Should TSA keep our change?

This seems like a simple question, but that loose change adds up. Last year the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) collected $376,480.39. It seems that TSA is just keeping the money. The Consumer Travel Alliance (CTA) has waded into this issue, joining a two-year-old effort to have the money donated to charities such as the USO airport lounges and non-profit airport help desks rather than serve as a reward to TSA.

Way back in April of 2009, Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida filed a bill that would mandate that the spare change left at inspection points be given to airport USO facilities. So far the bill has gone nowhere, and honestly, has been sitting in bill purgatory without any publicity. But that has changed with recent newspaper coverage and the new attention of the CTA.

Any use of the money by TSA seems distasteful. It’s not their money. In fact, it is money left by harassed passengers and should certainly not go to TSA as a reward for invasive searches. The best home for this money is a charity that helps passengers navigate the airport and airline jumble. The money can be spent to help military travelers through the USO, it can help everyday travelers through airport help desks, and perhaps it can be used to help spread the word about new passenger rights, airline customer service numbers, DOT complaint contacts, and so on, through well-placed posters in airports.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune supported the proposed bill.

Rep. Miller’s idea makes a lot more sense than allowing TSA to keep the money. After all, the TSA is in charge of screening passengers, a procedure that requires emptying pockets and putting purses and hand-luggage through scanners. If the agency gets to keep money left behind, that seems like a conflict of interest.

The problem of TSA’s profiting from rushed and forgetful travelers apparently doesn’t stop at only loose change. The items that are confiscated, such as small Swiss Army knives, scissors, Leathermen, tools, and personal grooming items, are all sold at auction. That money should have some way to find its way back to helping harried travelers.

Several sources who work in the financial sectors of Washington tell me that they find TSA use of funds to be unusual (though TSA may have legislation that allows it). Most federal operations can only use funds that are budgeted and don’t have the ability to simply add randomly collected money. Coins tossed into fountains in front of the Capitol, for instance, can’t simply be added to the fountain budgets; they must be deposited in to the general fund. Why this doesn’t appear to be the case with TSA’s spare change, who knows? Perhaps, in the end, this found money will end up in the general fund.

The CTA will be following up with Rep. Miller’s office to craft legislation that will help all airline travelers rather than rewarding the TSA with cash and other valuables left by beleaguered travelers.

Mike Elk thinks the TSA should have more power

Ken White blogs at Popehat:

What does Mike Elk (Mr.) want, anyway? Well, he seems to want to give TSA agents more power. Specifically, he wants the United States to confer upon TSA agents the power to arrest people:

“TSA cannot legally arrest or detain power under powers granted to it by the federal government; in order to make arrests, TSA workers must call local police situated in the airport.

“TSA workers’ inability to detain or arrest people also hinders their ability to protect airlines in general. ‘My job is to stand in the exit doors that passengers from arriving flights are leaving. I am supposed to stop people from entering the airport through those doors, but if somebody tries to run through those doors, all I can do is yell at them to stop and call the police,’ said one TSA employee who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing her job.”

If they only had that power, TSA agents could feel swell again. They could themselves arrest people for “assault” and “disorderly conduct” and for having sequential checks or carrying too much cash or for generally failing to respect their authority, rather than waiting for police officers trained (sort of, occasionally) in crime detection and law enforcement.

What else does Mike Elk want?

Well, he wants Americans to adjust their priorities. Just as the TSA wants Americans to return to the days of unquestioning compliance, Mike Elk wants Americans to focus not so much on the fact that TSA agents are making money by subjecting them to demeaning and largely pointless searches, but on the fact that it’s an unpleasant job, and agents need a better contract:

“While there has been a very high degree of concern among progressives about the search policies of TSA, the often brutal working conditions of 44,000 people charged with protecting our airports have largely gone unnoticed. If those conditions had received as much media attention as the search procedures they are charged with implementing, it’s possible America’s newly unionized airport screeners might have had a first contract by now.”

Damn those selfish Americans!

Damn them for thinking that TSA agents are making money by subjecting Americans to unwarranted abuse in the name of insipid security theater!

Damn them for thinking that TSA agents across America are drunk with power, largely incompetent to conduct their mostly symbolic job, and subject to very little scrutiny from a mostly canine news mediaOh, won’t somebody think of the gropers?

My comment over at Popehat:

“TSA agents are telling the truth about being assaulted,”

Since citizens are threatened with arrest for merely videotaping (even though it’s permitted by TSA rules), don’t you think they’d be arrested for actually assaulting those who sexually assault us?

