instant awarded ten millions damages for violation of privacy.

Instant law destroyed.

Instant poublic outrage.

Instant career boost of C actress.

Make it so number 1 !

Engage !

Janet Koontz November 22, 2010 9:39 AM

Freedom to fly the now unfriendly skies –
Posted on November 19, 2010 by JLK
I, with many Americans, support this view: http://dailypaul.com/node/149693

On 25Oct2010, I took an international trip. Eight days prior to the ‘new aggressive’ pat down procedures taking effect, I was subjected to the full body scanner AND the new aggressive pat down in front of all the other travelers in the screening area. Why both? No one can answer. Was it the metal support in my neck that saves me from being a paraplegic? The metal is not accessible without surgery – it doesn’t make me dangerous. Traveling in the UK, I heard BBC and the non-American perspectives on US security measures. Going to the UK, the plane was packed. Returning to the US, the same size plane was less than half full. This is indicative of the reluctance of citizens from other countries to electively subject themselves to our nonsense.

Upon arriving back in the US, I went through Customs (expected), but the luggage that had been in the airline’s possession the entire time had to be reclaimed, rechecked and my carry on and I had to be rescanned. The only place I’d been since the previous screening was the airplane and a very long, controlled hallway to Customs.

I felt as if I were trying to get past the Great Wall of Berlin to return to my home (thought that would NEVER happen in the US in my lifetime). I felt like I had to prove I wasn’t a terrorist. I don’t fit the profile of a terrorist; I have no affiliations with any topic of religion, politics, or anything else that would make me suspicious. I’m a working woman, single mother with a very quiet life who pay taxes for the idiots who listen to lobbyists about how to spend my money. If the body scanners can’t tell the difference between fat and padding, then what use are they? Who profits from the billions of dollars spent on the new body scanners? (Follow the money to the companies that manufacture them, the lobbyists spending money in our Capitol to get them approved and those on the Hill who sold their votes for cash in their pockets).

I read the “don’t touch my junk” encounter in the San Diego airport and understand that by declining the screening, the gentleman accepted this meant he would not be flying. This he did gracefully. But I am outraged that he was then further harassed and told he could not freely leave the airport. Really? If I choose not to go to the movies, they could force me to not leave the theater? Is this the world we want to live in? What’s next, bread lines and government issued chits for shopping? TSA has no police enforcement powers (yet), nor should they. If a person tried to travel naked, they’d be arrested. The middle ground has become a very slippery slope. Where are the lines drawn? Who decides? Who controls those who decide? Who does anyone answer to when those lines get crossed? Where’s the accountability? Where does the buck stop? Will we start assuming guilt and arresting people on the street until they prove their innocence? How far do we allow them to go before we speak up? How much before we should be outraged? It had to happen to me before I found my voice (Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up.)

I have no problem showing my identification and if I’m on a list of suspicious persons, then pull me aside for extra screening. But otherwise, I don’t want to be subjected to potentially unsafe radiation (not enough exposure years for sufficient data), I don’t want to have my scans potentially recorded (it has already happened to thousands of scans), I don’t want to be publicly molested and fondled, and I don’t want to apply for permission to travel. My ticket pays for one seat on an airline to travel between two points; since when was harm, forfeiture of my right of privacy and abuse included in the price? Will the US start revoking tickets of travelers deemed suspicious? Let the airlines screen and police the airlines as the cruise lines screen/police the cruise ships. Guard our borders, not our airports. This is an over-the-top knee jerk to 9/11 that has cost billions and netted nothing, zero, zip, nada, NOTHING but money from lobbyists to those making the decisions. Enhanced screenings have never caught a terrorist, and apparently, it isn’t even effective in deterring them from trying! Yes, we value safety, but not at the cost of freedom.

Let me make it clear, I’m not against security or flying safely. But I think there is a better way to accomplish security than what is currently in place. The Israeli’s do security better, more efficiently, more cost-effective and with more dignity – why can’t we emulate their systems? Why is the only answer the one that involves humiliation, degradation, profit for a chosen few, and unproven radiation? Is this how the head of TSA admits he’s powerless to proactively keep terrorists off our commercial planes so that he’s stuck in a position of only being able to react to his failures? If the screening procedures worked, we might be able to justify it, but it doesn’t work. All the nail clippers, shampoo, toothpaste, water bottles and such confiscated have served absolutely no purpose. TSA has not made us safer, it doesn’t work.

