TSA: Still a Menace

A roundup of some annoying Transportation Security Agency (TSA) news and thoughts:

*Wired has an article raising concerns about the safety of the "advanced imaging technology" full exposure machines the TSA is now using. Highlights:

Of concern...health critics are the backscatter X-ray body scanners produced by Rapiscan Systems.... They constitute about half of the AIT machines deployed.

Unlike the competing millimeter-wave technology produced by L-3 Communications, the $180,000 Rapiscan machines expose travelers to a small X-ray dose. The TSA and Rapiscan say the machines are safe. But in an April letter to the White House, [John] Sedat [a biochem and biophysics prof at U Cal San Francisco] and fellow UCSF academics argued the government did not adequately study the backscatter X-ray devices. The TSA has ordered 500 of the Rapiscan devices at about $180,000 each. About 250 of them are already in use across the country....

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which analyzed the Rapiscan 1000, insists the machines are perfectly safe. But:

Sedat counters that the mechanical beam’s intensity level has not been published, making it impossible to evaluate the safety claims. “I want a real hard number in terms of photons per some unit of area,” he said. “The one physical quantity that is crucial for determining what dose a person is getting, that data is missing.”

Moreover, standard medical X-ray machines disperse radiation throughout the body, whereas the airport scanners penetrate to about skin level. That means there is a high concentration of radiation on a single organ — the skin — which was not accounted for in the Johns Hopkins report, Sedat said.

The “correct way” to test any such technology, he said, is to use mice “and appropriate tissue-culture cells and see if there is a biological response.”

“That kind of stuff has never been done,” he said.

And a little political science toward the end:

Rapiscan and its parent OSI Systems, and their subcontractors have donated a combined $1.75 million to federal politicians in the past decade, according to data provided by the MapLight Foundation, of Berkeley, California. Rapiscan and OSI also spent $2.2 million in lobbying from 1998 to 2010, MapLight found. (Here is spreadsheet for political and lobbying expenditures (.xls) for L-3 Communications and for Rapiscan-OSI.)

*Andy Greenberg at Forbes on supposed TSA plans to extend their all-seeing see-through eyes beyond just air travel:

Newly uncovered 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.

The non-profit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Wednesday published documents it obtained from the Department of Homeland Security showing that from 2006 to 2008 the agency planned a study of of new anti-terrorism technologies that EPIC believes raise serious privacy concerns. The projects range from what the DHS describes as “a walk through x-ray screening system that could be deployed at entrances to special events or other points of interest” to “covert inspection of moving subjects” employing the same backscatter imaging technology currently used in American airports.

The 173-page collection of contracts and reports, acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request, includes contracts with Siemens Corporations, Northeastern University, and Rapiscan Systems. The study was expected to cost more than $3.5 million.

One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements....

The TSA told Forbes: "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.”

*...but the TSA is already doing the intrusive patdown version of the test on train passengers on occasion, as see this account from Savannah, Georgia:

Lt. Brian Gamble, 38, of Leesburg, Florida, posted video of the incident on YouTube. And the TSA is now apologizing.

[Brian] Gamble...was bringing a small group that included other firefighters and policemen to Savannah for a Valentine's Day getaway. They were among 30 or 40 people getting off the train when he says TSA officers ordered everyone into the terminal.

"They sent us all into a roped-off holding area and said 'Y'all are going to be searched,'" Gamble says. "We were getting off the train. This didn't make sense."

Once in the area, the group was guarded while TSA officers began doing what Gamble says were "intrusive"pat-downs.

When he saw a family with young kids in the lineup, he took out his camera and started filming. He does not know the identity of the family....

Nearing the front of the line for his own search, Gamble complained to a TSA supervisor but says he was told to calm down. "They wouldn't give us an explanation for the search."....

the TSA took to its blog over the weekend to explain what happened.

The TSA's Blogger Bob writes that what the Savannah train passengers encountered is known as a VIPR operation, a randomized search "where anyone entering an impacted area has to be screened."....

Gamble's video (without which the TSA would likely have not explained themselves at all):

*...and the TSA isn't very good at their ostensible jobs, as someone gets through screening with three box cutters (you all remember box cutters, don't you) on a flight leaving JFK in New York for the Dominican Republic. (This is not meant to imply I even agree box cutters should be forbidden from flights absolutely. Just to point out we are getting lots of theater without even much of the "security" that's supposed to come with it.)

Reason has been on the TSA's case for a long time, as see this classic February 2004 cover story, "Dominate. Intimidate. Control."

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  • Montani Semper Liberi||

    Wow, the company that makes the machines is really called Rapiscan? That has to be joke.

  • ||

    I'm now convinced there's some tweedy, bow-tied, amoral prankster sitting in a little office somewhere in Washington, D.C., coming up with this stuff while he sits and eats his sack lunch. The same guy who thought up the name, "U.S.A. P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act".

  • cynical||

    Where did you think "rapescan" came from?

  • ||

    iirc, the disparaging terms were "porno-scan" and "rape-search" (in reference to the patdowns).

