The TSA Invitation to Airport Scans and Gropes

By Karla Fetrow

Shackling Freedom for Security

Since the bombing of the Twin Towers, America has been surrendering its freedom for security as fast as it can.  It didn’t whimper when funds were allocated for extra guards and cameras at docks and ports.  It didn’t sniff at new border restrictions.  It didn’t cry when the Transportation Security Administration began confiscating and even fining passengers for finding in their carry on luggage,  such items as nail clippers with attached file, knitting needles, more than 16 ounces of toner and ink cartridges, sports equipment, and extra lithium ion batteries, although you may carry the batteries in your cell phone and lap top.

Airports used to be a wonderful place; full of bustling people wearing the tail ends of foreign countries dangling behind them like exotic perfume, families lined in the waiting room, waiting for a loved one, shouts of laughter and bursts of tears.  The shops, the scaled down restaurants, the coffee stands made the wait for a tardy plane comfortable; even pleasurable.  It was difficult to resist the invitation to pick up somebody at the airport.  Now, it’s more like visiting an inmate at a high security prison.

The grounds are silently patrolled by security personnel, the vehicles whisking in and out of traffic, as though to say, get your business done and move on.  The doors, once occupied by baggage assistance employees dressed in smart clothing, are now dominated by grim faced agents, frowning suspiciously at everyone who dares enter the lobby.  The waiting rooms are nearly empty.  Rather than go through the glass doors that will set off a buzzer if you don’t take off your shoes with their metal clips, they wait in the lobby, adding a mash of confusion to the passengers waiting in line for tickets.

The most recent privacy invasive measure taken by the TSA has stirred a great deal of controversy; a choice between full body scans or a search that consists of running the hands up the thighs, touching  genitalia and checking breasts.  This policy, which went into effect November of 2010, brought a lot of protest, but not enough to keep people from flying for the holidays.  Deciding the use of full body scanning, which shows the body in full but somewhat fuzzy detail, did not create a discernible lapse in air transportation, they have decided to go on with their plans to have 1,000 full body scanners in airports by the end of this year.  An ABC/Washington Post poll conducted by Langer Associates and released November 22, 2010 found that 64 percent of Americans favored the full-body x-ray scanners, but that 50 percent think the “enhanced” pat-downs go too far.

Sentiments are beginning to change.  Alaska State Representative, Democrat Sharon Cissna, has refused to take what she calls an “invasive, probing pat-down”, and is taking a ferry from Seattle to Juneau instead of flying.  Cissna was in Seattle for medical treatment and had been planning to fly back to Juneau the following Sunday night to rejoin the legislative session. She underwent a body scan while going through airport security and was singled out for a full body pat-down because she’d had a mastectomy, said her chief of staff, Michelle Scannell.

TSA did not return calls placed to them by Alaskan news reporters, but cancer survivors claim TSA gives extra screening if there is a prosthetic breast involved.  The TSA website states. “security officers will need to see and touch your prosthetic device, cast or support brace as part of the screening process.”

Cissna sent out a report the following Monday saying the body scan showed scars from her breast cancer and knew that meant there would be the “invasive, probing hand of a stranger” as she had experienced a similar incident three months earlier.  Said Cissna, “facing the agent I began to remember what my husband and I’d decided after the previous intensive physical search. That I never had to submit to that horror again!  It would be difficult, we agreed, but I had the choice to say no, this twisted policy did not have to be the price of flying to Juneau!”

On Wednesday, the house representatives took a stand in support of Cissna.  State Rep. Chris Tuck, another Democrat from Anchorage, said Cissna stood up for her rights and “chose respect.”

He called for a “sense of the House that efficient travel is a cornerstone of our economy and our quality of life especially here in Alaska, and that no one should have to sacrifice their dignity in order to travel.”
The House voted 36-2 to adopt that sentiment. Reps. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, and Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, voted “no.” Cissna and Rep. Anna Fairclough, another Eagle River Republican, were absent.

The Body Scan Ruse

Just before the holiday season, a software engineer rocked the U-Tube world when he refused a full body scan, claiming privacy and health concerns; nor did he wish to be groped by personnel, stating his now immortal words, “don’t touch my junk!”  While his refusal meant he didn’t get to fly either, the incident was recorded and displayed on the Internet.

How safe are body scans?  According to the medical profession at the University of California, San Francisco, not very safe at all.  On April 6th., 2010 they sent a letter to Dr. John P. Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and technology, urging that he withdraw his support of full body scanners in airports.

The report compiled by the University stated, “Unlike other scanners, these new devices operate at relatively low beam energies (28keV). 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: both the air travel cosmic ray exposure and chest X-rays have much higher X-ray energies and the health consequences are appropriately understood in terms of the whole body volume dose. In contrast, these new airport scanners are largely depositing their energy into the skin and immediately adjacent tissue, and since this is such a small fraction of body weight/vol, possibly by one to two orders of magnitude, the real dose to the skin is now high.