For the first time in my life, I’ve actually considered what it would take to live outside the US permanently or give up the not as coveted as it used to be US citizenship. That my elected representatives who make up my government brought me to this point saddens me deeply. This is what strikes fear in my heart. In the Constitution, I AM the people and I’m asking my voice be heard. I grew up a military dependent and an AF pilot’s daughter. I know the sacrifice our military and their families have paid for our safety and freedom. I don’t feel threatened by terrorists, but I do feel bullied and threatened by my own government.

A voice from the past from a time when our country and all it stands for was being shaped said: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. Thank you for your foresight and wisdom, Benjamin Franklin




Chris November 22, 2010 10:30 AM

Regarding polls:

With a well-crafted poll I could make Hitler the most loved man in Israel.

I don’t believe a single statistic that “polls” the public – it usually indicates someone has an agenda they want me to subscribe to.

BF Skinner November 22, 2010 10:52 AM

It’s so precious nice that the President and SECState ‘understand the frustration’ since they NEVER have to or WILL EVER be troubled by it. Thier USSS details will be assumed to be armed if they ever do fly commercial air (which I doubt).

Found this in the register…less about scanners/TSA sexual assault. More about TSA/CBP behavior…

“DHS airport spooks stalk star hacker
Why are the feds trailing Moxie Marlinspike?” http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/11/19/dhs_detains_hacker/

Sounds a bit like what @Imperfect Citizen describes.

henry November 22, 2010 12:06 PM

Why not dogs ????

In WIRE there was an article that the Pentagon found out that our four legged friends are the best tool for finding explosive material.

Suzanne Eckhardt November 22, 2010 2:46 PM

“Of course, airport security is an extra-Constitutional area, so there’s no clear redress mechanism for those subjected to too-intimate patdowns.” WHAT?!!! The United States Constitution is invalid in airports? Bullshit!!!!

Michael November 22, 2010 3:28 PM

I’m sure this is already covered, but if backscanners kill 16/billion, and 600MM fly / year, isn’t that only 9.6 deaths/yr? Wikipedia puts the death toll at approximately 3000, including the 19 terrorists. So, it would take more than 312.5 years for the statement “given that there will be 600 million airplane passengers per year, that makes the machines deadlier than the terrorists” to be true.

Michael November 22, 2010 3:30 PM

IF I were President…

I would allow citizens in possession of a valid US Passport to travel freely about the country without undue search. A simple verification of the passport would be all that is needed. Our enemy is islam (extreme or otherwise). It is NOT our citizens.

We are wasting BILLIONS of dollars on this garbage and getting NOTHING in return.

Bob November 22, 2010 3:34 PM

Here’s a solution to all the controversy over full-body scannersat the airports: All we need to do is develop a booth that you can step into that will NOT X-ray you, but WILL detonate any explosive device you may have hidden on or in your body. The explosion will be contained within the sealed booth.

This would be a win-win for everyone. There would be none of this crap about racial profiling and the device would eliminate long and expensive trials.

This is so simple that it’s brilliant. I can see it now: you’re in the airport terminal and you hear a muffled explosion. Shortly thereafter an announcement comes over the PA system, “Attention standby passengers, we now have an available seat……..”

BF Skinner November 22, 2010 5:35 PM

“So: on the 24th, let us wear diapers?”

I was think a jock strap and cup. (cf codpiece above) After all it’s certainly legal to own and wear. Probably can’t be detonated or used as a weapon. And one that hand comes up feeling for resistence…boing.

Still I suspect doing so will get you led off into a room.

Most people (>80%) traveling have schedules to keep so won’t be willing to experiment.

BF Skinner November 22, 2010 5:38 PM

Help the TSA screeners understand they are not practicing right livelihood.

When they start feeling for resistence?
Fake an orgasm.

It might not change the system but could certainly change their lives for the better.

zzzzz November 22, 2010 8:31 PM


I believe the backscatter x-ray machines are manufactured by Rapiscan systems, but I don’t know who they bribed in the TSA to buy them.