It’s amazing to me that we are expected to stand there quietly and compliantly as our government gropes our breasts, vaginas, buttocks, and testicles. Take the way-back machine for a second. It’s 1999. If a government employee did this to you, would you 1. Deck him or her or, 2. stand there quietly and wait for it to be over?

Now, I’m not violent; merely hostile, but I can’t fathom how people just stand there quietly, saying nothing, as this happens for no other reason than to provide a source of income for low-wage-earning Americans and to train the rest of us to be compliant in the face of having our civil liberties yanked from us.

“Oh, won’t somebody think of the gropers?!”

(Photo: U.S. Coast Guard/Flickr)

Is VIPR worth the trouble?

Are the aggressive “security” actions of the Department of Homeland Security through its TSA and VIPR teams disproportionate to the existing threat?

I believe they are. Grossly disproportionate, as a matter of fact.

Let’s start with a brief analysis of the threat: There have been three known attempts to down an aircraft over the U.S. in the last ten years — via Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber”; Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber”; and via printer cartridges sent from Yemen in the cargo.

During that same time there were 106.8 billion passenger and cargo flights departing globally. Three divided by 106,800,000,000 equals . . . there are so many zeroes after the decimal point that the number, in practical terms, is meaningless.

Furthermore, there has been one known attempt at a non-airplane target in the U.S. within the last ten years (if you don’t include the Texas man who flew his plane into an IRS building as a “protest,” killing himself and two others) — the Times Square bomber. While there have been a handful of trumpeted “disrupted” plots, those all were tainted by FBI involvement bordering on entrapment and therefore cannot be considered viable threats.

There is no one statistic to put these facts in perspective. But consider the following:

• During the decade there were approximately 180,000 college and professional sports games (football, baseball, hockey, basketball). No terrorist attacks.

• There are approximately 102,200 shopping malls in the US. Over the past decade that would provide 373.2 million opportunities (at one per day) for mayhem. While there are many crimes at malls, there have been no terrorist attacks.

• In the last decade rail has transported over 5.4 billion passengers over nearly 6.8 billion miles.  There have been no terrorist attacks.

For these potential “soft targets,” risk is mathematically impossible to quantify because of the zero divisor in the equation.

With the billions upon billions of opportunities for attacks, the fact that none have happened leads a rational person to conclude that the risk is so small as to fall into a category that also includes dying from an alien attack, a meteorite collision, or the Mayan calendar end-of-the-world scenario.

So now let’s see what the government’s reaction to this level of threat has been. In the face of the risk as covered above, the DHS/TSA has responded with the following:

  • Electronic (and occasionally physical) strip-searching of large swaths of the air-traveling public, even though it has been reported that “current backscatter and millimeter wave scanners installed by the TSA are unable to screen adequately for security threats inside turbans, hijab, burqas, casts, prosthetics, and loose clothing.”
  • Physical pat-downs that in any setting except for arrest or conviction would be considered sexual assault. Causality in these cases is questionable at best. There is no research that supports the statement that a person’s need to have a medical assistive device, for example, is positively correlated to a predilection for violence.
  • Increased VIPR teams in response to . . . nothing.
  • Increased public relations campaigns that currently include messages that assault travelers in over a million domestic hotel rooms, at Wal-Mart and at NHL games. These are in response to . . . nothing.
  • Provision of millions of dollars to militarize local police departments and to provide anti-terrorist equipment. The latest example of this anti-terrorism equipment sounds like fantasy: 17 snow-cone machines, one of which was purchased for the West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, an agency responsible for managing and administering the homeland security program in Montcalm County, Michigan.
  • TSA screeners that over and over again disprove TSA Administrator John Pistole’s assertion that this group is composed of “professional and highly trained” personnel.
  • There were 54 criminal actions committed by 62 TSA employees reported in 2011. Those are only the ones that we know of. With a work force numbering 60,000, that correlates with a crime rate of 90 per 100,000. That statistic compares to an average rape statistic for 2009 of 41.7. While the overall crime rate of TSA workers is less than that of any reported city, I question whether we should be comfortable having anyone but the most honorable people searching bags or being able to see through our clothes or touch our bodies, including the most private parts.
  • The TSA continues to allow its employees to engage in questionable practices, such as confiscating a single iced cupcake, issuing orders contrary to stated TSA website instructions, disallowing free speech, and engaging in threatening behavior for people merely wishing to travel.