In addition, 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. Instead an indirect test (Air Kerma) was made that emphasized the whole body exposure value, and thus it appears that the danger is low when compared to cosmic rays during airplane travel and a chest X-ray dose.”

The concerns for the effects of full body scans were numerous.  The results of the independent research raised the following issues, which at the time of this reporting, have not been addressed:

  • A) The large population of older travelers, >65 years of age, is particularly at risk from the mutagenic effects of the X-rays based on the known biology of melanocyte aging.
  • B) A fraction of the female population is especially sensitive to mutagenesis-
  • provoking radiation leading to breast cancer. Notably, because these women,
  • who have defects in DNA repair mechanisms, are particularly prone to cancer,
  • X-ray mammograms are not performed on them. The dose to breast tissue
  • beneath the skin represents a similar risk.
  • C) Blood (white blood cells) perfusing the skin is also at risk.
  • D) The population of immunocompromised individuals–HIV and cancer
  • patients (see above) is likely to be at risk for cancer induction by the high skin dose
  • E) The risk of radiation emission to children and adolescents does not appear to have been fully evaluated.
  • F) The policy towards pregnant women needs to be defined once the theoretical risks to the fetus are determined.
  • G) Because of the proximity of the testicles to skin, this tissue is at risk for sperm mutagenesis.
  • H) Have the effects of the radiation on the cornea and thymus been determined?

The Naked Parade

TSA isn’t very worried about the health risks, although they have recently decided the peek show didn’t need to be quite so graphic.  In response to privacy concerns, it announced it is introducing some new software that will show the naked views of passengers only as asexual cookie cutter outlines.  This software is now being used at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and will be tested at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson and D.C.’s Reagan National in short order.

A Gizmodo investigation  revealed 100 of the photographs saved by the Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner from Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc., obtained by a FOIA request after it was recently revealed that U.S. Marshals operating the machine in the Orlando, Florida courthouse had improperly-perhaps illegally-saved images of the scans of public servants and private citizens.

Back on Aug. 4, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) was given more than 100 of 35,000 images that an Orlando courthouse kept on its scanner. The privacy watchdog group had filed a Freedom of Information Act request and went to court to obtain the images.

Today, as the debate over the scanners and the TSA’s new patdown procedure heats up, technology blog Gizmodo released some of those images.

“The public should absolutely be concerned,” EPIC’s Ginger McCall told ABC News. “Very detailed and graphic pictures of people’s naked bodies could end up out there on the Internet.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Pistole on Monday defended the machines, saying they are safe, necessary and that images are never stored by the TSA.

Several private security experts also spoke about the necessity of such machines.

“The TSA, to me, gives credible assurances that that isn’t going to happen,” said Cathal “Irish” Flynn, a former FAA associate administrator for security who now runs his own consulting firm. “Could there be mistakes? Yes, I suppose so. But as I listen to them, they seem determined not to let that happen.”

Body Scan Effectiveness

According to a high-ranking source inside the TSA, an undercover agent was able to pass through five full-body scanners at the Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport last weekend with a gun stuffed in her underwear. None of the security personnel noticed.  The TSA did not deny the results of the test, but offered this statement: “Our security officers are one of the most heavily tested federal workforces in the nation. We regularly test our officers in a variety of ways to ensure the effectiveness of our technology, security measures and the overall layered system. For security reasons, we do not publicize or comment on the results of covert tests, however advanced imaging technology is an effective tool to detect both metallic and nonmetallic items hidden on passengers.”

The machines “detect both metallic and nonmetallic threat items to keep passengers safe,” said Kristin Lee, spokeswoman for TSA, in a written statement. “It is proven technology, and we are highly confident in its detection capability.”

Last January, when the government’s appetite for body scanners got a big boost from the underwear bomber, there was skepticism about their ability to detect the types of explosives favored by would-be airline bombers.

Known by their opponents as “digital strip search” machines, the full-body scanners use one of two technologies—millimeter wave sensors or backscatter x-rays—to see through clothing, producing ghostly images of naked passengers. Yet critics say that these, too, are highly fallible, and are incapable of revealing explosives hidden in body cavities—an age-old method for smuggling contraband. If that’s the case, a terrorist could hide the entire bomb works within his or her body, and breeze through the virtual strip search undetected. The London Independent reported on “authoritative claims that officials at the [UK] Department for Transport and the Home Office have already tested the scanners and were not persuaded that they would work comprehensively against terrorist threats to aviation.” A British defense-research firm reportedly found the machines unreliable in detecting “low-density” materials like plastics, chemicals, and liquids—precisely what the underwear bomber had stuffed in his briefs.