Ivor Pomery November 22, 2010 10:00 PM

John Pistole should change his name to John PERVERT! The rubber stamp man from FBI is now the YES man for every pathetic idea….. Why.. because he is a “blank” kisser and coward that does not think for him himself ….but only about himself. The YES man for the pathetic fool Mueller is now in a real quagmire. John, a few questions for you:
1. What is your policy on having the openly gay homosexual employees touching the private areas of heterosexual passengers?? Did you think about it? Probably not! Well I don’t want my wife felt up by a lesbian and neither does she. Get ready for the lawsuit when it happens.

  1. How many hours of training did you give your employees about touching passengers with medical conditions? NONE !! Get ready for the lawsuits.

  2. Has anyone calculated the amount of money the airlines and it’s industry is now going to loose because of this poorly thought out plan? No!! They are struggling to survive right now.. this will cause them to loose Millions!!

  3. If your position is just under a cabinet level position, why haven’t you met with the President?

  4. I know you are too much of a coward to resign.. so we all must wait for you to be FIRED!!

Moon November 23, 2010 12:54 AM

Email all of the airlines you do business with and cancel your frequent flyer accounts. Tell them you won’t fly or do businesses that won’t protect human rights. Don’t fly! Break the machine…remember the Selma bus boycott?

Davi Ottenheimer November 23, 2010 2:06 AM

Ok, Bruce, you’d better get your A-game ready for this battle. This is what I am talking about:

I dug around a little and found references to money exchanging hands for scanners and lobbying and….whooooo-boy this is big league stuff.

I believe even Senator Dole would have cringed at the amount of pork in these barrels.


“Companies like L-3 Communications, the defense contractor, are providing several of the scanners under a nearly $165 million TSA contract won earlier this year, are well-prepared for the fight.
TSA’s other body-scanner contractor is Rapiscan Systems Inc. In 2009, the company was awarded an agreement that could be worth up to $173 million. And like L-3, Rapiscan has a notable K Street presence.”

Here’s a tip. The “defense” contractor lobbyist for L-3 is not only from the FAA but is married to Congress. Literally.

“Linda Hall Daschle, a former administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration and wife of ex-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), is one of L-3’s best-connected lobbyists.”

L-3 also has a Bush 1989 appointee to the Committee on Aviation Security and Terrorism on their payrool: D’Amato

Even bigger? In 2009 Rapiscan paid former Homeland Security Secretary and scanner advocate Michael Chertoff for an “advisory” role.

Who really wants to spend $330 million on this snafu? This might clarify:

“L-3 has spent more than $1.4 million on lobbying since 2004”

“Rapiscan has spent close to $3.6 million on lobbying since 2007”

The American Science and Engineering company is also involved in lobbying. They have hired a former TSA assistant administrator, and two former staff from the Transportation and Defense subcommittees of Appropriations.

I guess the writing was on the wall in 2009…


BF Skinner November 23, 2010 6:40 AM

@Moon “Don’t fly! Break the machine”

Here’s the thing. These searches without warrant or even PC are permissible to the court becuase they are ‘administrative’ and are applied to people who ‘choose’ to fly. It’s applied only to people who are taking an option.

That’s the argument. Body scanners were removed from Denver’s federal courthouse on the grounds that people there (lawyers, witnesses) didn’t have an option of going there. They couldn’t opt out and perform their jobs or the requirements of justice.

People can ‘choose’ a differrnt form of travel; you can drive or take a train. Unless you live in Hawaii or Alaska.

But here’s the thing; no like having a car flying is now a necessity not a luxury. It’s a luxury to live in a city with mass transit good enough that you dont’ need a car. Everywhere else it’s required. (And why judges will revoke licenses ‘except driving to / from work’)

To do buisness in person between the US and China you gotta fly. Taking a tramp steamer wouldn’t be permitted by your company. I doubt mine would let me take Amtrak and bill for the travel time. The billed customer would certainly question it.

So the ground assumption that these searches are minimally infringing is false.

