Geek Out

TSA Full-Body Scanners: Protecting Passengers Or Padding Pockets?

Pilots hate them. Passengers who avoid them get a groping. They’re the TSA full body scanners presently deployed at airports near you. Their effectiveness is unclear. What is clear is that lobbying for them makes you a ton of money.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for airport security and stopping the terrorists before they can cause a horrific mid-air explosion with their shoe bombs or dog bombs, or whatever it is they’re going to try and use to create terror in the airways. But how about a little rationality and common sense?

Take effectiveness for example. These scanners, for all their naked human goodness, cannot see through skin. It’s a gory thought, yes, but as it has been documented in movies and more importantly reality over the years, a dedicated bad guy doesn’t really mind hiding a little PETN in his or his dog’s body cavity for a few hours, given that it’s going to be a one-way trip.

But safety, writes Washington Examiner Senior Examiner Columnist Timothy Carney, might be a secondary concern of the so-called “naked scanner” movement.

You see, there are basically three big players when it comes to the full body scanners you will see in a U.S. airport: l-3 Communications, Rapiscan and the American Science and Engineering company. All three have made hundreds of millons of dollars since terror-related events like 9/11 and the “Christmas Bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s failed attempt to blow up a passneger plane in 2009 (an attack, if you’ll remember, that the Government Accountability office said would probably have not been prevented by full body scanners).

All three firms have cozy ties to sitting U.S. Representatives and lobbyists, from both sides of the aisle. Writes Carney:

L-3 employs three different lobbying firms including Park Strategies, where former Sen. Al D’Amato, R-N.Y., plumps on the company’s behalf. Back in 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed D’Amato to the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Also on Park’s L-3 account is former Appropriations staffer Kraig Siracuse [...]Rapiscan’s lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee [...]AS&E’s lobbying team is impressive, including Tom Blank, a former deputy administrator for the TSA. Fellow AS&E lobbyist Chad Wolf was an assistant administrator at TSA and an aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who sits on the Transportation and defence subcommittees of Appropriations. Finally, Democratic former Rep. Bud Cramer is also an AS&E lobbyist — he sat on the defence and Transportation subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee.

Then of course there’s the ridicule and teasing many people will never know is happening, because it’s being done behind closed doors by TSA officials when the airport’s closed down for the night.

During training on the scanners, a group of TSA workers noted and mocked the genitalia of the guinea-pig employee sent through the scanner. The guy soon beat down one of his mockers and was arrested for assault. After assurances by contractors and the TSA that the nude images of the scanners’ subjects weren’t being stored and saved, the U.S. Marshals Service admitted that it had stored thousands of such images.

Oops! Ah, hell, as we’ve pointed out here before, sometimes it’s being done in broad daylight too!

Lastly, there’s something to be said of Britain’s ol’ axiom (and current Internet meme) “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

[H] ow far are we willing to go to prevent weapons or bombs from getting on airplanes? In the past decade, terrorists on airplanes have killed just about 3,000 people — all on one day. Even if the Christmas Day bomber had succeeded, the number would be under 3,500. Those are horrible deaths. But in that same period, more than 150,000 people have been murdered in the United States. We haven’t put the entire U.S. on lockdown — or even murder capitals like Detroit, New Orleans and Baltimore

Sorry pro-naked scanner people, but I’m with the pilots, the flight attendants, disgruntled passengers and Ben Franklin on this one. We need to put things into perspective. If we’re going to spend millions on something, I’d rather it be something effective that’s truly benefitting my fellow passenger, not some lobbyist and their current client. [The Washington Examiner via Daring Fireball]

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