Neither does Canada view the full body scans as an effective means of detecting a terrorist.  In a redacted report from the Canadian Transport people, it was determined that full body scanners, especially in combination with metal detectors, served very little purpose.  A person passing through one machine after another would have to place their arms in different positions and the Canadians found the body scanners would fail to detect objects like rings or bracelets on extended arms because the mechanism could not reach high enough to take them in.

According to Steve Elson, a former Navy Seal who worked on the U.S. government’s Red Team, it would be very easy for a terrorist to by pass security.  “Nobody touches the pilots,” he observed.  “All  I needed was a pilot’s uniform, bought or stolen, and a photoshop badge. Put explosives on my body, no metal, walk through, pick up my stuff and off to the plane. Likewise, I could do something similar on the ramp. Best time is in cold weather and snow storms. Do it as night approaches. People don’t care about security, just getting the job done and getting out of the weather. Steal a bag tag, make an unauthorized entry (no problem), walk up to a plane and throw it in with 50 lbs explosive.”

Elson has been passing in and out of security checks since  Homeland Security first took effect, bringing along a television crew, continuing to penetrate airport security carrying with him all manner of guns and IEDs, and for the most part avoiding detection.  According to Elson, “people don’t really worry about security, just getting the job done.”

Insecure Freedom

America wanted security and was willing to trade in its right to travel with privacy and dignity.  Security is an illusive quality.  No matter how many safe guards are put up, there is always someone who will find a way around them.  All it takes is determination and ingenuity.  Instead of questioning how they can become more secure, they should go to the root; why America is under attack.

The heightened fear has increased paranoia, resulting in stricter immigration laws, biases toward religious preferences and a major break-down in International relations.  The heightened fear has allowed photographic imaging that amounts to voyeurism, with a privacy clause already violated by US Marshalls.  While the modest might be gratified that new image technology will allow their bodies with all its iniquities to pass as nothing more than cookie cutter shapes, the question of health has still not been addressed.  The health conscious and high risk cancer potential passengers would prefer their security is not bombarded by radioactivity.  Those with prosthetic devices do not wish to be exposed to invasive pat-downs

It’s pitiful when a country becomes so petrified with fear, it is even willing to expose itself to pat-downs that amount pre-rape groping.  It’s even more pitiful when this invasive policy is ignored until it’s experienced by a State Representative.  Said Rep. Cissna, “For nearly fifty years I’ve fought for the rights of assault victims, population in which my wonderful Alaska sadly ranks number one, both for men and women who have been abused,” Cissna said in her statement. “The very last thing an assault victim or molested person can deal with is yet more trauma and the groping of strangers, the hands of government ‘safety’ policy.”

America has sacrificed much for this elusive security that has done nothing but demean and dehumanize it.  It has been humbled and humiliated, its privacy stripped.  Safety cannot be guaranteed, no matter how many rules and laws are built around it as a protective measure.  Safety is more functional when used with caution, not fear.  Fear has become a weapon for the acceptance of a military regime whose first order is, “if you don’t subject yourselves to invasive body scans and pat-downs, you don’t get to fly.”  When we accept that; when we accept that we will allow our bodies to be probed and scanned with radioactive waves; we will accept anything.  Our fear is our poison, striking back at us, eating us alive.  America needs to stand up for pride and human dignity before it has nothing at all, only an empty shell called security.!5768502/undercover-tsa-agent-sneaks-gun-through-airports-full+body-scanners-five-times