Clive Robinson November 23, 2010 6:56 AM

@ Davi Ottenheimer, Bruce,

“Even bigger? In 2009 Rapiscan paid former Homeland Security Secretary and scanner advocate Michael Chertoff for an “advisory” role”

It gets even more interesting…

In the UK British Airways made a generalised statment about the inefectivness of the scanners, screening procedures, etc.

Well BBC Radio 4 has various news programs and up poped former UK Home Secretary (Dr Don’t forget the Dr) John Reid. He castigated BA and then went into splean venting advice to the current home sec not to drop the scanners and procedures.

However he was so engaged in his spiel that he forgot to mention that he gets money from Chertoff via a small chain of companies…

I’m not sure how much Chertoff is going to make through the various companies he’s involved with but he is certainly buying all the political leverage he can get…

Now it has not happend yet with these scanners (as far as I’m aware) but various US companies are using the UK liable laws to stop unwanted scientific investigation of their products and the manufactures claims (I’ve mentioned this before).

This is especialy true of some medical engineering firms who are frightend that their claims of safety and testing are either not or might not be able to survive impartial scientific investigation…

More of it goes on than we hear about because their Lordships are quite happy to allow “super injunctions” as well to stop even the reporting of the case…

Also as we know US business interests (tabbaco, wheat, GM, etc) are not adverse to setting up foundations through various non obvious funding channels to provide reasearch funding which almost always turns out to be very favourable for the business and usually just at the right point in time.

So keep a carefull eye on any “independant” tests that say these scanners are safe to use, and to how the tests where conducted and paid for.

The only thing that can be relied on with regard to the safety of all active scanners is that we don’t know enough to say if the radient energy sources they use are safe enough for generalised non medical use.

That is all we can say is that there are some known risks with radient energy sources used in medical scanners and that none of these scanners are rated for generalised use with humans.

So anyone who pops up with tests that say otherwise especial just before a case or hearing involving the use of these scanners is going to be suspect, especialy if it is a small study paid for by a relativly unknown foundation that does not have long association with well known and respected scientific figures.

Even stuff that pops up in peer-reviewed journals such as Nature need to have a long hard look taken at them and they should be large scale studies over a long period of time…

Julien Plissonneau Duquène November 23, 2010 7:42 AM

enhanced baggage security — both ensuring that a passenger’s bags don’t fly unless he does, and explosives screening for all baggage

It appears that this has been done for decades, at least in France, and probably in most European countries as well.

In France, carriers are legally required to make sure that no baggage make it on the plane without their owner. Ref: arrêté du 12 novembre 2003, titre IV “obligations des entreprises du transport aérien”, article 47 (b).

If a passenger that has checked-in baggage does not board for any reason (no show, thrown out of the plane etc), the delay may be as long as 1 hour as they have to remove all baggage containers, scan / read the stickers, find the items of the missing passenger(s), and send everything again into the aircraft. AFAIK there is still no tracking of which baggage goes in which metal container, though it looks like a nice idea to me even security-wise.

Still AFAIK (but not sure this has not changed) checked-in baggage is not (systematically) x-rayed even in France. They can be opened and searched though. They are also screened for explosive (and other illegal stuff) with trained dogs. Which led to this embarassing incident:

A few years ago, a nice pack of excellent military-grade “plastic” explosive found its way in the baggage of an unsuspecting passenger, went all the way into the airplane, then over the ocean, then nothing happened, then the random passenger picked up his bag and nobody heard of him anymore. Nothing happened because there was no detonator: the plastic was placed there by french security officers for training their dogs. They left it out of sight for a short time and it appeared that was put back on a conveyor by an unsuspecting employee. I hope their procedure now force them to scan or write down the baggage owner name and destination before doing that…

(For some reason this did not come out easily of teh Goggles, though copy-pasting a nice sequence of words from the text itself finally found it.)

I like the last quote. Someone almost got a free multi-year pass to Guantanamo Resort or its Brazilian counterpart.

Anyway the US is not doing it correctly. Europe has implemented strict security for decades, and their security staff (which is actually under the responsibility of the police) is nowhere near obnoxious as their US counterpart (though being still fairly annoying). Also it is impossible to fly in France without government-issued ID.

TSA’s control freakery is actually more a threat than an improvement of security.

BF Skinner November 23, 2010 11:02 AM

“What’s the best way to complain about this? Congressmen, senators…”

I start’d with letters/calls to the congress representatives. They might listen.

