TSA propaganda continues apace

by Lisa Simeone on February 23, 2012

The TSA is ever busy placing op-eds and articles in the mainstream press under the guise of factual information. This morning brings two such “news” pieces, one about scanners and one about confiscated items. 

First, Robert Cohen, the TSA federal security director at Florida International Airport, repeats false claims about airport scanners:

Imaging technology not only enhances security, it reduces the need for pat-down searches, especially for passengers with joint replacements who have traditionally set off our walk-through metal detectors.

This is false. The MMW (millimeter wave) scanners increase the need for a “pat-down.” As we have reported several times, the MMW scanners have a 54% false-positive rate. They alarm when they shouldn’t on more than half the people who pass through them.

They alarm on pleats, on folder-over inseams, on sweat. Left a coin in your pocket? A paper clip? A ponytail holder? You’ll be flagged as a potential terrorist. Then you’ll get sent off for a grope.

As for people with joint replacements, it’s true that the metal in their bodies won’t trigger the MMW scanners. But that just means that the burden of false-positives has simply moved to people with non-metal medical devices such as ostomy bags and insulin pumps.

As millions of people already know, Thomas Sawyer was humiliated not once, but twice, by TSA screeners who broke his urostomy bag. More recently, an entire terminal of Los Angeles International was thrown into a tizzy because the TSA thought a woman’s insulin pump was a gun.

In trumpeting the addition of these expensive scanners to the Fort Myers airport, Cohen doesn’t mention the fact that hundreds of backscatter (x-ray) scanners are still deployed at airports all over the country. These scanners, unlike the MMW machines, emit radiation and have never been tested for safety.

Cohen also repeats this claim:

The equipment cannot store, print, transmit or save the generic outline, which is automatically deleted from the system when it is cleared by the security officer.

But we’ve been told this before, only to find out that the scanners can store, print, transmit, or save images. Two years ago — in Florida, ironically — 35,000 of those images were leaked.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, the TSA held a “show-and-tell” of items they confiscated from passengers. Apparently the TSA used to keep these displays private. But now, recognizing the public relations potential, the agency is bringing them out in the open, as if to say, “See? Look what we’re doing to protect you!”

The confiscated items in the photographs accompanying the article include such things as wrenches, hammers, wire-cutters, knives, and wine. Yes, wine.

Observant readers will note that all the metal items can be detected by — you guessed it — metal detectors. Not naked-body scanners.

The article also goes on to repeat the cleverly worded:

“Every item on display, legal on the street but illegal on-board a plane, was voluntarily surrendered by the passenger with the item; none of the items was seized forcibly by TSA.”

Sure, you don’t have to give up your property, which will then be sold at state surplus stores all over the country. But if you don’t, you won’t be able to fly. So you “voluntarily surrender” your belongings.

When this kind of obfuscating language appears in the press in other countries, we call it propaganda. But when it appears here, in the U.S., we call it news.

(Photo: Flickr/Electronic Frontier Foundation)

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