    Rapiscan is probably a particularly clumsy attempt to evoke "rapid scan".

  • ||

    They were among 30 or 40 people getting off the train when he says TSA officers ordered everyone into the terminal.

    Did TSA manage to explain why searching people after they got off a train was part of their portfolio?

  • Almanian||

    It's a need to know issue sir, and you don't need to know.

    Now please comply before things ...escalate. We wouldn't want you to be late for whatever it is you're doing...

  • ||

    "Gamble complained to a TSA supervisor but says he was told to calm down."

    Makes you wonder just how agitated he was, when the supervisor told him to calm down.

  • Brian Doherty||

    RC--Their explanation, such as it is, is in the blockquote before the video: "The TSA's Blogger Bob writes that what the Savannah train passengers encountered is known as a VIPR operation, a randomized search "where anyone entering an impacted area has to be screened."....

  • Almanian||

    Shorter TSA - "impacted area = searching people wherever the fuck we want"

  • ||

    So, I thought the justification for TSA searches without warrants or probable cause was that they were voluntary, in the sense that you could always decline them and travel a different way.

    I don't see that here. How does a train passenger leaving the train decline to enter the train terminal?

  • ||

    I wonder what would happen if you said no to the search? Especially for those whom were at their destination. The TSA could make a stink about it, probably have you arrested but I don't think they would win in court because they were no longer a danger to the train, thus the safety of the train would not be an issue.

  • Rrabbit||

    The TSA corralled them there. I'd like to see a criminal investigation against all government employees that participated in this illegal operation.
    Yes, I know that won't happen.

  • Michael||

    ...known as a VIPR operation...

    You've got to be fucking kidding me. How soon before the TSA work rules mandate that they're all issued stun grenades?

  • Russ 2000||

    You can't blow up Savannah until you get INTO Savannah.

  • TSA Blogger Bob||

    WE DO NOT HAVE TO EXPLAIN OURSELVES TO YOU. VIPR OPERATION IMPORTANT TO KEEP YANKEE DOGS OUT OF BAGHD GEORGIA

  • Almanian||

    TSA is back, huh?

    What, no love for the "Ground Zero Mosque" any more?

  • barfman||

    *barf*

  • ||

    Hopefully you'll have a free country like we have someday.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Gamble says he would have had no problem with such a search happening on a train

    Then he's still pretty much a statist fucktard.

  • ||

    Wait. A cop is a statist fucktard? The hell you say!

  • Fat Crack Ho||

    According to the article Reason linked to, he's a firefighter from Leesburg, Florida . . .

    http://news.travel.aol.com/201.....off-train/

  • kinnath||

    I read an article a couple of decades ago that theorized that if the US government was ever going to be overthrown it would be by some federal agency that uses its regulatory authority to bypass the legal system.

    I always figured it was going to be the IRS, but the TSA now looks like the prime candidate.

  • Zero tolerance||

    "We apologize for any inconvenience we may have caused for those passengers."

    Liars. The truly sorry would commit suicide.

  • Almanian||

    TSA means never having to say you're sorry

  • rst||

    Allegedly New Hampshire is trying to take a swipe back. TSA is a federal agency, but does that make its individual agents immune to prosecution for violating state law?

    http://www.edenfantasys.com/se.....s-0302112/

  • ||

    I posted a link to that a couple of days ago. I think it received just as many comments. Well, less if you count this one.

  • ||

    The federal government can make them immune (and retroactively so) by the mere passage of a bill...and you can bet that bill would be passed by huge majorities (for the children).

  • Russ 2000||

    Another reason to stop funding Amtrak

  • ||

    How is not funding Amtrak going to change the behavior of the TSA? The odds are they would send those security teams to other communter rail systems.

  • The Gobbler||

    "Rapiscan and its parent OSI Systems, and their subcontractors have donated a combined $1.75 million to federal politicians in the past decade, according to data provided by the MapLight Foundation, of Berkeley, California. Rapiscan and OSI also spent $2.2 million in lobbying from 1998 to 2010, MapLight found."

    To all of you Progressives out there who are promoting class warfare (Wall Street v. Main Street), the real battle is K Street v. Main Street.

  • creech||

    Just what terrorist has the TSA stopped in its existence (aside from the unknowable number who might have been deterred by the mere presence of the TSA)?

  • ||

    VIPR ? You just know that's a problem when some government agency gives themselves a name like that. Just imagine the hormones bubbling when they get ready to deploy a "VIPR" operation. (Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response)

    "HEY, get over here TSA guy, I need viping"

    http://www.tsa.gov/press/happe.....sland.shtm

  • Hugh Akston||

    One project allocated to Northeastern University and Siemens would mount backscatter x-ray scanners and video cameras on roving vans, along with other cameras on buildings and utility poles, to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements....

    Holy fucking shit!

  • ||

    What do you have to hide, Hugh?

  • Hugh Akston||

    A shocking secret. The less said the better.

  • cynical||

    His precious cells and DNA. From ionizing radiation.

  • Bohica||

    HFS indeed.