Ohio you’re out of luck

fm the Times…http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/19/no-security-pat-downs-for-boehner

“November 19, 2010, 2:23 pm
No Security Pat-Downs for Boehner

3:37 p.m. | Updated Representative John A. Boehner, soon to be the Speaker of the House, has pledged to fly commercial airlines back to his home district in Ohio. But that does not mean that he will be subjected to the hassles of ordinary passengers, including the controversial security pat-downs.

As he left Washington on Friday, Mr. Boehner headed across the Potomac River to Reagan National Airport, which was bustling with afternoon travelers. But there was no waiting in line for Mr. Boehner, who was escorted around the metal detectors and body scanners, and taken directly to the gate.”

HJohn November 23, 2010 12:06 PM

@Interview with Brian Michael Jenkins:

He says we used to measure incidents in terms of maybe once a month, and now measure them in terms of once a year.

Let me do the math:

For the once a year estimate: For the once a year estimate: about 2 million passengers a day, about 770 million per year. Assuming 100-200 passengers per flight, that would be a range of 1 in 3,850,000-7,700,000 flights with an attempt, the majority of which are unsuccessful. Odds of getting on a plane and there being a successful attempt would probably be measured in the tens of millions.

For the once a month estimate (probably over estimate): 2 million passengers a day, about 60 million per month. Assuming 100-200 passengers per flight, that would be a range of 1 in 300,000-600,000 flights with an attempt, the majority of which are unsuccessful. Odds of getting on a plane and there being a successful attempt would probably be on in several million.

I can’t speak for others, but I would take the odds of one in a few million provided by lesser security over the odds of one tens of million with more security any day. The former presents a smaller cost in terms of money and privacy.

BF Skinner November 23, 2010 1:41 PM

TSA has reversed itself on Flight Attendents.

So lets see the updated list of people whom we can trust.
People rich enough to fly general aviation (think Palin lecture tours).
Highly ranked government officials (Mr gonna be Speaker).
Flight attendents (flight crew presumedly as well.)
Children 12 year old and younger
Terrorists who stow explosives in their body cavities.

Happy Thanksgiving Mr Pistole! This is why they pay you the big bucks.

Dave Walker November 23, 2010 2:53 PM

Reading the text on the inside front cover of my British passport:

“Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”

So, to my fellow Brits who need to visit the US from time to time, be sure to gather the details of the nearest British Consulate to your destination before setting off, and if TSA’d beyond your sensibility, contact them.

Given the text in your passport and apparent TSA behaviour, diplomatic measures may ensue.

HJohn November 23, 2010 3:06 PM

@Bruce: “And here someone who gets patted down, and manages to sneak two razor blades through security anyway.”

Does anyone know how often they detect things like razor blades versus how many times they think they get through? If there was a reasonable chance the blades were detected, I’m not too concerned with the occassional oversight.

Terry November 23, 2010 4:36 PM

Matt Kernan (link near the end of your article about escaping both scan and grope while waiting 2.5 hours) was on his way into USA from Europe. This is not the same situation as most of us are concerned about.

On the other hand, why was he scanned after leaving the plane? There’s no more danger to the plane. I’m glad to see that the Taxi Safety Administration is at work protecting us.

maelorin November 23, 2010 8:17 PM

i figure it this way: the tsa thought that is they make the ‘opt-out’ option so much more inconvenient than the x-ray, most people would just go for the x-ray.

but perhaps not.

JW November 24, 2010 4:47 PM

@Bruce I haven’t heard much in the ways the information could be used other than looking at my junk. The full body scans will be required for maritime travel, rail and light rail and at every courthouse and public building. Big Sis says that’s the plan. What then? universities? high school? I know the focus is on “junk”, but they have every physical dimension of your body. Could you imagine a database of nearly every American’s full body scan? Surgical scars, prosthesis, piercings, defects, and anything else identifiable in one place for our government to use as they see fit. They have essentially taken a “fingerprint” of your body that can now be cross-referenced against the “database” at any point. Facial recognition has some issues but it should be fairly easy to get even a desktop to recognize full body scans when I add these extra data points. For all I know they may be working on a “junk” recognition” system. But for now,they can verify my identity based on these images and even extrapolate my BMI and send me a citation for gaining too much weight. All my life changes can be easily tracked and my profile updated with every visit to the local courthouse or municipal building or airport. Can I opt out and just go ahead and take the “mark of the beast”? Will a humiliating pat down be required to move to the “mark of the beast” line?