The above incidents, together with the over $1.1 trillion estimated as spent, make up the costs of these efforts at securing the country in terms of both personal inconvenience/assault and money. Those costs don’t include the $85 billion annually and the 900,000 jobs not offered due to the burden associated with current air-related security procedures.

In both economic and human terms, the U.S. response to 9/11 has been exceptionally expensive.

The risk of ideologically based violence — which is the way I have tried to discriminate between normal criminal activity and the emotionally charged term “terrorism” — in no way justifies the costs we have borne. That the DHS and TSA continue to increase their scope and footprint based upon the thinnest strand of risk defies reason.

We reached the law of diminishing returns years ago, with the advent of hardened cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers will no longer silently submit to an attack. Those two things alone have made us safer.

To indulge the DHS in more and more funding, for more and more exercises in domestic visibility for which we have no identified threat, is something we can scarcely afford – neither in terms of actual dollars nor in terms of our cultural fabric and principles.

Sporadic, unannounced, and unwarranted searches are a fixture of totalitarian regimes, not of a country that espouses liberty and justice. We have been using a single extraordinary event — an attack ten years ago — as a convenient excuse to broaden into a police state.

Such behavior circumvents the Constitution. It circumvents the civil liberties on which we have, at least in words, based our principles. And it has enabled the human rights violations that we have committed by invading other countries.

Have we had enough yet?

(Photo: Terry Freedman/Flickr)

New Year’s resolutions: 12 things the TSA shouldn’t do in 2012

I’ve noticed that our friends at the TSA haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions yet, at least not publicly, so as I thought I’d help the federal agency charged with the challenging task of protecting our transportation systems.

You know, as a public service.

Here are 12 things the TSA should stop doing in 2012.

No more body scans.
The TSA’s pricey and controversial body scanners, which are being deployed across the country, are an invasion of privacy and an unacceptable health risk. Many American oppose their use. Isn’t it time for the TSA to admit they’re a failure and try something else?

Stay off our streets.
The TSA is here for one reason, and one reason alone: To stop another 9/11 from happening. Its expansion to subway stations and other public areas is a costly and unnecessary step that no one asked for. This is the year to end the ill-conceived VIPR program once and for all.

Quit pocketing our money.
Harassed air travelers left a lot of loose change at checkpoints — an estimated $376,480 in 2010. And guess who kept it? That’s right, the TSA. But it isn’t the agency’s money (one Congressman wants to funnel it to the USO, which isn’t a bad idea). It’s your money. The TSA has no business taking it.

Stop calling your screeners officers.
It’s a little known fact that TSA employees have zero law enforcement authority and technically shouldn’t be called officers. One Congresswoman wants to fix that. What a great idea.

Keep your hands off grandma.
It isn’t just Lenore Zimmerman, the 4-foot-11, 110-pound, grandmother who alleges she was strip-searched at JFK in late 2011. It’s a whole stack of similar cases that have stirred public outrage. Stop frisking the grannies, TSA. You’re better than that.

Enough with the special lines.
TSA’s new Pre-Check program, which selectively pre-screens certain passengers and lets them move through the security line faster, seems like a move in the right direction. But it isn’t. The elite-level frequent fliers join a growing list of others, including members of the military and airport employees, who get special screening privileges. Shouldn’t TSA be trying to find the bad guys instead of determining who the bad guys aren’t? This process-of-elimination screening is not only expensive, but puts ordinary, law-abiding air travelers at a disadvantage.

End the liquid and gel restrictions.
There’s no convincing evidence that our Starbucks lattes are going to blow up our early morning commuter flight. Let’s stop this nonsense, which has been going on for way too long and hasn’t prevented a single act of airborne terrorism. Let air travelers bring their harmless liquids on board.

Stop the shoe removals.
The TSA now allows kids 12 and under to leave their shoes on. Why not the rest of us? When’s the last time the agency caught a terrorist with explosives in his insoles? How about never?

Don’t prevent passengers from taking pictures.
Even though the TSA insists that taking snapshots of its screening areas is allowed, its “officers” apparently never got the memo. Here’s what happened to Carlos Miller last week when he tried to tape his screening. Puh-leeze!

Stop hiring criminals.
TSA’s hiring practices leave a lot to be desired. Its employees have gotten themselves into a whole lotta trouble in 2011, including some very disturbing crimes that leave you wondering: Where did they find these people? Come on.

Don’t ignore the public you’re trying to protect.
A recent White House website petition comes to mind. It only took about 30,000 verified signatures requesting the Obama administration eliminate the TSA, for Administrator John Pistole to offer a clueless rebuttal that suggests he has virtually no contact with real air travelers. How ’bout spending a little more time at the airport, John?