About karlsie

Some great perversity of nature decided to give me a tune completely out of keeping with the general symphony; possibly from the moment of conception. I learned to read and speak almost simultaneously. The blurred and muffled world I heard through my first five years of random nerve loss deafness suddenly came alive with the clarity of how those words sounded on paper. I had been liberated for communications. I decided there was nothing more wonderful than writing. It was easier to write than carefully modulate my speech for correct pronunciation, and it was easier to read than patiently follow the movements of people’s lips to learn what they were saying. It was during that dawning time period, while I slowly made the connection that there weren’t that many other people who heard the way I did, halfway between sound and music, half in deafness, that I began to understand that the tune I was following wasn’t quite the same as that of my classmates. I was just a little different. General education taught me not only was I just a little isolated from my classmates, my home was just a little isolated from the outside world. I was born in Alaska, making me part of one of the smallest, quietest minorities on earth. I decided I could live with this. What I couldn’t live with was discovering a few years later, in the opening up of the pipeline, which coincided with my first year of junior college, that there were entire communities of people; more than I could possibly imagine; living impossibly one on top of another in vast cities. It wasn’t even the magnitude of this vision that inspired me so much as the visitors who came from these populous regions and seemed to possess a knowledge so great and secretive I could never learn it in any book. I became at once, very conscious of how rural I was and how little I knew beyond the scope of my environment. I decided it was time to travel. The rest is history; or at least, the content of my stories. I traveled... often to college campuses, dropping in and out of school until one fine day by chance I’d fashioned a bachelor of arts degree in psychology. I’ve worked a couple of newspapers, had a few poems and stories tossed around in various small presses, never receiving a great deal of money, which I’m assured is the norm for a writer. I spent ten years in Mexico, watching the peso crash. There is some obscure reason why I did this, tightening up my belt and facing hunger, but I believe at the time I said it was for love. Here I am, back home, in my beloved Alaska. I’ve learned somewhat of a worldly viewpoint; at least I like to flatter myself that way. I’ve also learned my rural roots aren’t so bad after all. I work in a small, country store. Every day I greet the same group of local customers, but make no mistake. My store isn’t a scene out of Andy Griffith. The people who enter the establishment, which also includes showers, laundry and movie rentals, are miners, oil workers, truck drivers, construction engineers, dog sled racers and carpenters. Sometimes, on the liquor side, the conversations became adult only in vocabulary. It’s a good thing, on the opposite side of the store is a candy aisle filled with the most astonishing collection, it will keep a kid occupied with just wishing for hours. If you tell your kids they can have just one, you have an instant baby sitter; better than television; as they agonize over their choice while you catch up on the gossip with your neighbor. We also receive a lot of tourists, a lot of foreign visitors. They are usually amazed at this first sign of Alaskan rural life style beyond the insulating hub of the Anchorage bowl. Many of them like to hang around and chat. They gawk at our thieves wanted posters. They laugh at our jokes and camaraderie with our customers. I’ve learned another lesson while working there. You don’t have to go out and find the world. If you wait long enough, it comes to you.

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11 Comments on “The TSA Invitation to Airport Scans and Gropes”

  1. And when the next would be bomber has a device in a body cavity will we have to submit to a body cavity search? I will not subject myself nor my family to needless radiation exposure nor TSA molestation. I will not be flying until the TSA changes these procedures.

    “They say the risk is minimal, but statistically someone is going to get skin cancer from these X-rays,” Dr Michael Love, who runs an X-ray lab at the department of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at Johns Hopkins University school of medicine, told AFP.”No exposure to X-ray is considered beneficial. We know X-rays are hazardous but we have a situation at the airports where people are so eager to fly that they will risk their lives in this manner,” he said

  2. And now, TSA is doing patdowns AFTER people get off trains. Call your reps and senators and ask them why they don’t stop this.

  3. The TSA is sexually abusing innocent people. They must be stopped. I am so outraged that I can hardly see straight. I won’t fly, not anymore when having my body violated by a stranger is what it costs. John Pistole is running the biggest child pornography and sexual assault ring in history. He deserves to rot in jail for all the harm he’s done.

  4. Tabitha, i agree. When i was searching for images to go with the article, i was struck by several photos that showed TSA agents patting down children. With all the child protection laws, all the hue and cry of child endangerment, we have agents who can legally; in public; touch children in places that would have sent decrepit Uncle Huey off to jail. How is it that these same mothers who are so terrified of inappropriate actions taken against their children, can surrender them up like sacrificial lambs so they can board an airplane?

    I will not fly either, not until the abuses stop. I won’t be treated like a criminal because i like to travel. I will not submit to harmful X-rays or allow strange hands to grope inappropriate places on my body. I will not be made a participant to a perverted, one side sex orgy. Restore dignity. Without, the rest is all trash.

  5. Well you know, we tend to hate the people that are most like ourselves. So this just explains why the government is so gung-ho against sex offenders. Because the government is made up of pedophiles, rapists and dirty old perverts who hate themselves.

    Great job of reporting a real travesty, K.

  6. Make no mistake – what’s happening in the airports is but a test to see how willing people are to be degraded in public. After a few years of this “test” period, these scanners and “searches” (if they can be called that) will be introduced everywhere there is travel: unless this nascent police state is killed while it’s still young it will invade the space of common persons througout the nation – effectively making an uprising against this beast a near impossibility.

    I suggest that you thoroughly arm and supply yourselves with the means to fight the state now – you might not have that opportunity once there are “security” checkpoints on every major highway, freeway and intersection throughout the nation.

  7. Azazel, this is what i find the most disturbing; it is conditioning of a very intrusive, dehumanizing nature. This type of acceptance can easily lead to other invasions of privacy, which Lynn N. just illustrated. Once we’ve accepted these devices as the law, the door opens up to complete dominance and control. TSA is a perverted monster and Homeland Security needs to be put in its place. A little more security in the home with less intrusions into our personal lives.

  8. [Quote=Lynn N.]Not only are the scanners unsafe and ineffective, and the pat-downs physically and sexually intrusive, TSA is now going to start taking DNA samples from air passengers.[/quote]

    Why am I not surprised…

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