    Somehow I read that as monitoring "pedestrian asses" which I guess isn't that far from the truth.

  • The Gobbler||

    Gropes of pedestrian asses to these old eyes.

  • ||

    "" to monitor groups of pedestrians, assess what they carried, and even track their eye movements....""

    At some point the cameras will be able to get a retna scan from a good distance.

    As long as it's not a spider looking machine climbing on you, I don't think many people will complain.

  • ||

    Well, I've said before I have no problem with ubiquitous cameras in public spaces, but this goes too far if it detects hidden objects. That constitutes a search in my book and simply isn't justified outside of areas of significant danger like airport terminals.

  • ||

    The plain view doctrine doesn't apply to what's in your pocket, so expect the adaptation of a new doctrine based on national security. And the people will applaud.

  • TSA||

    Ahhh...see, you make mistake. Walking is transporting yourself from one place to another. We have authority. Sucker.

    We're winning. Again.

  • Valhawk||

    As a student at Northeastern I'm shocked and appalled that the university I attend would take part in such hideously unconstitutional and obviously fascistic project. I'm going to spread the word around and see if some pressure can be applied to the administration.

  • MRK||

    Its not the terrorists that make me afraid to fly, its the TSA.

  • Rrabbit||

    Of course those machines are safe. Billions of taxpayers' money are paid out to the companies that produce those machines. That is the definition of "safe", isn't it?

  • ||

    "Reason has been on the TSA's case for a long time, as see this classic February 2004 cover story, "Dominate. Intimidate. Control.""

    With all do respect, fat lot of good its doing.

    I've personally been the potential victim of two terrorist bombings in the 1970s and frankly I'm more afraid of my government than I am of Al Queda.

    The terrorists have won, they have our government doing their dirty work.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    I've personally been the potential victim of two terrorist bombings in the 1970s

    Unabomber?

  • ||

    Pretty sure the govt enjoys doing that dirty work. It's a perverse sort of "good cop bad cop"...the terrorists enjoy watching America decline, and the government enjoys getting new powers which no one (who matters) will question their use of once they say the magic word "terrorism".

  • ||

    ""The terrorists have won, they have our government doing their dirty work."'

    As a whole, we are not going to do anything about it. Well, except for fighting about which team, blue or red, will lead the way.

  • Scott||

    My grandfather (78 at the time, and a Korean War vet) was put on the Terrorist Watch List because his luggage ended up being taken by one plane to Nova Scotia (his intended destination) while the flight he was supposed to take got canceled due to a sudden storm. I feel so safe now.

  • ||

    When will Congress act to get this agency under control? This situation has become so bad that States such as NH are resorting to local legislation to protect their citizens from this agency. It is imperative that TSA becomes focused on effective security and stop engaging in these absurd and unduly intrusive theatrics. This continued misdirection of resources are providing an open invitation for another 9/11 style tragedy.

    The incessant reports of security lapses, crimes and abuses are a dire warning that there will be consequences for pursuing theater at the expense of security. There have been six reports of TSA failure and abuse in the past week alone!

    • The Rep Cissna incident in Seattle where she refused to expose a breast prosthetic.
    • The frisking of a 9 year-old and his family in Savannah after they got off of a train
    • The TSA failure to find a handgun five times at a DFW checkpoint/
    • The Buffalo TSO was arrested for drug trafficking,
    • Three box cutters that made it aboard an aircraft at JFK this weekend.
    • The 27 screeners under investigation in HNL (3% of staff) for failure to screen bags.

    In the past four months one teen has died, there have been four arrests or convictions for TSO theft from passengers, thousands of groping and theft complaints and five incidents of weapons getting through security. What will TSA accomplish in twelve months?

    When will Congress act to get this agency under control? The TSA situation has become so bad that States such as NH, NJ, and CA are resorting to local legislation to protect their citizens from this agency. It is distressing that State and local governments must resort to their own measures to protect passengers from abuses by the Federal government that is charged with protecting citizen civil and human rights.

    It is imperative that TSA becomes focused on effective security and cease these absurd and unduly intrusive theatrics. These misguided policies and waste of resources are providing an open invitation for another 9/11 style tragedy. These reports are a dire warning that TSA is making us more vulnerable and are responsible for more crimes than they have prevented.

  • ||

    When was the last time this Lt. Gamble complained when one of his local cops illegally searched someone at a fire he was responding to? Or the last time they smashed someone's phone who was recording them? Or took someone into custody without charging them?

    I wonder if he got all butthurt about a cop in his town (Douglas Skipworth) who shot his ex-wife twice in an attempt to kill her, yet served only a few months for aggrevated assault?

    Maybe he's always been sincere, but those who work in public safety rarely, if ever, bitch about abuse until they are a victim.

  • fuck you tsa||

    Freeeeeeeeedddooooom.

  • Nine-year-old Boy||

    Dad, how come that perv was grabbing my weenie?

  • ||

    'cause that's what it takes to keep ALL our weenies safe, son.

  • Nike Dunk High Women||

    thanks

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