Given the planned proliferation, the dose actually becomes much greater as does the risk. What if I’m scanned hundreds of times per year? What if my children are scanned twice a day for the duration of their education?

Anyway, that’s doubleplusgood. I’ll take my soma now and be quiet. Happy Thanksgiving to you.

Aaron Binns November 25, 2010 12:58 AM

Want to make your voice heard in the airlines pockets?

Better than simply not flying, with your credit card purchase a very expensive, first-class and fully refundable ticket.

Wait a bit.

Cancel it for the refund.

Once the balance is safely accounted back to you, write the strongly worded letter to the airline stating that you canceled the very expensive (and profitable) ticket due to TSA security.

georgied November 25, 2010 7:05 AM

Passengers of private jets don’t have to go though TSA screening.

I wonder if airlines could reclassify their flights as private? 😉

OMG!! November 25, 2010 3:15 PM

TSA workers should go on strike and you can all walk!! Have you seen the new pretzel M&M commercial? TSA workers are the pretzel!!! Don’t want to be scanned then don’t fly!!!

David Lang November 25, 2010 4:20 PM

@HJohn take a look at the video, those weren’t just normal razor blades, they were 12″ long razor blades.

also, he didn’t sneak them through, he missed them himself on his pre-flight check (he routinely carries odd and dangerous things, so he always makes a check of his luggage before traveling)

Denise November 25, 2010 8:55 PM

It gives me hope that there are still those out there with the courage to fight injustice.

Thank you, Mr. Schneier, for your courage and good luck with the case.

k November 26, 2010 7:42 AM


Can you please remind the court and the media that it is very easy to get past screening with liquid or powder explosives.

Blowing up the airplane is still quite hard for the reasons you mentioned though.

These are no secrets and I mention only the most obvious examples – for decades used by drug smugglers etc.

Kewords: bodycaves, stomach etc.

Even simpler put them in the limited but permitted toothpase or other liquid containers.

Surely, a few terrorist together are able to get enough explosives (combined) into an airplane…

Clothes themselves…

Most creative teenagers could come up with something that is likely to work..

But why would a terrorist take the risk to go through an airport if killing a few hundred people is the goal.. there are many other places much less secured..

These facts alone should set a limit to the security theater and wasted resources.

Nothine else needed.

L November 26, 2010 2:12 PM

Even if the scanners were 100% safe and able to see inside the bodys too with no human or other errors – it would still not make sense to install these scanners – here is why:

1)Hijackers would face dozens if not hundreds passengers who are prepared to fight and are safety conscious

2) Cockpit doors are reinforced and the pilots have weapons or perhaps some electronic device that disables some functions

It is hard to see how hijackers could succeed without proper non plastic weapons. A metal detector would easily be enough.

Why would a serious terrorist blow up an airplane with explosives? Their risk to get caught is much higher compared to blowing up an underground station or burn down a concert hall or night club étc.

PS: With some creativity there are actually still relatively simple ways to hijack an airplane even with 100 % screening accuracy. I am sure you can think of a few. If you need ideas, post your email address in a response post 🙂

Neither the airlines nor the airports nor the the passengers have a reason to install these screeners.

Clearly, the only ones who benefit from the extra screeners are the people who make profits selling and using them.

E.g. the TSA and Rapidscan plus some shareholders in the government/FED who see this as part of a temporary economic stimulus and perhaps an experiment to see how far/fast they can go stealing peoples liberty.

At least one does not need to be an expert to see this. I hope Mr. Obama realises this and will introduce some common sense into the discussion with his counter terrorist experts.

M November 26, 2010 2:32 PM

If Obama and the american people would really want to reduce their (tiny) risk of becoming a terrorist victim

  • they would simply need to stop police-ing the world and pissing off dozens of countries with their interventions and killings for decades.