No more lies.
Time and again in 2011, the TSA has been caught telling lies and half-truths. They’re exhaustively documented by Bill Fisher on the TSA News Blog. The scope of the TSA’s misinformation is absolutely staggering. It’s really amazing that we believe anything the agency tells us anymore, given its record of bending facts to suit its agenda. That needs to end.

As we look ahead to 2012, the TSA is poised to become a part of how we travel, whether we fly, drive, cruise or take the train. But the agency will not make any of these common-sense reforms unless it hears from you.

So if you think this federal agency needs to make a few changes, this is a good time to let your elected representative know about it.

And if your congressional representative doesn’t do anything, well, you’re in luck — it’s an election year.

(Photo: Ludie Cochrane/Flickr)

What really happens when the TSA finds explosives?

What happens when the TSA finds explosives on a passenger, as it recently did?

Because explosive materials come in a variety of shapes and forms, it’s almost impossible to identify it with the x-ray machine.

Explosives can look like a notebook, computer cord, a pack of sliced ham, and yes, even cupcakes.

The x-ray image itself is a computer-generated image in shades of grey that the software displays as shades of orange colors for organic materials; while inorganic materials such as metals, some plastics, a brick, and other chemicals are displayed as shades of green and blue.

A cowboy’s belt buckle or a loaded gun shown from its side will display as solid black, as x-rays are totally blocked off. A bag check and visual inspection are usually called for.

So what happens when a bag is stopped by the x-ray operator, or during a random check for a closer inspection?

A typical sequence of resolution will play as follows:

✔ After a visual inspection, the suspect bag will be swiped first along the handles and tested with the Explosive Threat Detection machine (ETD), an initial reading that may save an operator’s life, before he gets more nosy and the bag explodes on his face. Then the inner seams of the bag are swiped to look for any explosive residue, and finally, the suspected item is swiped and the swipe loaded again in the ETD machine for a final analysis. Explosive residue is known to last for several weeks on exposed areas, even on the handler’s hands after multiple washings.

✔ If the ETD machine alarms, as in the case of the North Carolina man, the supervisor is immediately called to conduct a second reading. Should the alarm persist, the supervisor then calls for the Bomb Appraiser Officers (BAO). A full body pat-down is then conducted on the passenger, a physical and an explosive test is conducted on all of his belongings, and an interview is initiated by the Behavior Detection Officers (BDO).

✔ If the BAO tests prove positive, law enforcement officers are called to the scene and the passenger is handcuffed. Having watched many such situations, I’ve seen that the passenger is usually determined to be a military man or a military contractor who has either come across explosive material or inadvertently forgotten a sample explosive in one of his bags or in his pocket.

The problem with this procedure is that it happens way too often, as many household chemicals, and most aftershaves, perfumes, and hand lotions trigger the same alarm.

(Photo: Andy Field /Flickr)

How the TSA lied to us in 2011: a retrospective

The TSA produced a wearying stream of misinformation and outright lies in 2011.

The agency, led by Chief Propagandist Blogger Bob and Terror Minister John Pistole, have proven consistent in avoiding the truth at every opportunity. Even Department of Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano occasionally joined the fun by offering her own version of TSA misinformation.

As the first full year of TSA assault and abuse comes to a close, it seems appropriate to recount some of its more notable untruths.

In a prelude of the coming transformation in airport security, Pistole led with an ominous statement in November 17, 2010, saying: “We’ve adjusted our pat-down policy that is informed by the latest intelligence,” acknowledging that the procedures “may challenge our social norms.”

Ironically he used the same words on July 6, 2011 to describe TSA policies and terrorist objectives, while fear-mongering about the possibility of surgically implanted bombs:

We see this as the latest iteration or the evolution of what terrorist groups are trying to do to circumvent our security layers and to perhaps defeat our societal norms.

“Challenge” turned to “defeat” at one go. Apparently the comparison of TSA to Al-Qaeda went unnoticed by the administrator.

Early in the 2010 fear campaign the TSA was roundly criticized for their assaults on innocent children. In an attempt to assuage public ire, they issued a statement in November 2010, saying that these procedures would be adjusted for children.

Unfortunately, other children were groped in Salt Lake City that same month, and in Minneapolis in March 2011. These incidents prompted yet another official statement in April saying, again, that the TSA was adjusting screening procedures for children.

Alas, no sooner was the keyboard cold than another rash of child-groping videos made it to the internet, garnering even more attention. The most notable was that of a 6-year-old girl in New Orleans, which was soon joined by another report of a 3-year-old girl in Philadelphia.

As the media furor over the 6-year old began to quell, TSA again found itself targeted by Congress and the media over another pat-down, this time involving a baby in Kansas City. This inevitably led to TSA reiterating yet the same statement in May, which by now had become as trite and meaningless as their tiresome statements about treating passengers “with respect and dignity.”

When summer vacation season arrived, TSA again was featured groping other children, resulting in the arrest of one woman, Andrea Fornella Abbott, in July for refusing to allow the screener to grope her 14-year-old daughter, which they did anyway.

In August, some poor child whose parent was foolish enough to allow him to wear a Spiderman costume while going through security received a TSA frisking which resulted in yet another repeat of the we’re-changing-procedures-for-children tale in September, this time from Frau Napolitano.

In a telling statement by Justice Department, attorney Beth Brinkmann stated that the TSA “has authority to literally strip search people,” which she suggested would likely result in a huge public outcry. Sadly it didn’t. Remarkably, other strip searches remained largely unreported, including that of an autistic man publicly humiliated in March at Boston Logan, and a 97-year-old woman in July at in Los Angeles.

These assaults continued and included the handcuffing and removal of a Toledo woman, Shoshana Hebshi, from a flight mid-route on 9/11/11, followed by six hours of interrogation and a strip search. This incident at least made headlines, with the TSA avoiding public statement except for blaming local police for the search. TSA nonetheless felt obliged to distract attention from the 9/11 overreactions by again announcing they would stop groping “most kids” in November 2011.

In their most recent truth-fail TSA denied strip-searching a 84-year-old Dolores Zimmerman, along with two other women, then revised the statement to say that they thought her back brace — which TSA’s own policy says is not to be removed — was a money belt and “mistakenly” forced her out of it, along with her underwear and dignity.

The TSA continues to contend that a search, if a passenger is still wearing a sock, isn’t technically a strip search.

While the TSA has been arrogantly dismissive of public and Congressional criticism, Blogger Bob was at least taken to task for publicly lying by Amtrak Police Chief John O’Connor after denying that departing passengers, including a 9-year-old boy, were searched in the Amtrak station after they got off their train in Savannah.

O’Connor publicly said that the “facts” as posted on the TSA blog were incorrect, adding that the TSA blog stated that Amtrak had approved of the operation, while it had not. He called the TSA’s posting “inaccurate and insensitive.” He said the TSA had apologized repeatedly to him, but that they must agree to firm restrictions before he will consider allowing them back on Amtrak property.  CBS News, however, reports that the TSA is already invading Union Station in Los Angeles.

While in the midst of an eventful March, TSA found itself accused by none other than the Government Accountability Office for misrepresenting the cost of TSA screeners compared to the private screeners whom Pistole had effectively banned in January, saying he does “not see any advantage” to offering a private sector option.

On May 7, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano responded when asked whether airline security will ever “get past the grab-and-grope phase,” that:

Well, actually, very, very, very few people get a pat-down. It’s only under very limited circumstances.

As it turns out over 60,000 people a day are harassed and molested TSA’s direction. Of that, 20,000 are subjected to this groping at random, without any rational security basis for this harassment.

TSA claims to inspect 100% of baggage while ignoring that 60% of the cargo in airliner holds is uninspected, some of this originating from foreign shippers. When it became apparent that the agency would not meet its self-imposed deadline for 100% freight screening deadline, the TSA scrapped the idea, three weeks after insisting it would stand. The agency rationalized that they would now focus on a “risk-based” approach rather than the full screening it previously claimed was essential.

The agency publicly stated in June that taking photos and videos is permitted at checkpoints, subject to local regulations. This policy is also articulated on the TSA website. Meanwhile dozens of reports and videos on You Tube show screeners routinely interfering with recordings.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, complaints about TSA screening jumped this year. TSA logged 1,975 screening complaints in June alone, more than double the 814 received in June 2010. TSA then followed up with a propaganda piece in Bloomberg, stating:

The BGOV Barometer shows that consumer complaints about the TSA last month were down 59 percent from a May 2004 peak. In September, they dipped to 1,418, the lowest since record-keeping began seven years ago, according to data provided by the TSA and the Department of Transportation, and compiled by Bloomberg.

This claim was subsequently refuted by reports from US News and US Travel Association, both of which indicated that nearly half of travelers avoid air travel because of security procedures.