Everyone knows that you will get in trouble if you keep killing or simple teasing others – no matter how big you are and how far away you are from the enemy.

There have been many dozens of extremely violent wars with US involment in the past decades which were largely supressed by the mainstream media.

We need more people to read Chomsky (at least watch the movie: “Manufacturing Consent”), vote for honest candidates (e.g. Ron Paul, Peter Schiff and as many similar minds as possible) that recognise the problem with the military-industrial complex, and stop watching TV.

N November 26, 2010 2:47 PM

..and I like to see more security experts commenting on TV and youtube rather than business people or other celebrities/”marketing products”.

I would be very interested to see a discussion between Bruce Schneier and some other real expert/CIA/FBI who might have some valid arguments against his and many peoples thoughts.

This would be the european approach – so it’s unlikely to happen in the US – but nothing is 100% sure.

Ben November 28, 2010 12:04 AM

So the TSA will have to change its ways… eventually.

And then they’ll try something else.

How about some personal accountability? The people who are responsible for this need to be tried and punished. Not just fired or sued–tried for imposing an illegal system, for making policy in order to profit, for following illegal orders, maybe for being part of a terrorist organisation. (Oh wait–when the terrorists are the government, they’re not terrorists anymore. I forgot.)

What can we do to keep this from happening again? Don’t say “vote”–even if you think voting wasn’t dead before the videocracy took over, now there’s Citizens United to guarantee that voting is ineffective.

What, then? I ask an honest question.

Clive Robinson November 28, 2010 11:22 AM

@ Ben,

“What, then? I ask an honest question”

First off you need to realise that you do not live in a democracy, but vote for a monkey in a suit (representational democracy) that you have no control over.

The first freedom people need and require is the ability to say “No” and have it heard that is “spoilt votes” or “no show votes” should count as votes of “none of you” or against any policy etc.

Further to be elected/passed any politician/policy has to have a clear majority of all potential votes.

That if over 50% of all people eligible to vote, and everybody over the age of majority irrespective of anything else should have the right to vote. Further each person should have one and only one effective vote (no electoral colleges etc).

Policies that are put forward for voting should effectivly be “fail safe” that is a policy should not be worded in such a way that a “No Vote” can be used to enact a policy (that is you ask to vote for not vote against the change).

Most of our politicos have to much time on their hands and a rather stupid urge to “have to be seen doing something”. Partly because of this there is also a lot of bad and out of date law on the books. The simple solution is all laws should have sunset clauses that is every law without exception must be voted through say every ten years or lapse (the EU sort of has this with some Directives in that they get reviewed every so often).

Importantly the people vote for major and substantive changes such as taxation or going to war. If the politicos cannot convince the people then they should not get the money etc.

Then there is a question of fair balance, all parties and politicians should have a limited budget to “advertise themselves” and this needs to be strictly audited and publicly accounted for. Further all contributions, gifts, junkets and any other way influance might be obtained has to be declaired publicly at most within 14days as must all meetings with representatives of the the public press or business along with full recordings. Likewise all communications writen verbal or by other means must also be recorded.

Importantly they “work for us” we should provide their source of income and benifits just like any low level civil servant. We should also be able to sack them at any time. And we should be able to check they are not going behind our backs for their own benifit at any time.

None of this is unreasonable, none of it does not happen somewhere in the world or is being seriously proposed to happen.

I’m also aware that it will not solve some of the worst problems, but it should make it more difficult.

Oh and one last thing business needs to be more fiscaly accountable, there would be a great improvment if for instance loans where not tax deductable and tax based on the actuall business carried out as shown by say differential on VAT.

Andrew November 28, 2010 2:38 PM

Steevo writes: “Let people with concealed carry permits take a certification class as a auxiliary air Marshall and give them a 40% airfare discount. How could a terrorist do anything on a plane with 30 or 40 armed trained civilians on board?”

Get a few of your terrorist friends to take the certification class…

Da Bomb November 30, 2010 12:41 PM

“the kind of threat that we saw in the Christmas Day bombing”

What bombing? Does Obama mean the FAILED bombing?

Mike October 10, 2011 12:09 AM

I just wanted to add to the debate that I won’t fly through or use any airport that utilizes the full body scanners.

Everyone should do the same.

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