In a recent display of the alternative reality TSA occupies, the agency says no security violations existed at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, despite video evidence of lax security exposed by an Atlanta television station.

2011 also saw the expansion of the use of the scanners as a primary device. TSA termed these devices “Whole Body Imaging” scanners since their introduction in 2006, but in 2011 euphemistically renamed them “Advanced Imaging Technology” scanners to make them appear less invasive.

The scanners were approved for use as a secondary screening device by Congress in 2008. But the TSA convinced the Obama Administration in 2010 that it was imperative that these and the new “enhanced pat downs” be used as primary screening protocols.

In a preview of the misinformation to follow, a Forbes article reported that documents show that as early as 2006 the Department of Homeland Security has been planning pilot programs to deploy mobile scanning units that can be set up at public events and in train stations, along with mobile x-ray vans capable of scanning pedestrians on city streets. A TSA official responded in a statement that the “TSA has not tested the advanced imaging technology that is currently used at airports in mass transit environments and does not have plans to do so.”

After further questioning, though, the TSA issued a contradictory response that admits to cases of testing the scans on train passengers.

In response to the growing public outcry over the airport scanners that had been fomenting as early as 2007, TSA went on a mission of obfuscation and deception, repeatedly portraying the images as chalk images that TSA claimed could be shown to schoolchildren.

TSA’s Blogger Bob insisted:

We wanted to clear up another bit of misinformation. This is a raw backscatter image with NO privacy algorithm. This is NOT what security officers see – this image was used to show what the capabilities of the technology are.

He neglected to mention that the image was that of Susan Hallowell, Director of TSA Research Labs, posing for the first backscatter images in 2009. At the time it was said that the agency was trying to “find a way to modify the machines with an electronic fig leaf — programming that fuzzes out sensitive body parts.”  As we all later learned, the backscatter scanners have lacked any privacy algorithm since their deployment, and none will be available until 2012, if then.

Of course, the earlier technical images that had permeated the internet refuted the TSA’s original claim, but it wasn’t until August, when Denver TSA Director Pat Ahlstrom admitted that the images were indeed “very graphic,” that TSA abandoned its statement. Instead, the agency promoting its ATR software on the millimeter wave scanners, while conveniently failing to mention that the Rapiscan units — the backscatter, or x-ray scanners — still produce a naked image.

The TSA may have misled the public into believing that the privacy software exists at all checkpoints, while they continue to have male workers view the nude images of men, women, and children. The mainstream media has apparently decided to play along with the TSA, welcoming the deployment of these ATR scanners as if it were free pizza while ignoring the privacy and safety issues of the 250 x-ray scanners in 40 U.S. airports, including LAX, JFK, O’Hare, Orlando, Boston, and Phoenix.

The TSA has not said when ATR will be installed on the backscatter machines.

Although TSA has repeatedly stated that the scanners were “incapable of storing or transmitting” scanner images, despite specification data to the contrary provided by the respective manufacturers. In August 2010 EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center) discovered that the TSA had stored over 2,000 images, which the agency quickly claimed were of “volunteers” without specifying who compose this group or whether any were passengers who had “voluntarily” used the scanners in the testing phase.

They concealed information about safety testing of the scanners as early as February, refusing to provide safety data to Congress despite having promised the information two months earlier. The EPIC lawsuit revealed in March that scanner radiation levels were 10 times higher than TSA indicated due to miscalculations in the report. TSA then attempted to deflect the issue by promulgating another statement that month saying that “there is no significant threat of radiation from the scans.”  Then in May they decided to check their own work again and announced, to no one’s surprise, that the scanners were still “safe”.

John Pistole told Congress as recently as November that the scanners would be independently tested, yet he again reneged, saying that he deems the scanners safe, despite evidence that the tests had been rigged to make the backscatter scanners appear safe and did not test the same scanners currently deployed, only a prototype. The sloppy nature of the test was further demonstrated when test data obtained in a FOIA disclosure revealed significant calculation errors.

Meanwhile, millions of passengers continue to be digitally strip-searched and irradiated by these devices despite radiologic evidence that these could cause over 100 cancer deaths a year.

Contrary to TSA expectations that the scanner controversy would die down, this month the Broward (Fla.) County Commission asked the TSA to consider removing backscatter scanners from the Fort Lauderdale airport unless the agency can prove the machines are safe.

The agency seems to have developed an institutional culture of deceit and evasion. In the absence of action by Congress or an agency-wide dose of Sodium Pentothal, travelers can expect more of the same from TSA in 2012.

(Photo: jessie fish/Flickr)