TSA Body Scanners "Aren't Worth the Cost in Money—Let Alone Civil Liberties"


Writing in today's New York Post, Cato Institute legal policy analyst David Rittgers explains why the Transportation Security Administration's controversial new body scanners "aren't worth the cost in money—let alone civil liberties."

Air travelers now face a few bad choices: Submit to the body scanner, endure an invasive manual pat-down or accept an $11,000 civil fine. This is security theater at its finest. Congress needs to revisit these protocols completely—starting with a total halt to the obscenely expensive and jarringly ineffective full-body scanner.

Despite what their proponents would have us believe, body scanners are not some magical tool to find all weapons and explosives that can be hidden on the human body. Yes, the scanners work against high-density objects such as guns and knives—but so do traditional magnetometers.

And the scanners fare poorly against low-density materials such as thin plastics, gels and liquids. Care to guess what [Christmas bomber Farouk] Abdulmutallab's bomb was made of? The Government Accountability Office reported in March that it's not clear that a scanner would've detected that device.

Read the whole thing here. Read James Bovard's classic Reason account of the TSA's sorry record right here.

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  1. let alone civil liberties

    Sing it, brother! Freedom is for rednecks.

    A competition-nourishing airport nudie scan voucher program will bring those costs down.

  2. You know, the Capitol qualifies as a high profile target; the White House, too. I think, in the interest of my peace of mind, EVERYONE entering that building should be subject to at least the level of scrutiny as they would be upon entering an airport concourse.

  3. No problem…you’ll be allowed to keep your own groper under this plan!

  4. You’re willing to sacrifice your freedom for my peace of mind, aren’t you, Mister President? Madame Speaker? Congressman Frank? Senator McCain?

    Come on, what’s a little inconvenience, compared to making America feel all warm inside?

    1. And mandatory, random drug testing, damnit! Running this country is too important to be left to stoners.

  5. Repeating from yesterday’s thread —

    Can someone explain airport security to me at all?

    Ignore the fact that the security doesnt work, why do we care about securing airports so much? We now know how to prevent planes being used as weapons. Closed, reinforced cockpits and “Lets roll” stop that. So now the worst the terrorists could do is take down one plane and kill 100-200 people. There are lots of easier ways to kill 200 (or more) people. Bomb in security line at airport during peak hours, for one. Bomb in stadium of college football game. Etc, etc.

    So why the big freakin deal about securing airplanes? After 9/11 it was important to change things to prevent that kind of attack, but thats done, so whats the deal?

    1. Yeah I’ll have a go…but I yield my time time Col. Nathan Jessup!

      What? So a few prissy travelers in their fancy business suits think I’m invading THEIR privacy? That’s funny! That’s a joke!

      You want the truth? You want the TRUTH!? You can’t handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has airports, and those airports have to be guarded by men with latex gloves. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, Mr. Jillette?

      I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom! You weep for your groped genitals and you curse the TSA. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that the groping of your private parts, while tragic, probably saves lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives!

      You don’t want the truth, because deep down in places you don’t talk about on your blogs and on Twitter, you want me in that airport! You need me in your underwear! We use words like “bend over”, “spread ’em”, “cop a feel”. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something.

      You use them as a punchline!

      I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a country that rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very safety that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it! I would rather you just said “Thank you,” grabbed a tissue to wipe your tears, and went on your way.

      Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a body cavity search kit, and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to!

      You fuckin’ people. You have no idea how to defend an airport. All you’ll do with your National Opt Out Day is weaken the illusion of safety that I provide. That’s all you’ll do. You’ll put people’s lives in danger.

      Sweet dreams, son.

      Clear now?

      H/T Three O’clock in the Morning

    2. You seem to understand the situation well enough already.

      Go read Bruce Schneier’s blog or subscribe to his newsletter. He dissects this nonsense repeatedly. You’ll enjoy it.

      1. Im familiar with Schneier’s work. That doesnt answer my question.

        1. Really? Because I think his answer, essentially, is that (1) that’s where they attacked before, (2) the motivation of those in charge of security is to cover their asses, not actually prevent an attack, and (3) usual stuff about humans having lousy ability to assess risk.

          Since planes were used before, that is the one thing that the government is expected to be able to prevent, so they put all their effort into that never happening again.

          If the terrorists attack elsewhere, no big deal, because no one expects them to be able to prevent that.

          You and I know this is senseless.

    3. There is a side effect to taking down an airplane. You make people afraid to fly. You don’t have to take down many airplanes to make people decide it is not worth the risk. The purpose is not so much to kill the 200 but terrorize everyone else who flies.

      Of course TSA’s solution is to terrorize everyone into only flying unless it is absolutely necessary. That way at least no one gets hurt.

      And in all seriousness, if I can get onto an airport, I can potentially place bombs and such in planes and I don’t even have to kill myself to take them down. We do need airport security just not this nonsense.

      1. There is a side effect to blowing up a football stadium. You make people afraid to attend football. And its a hell of a lot easier to get into a football stadium.

        1. True. Why are enemies are obsessed with planes I don’t know. But they seem to be. We are very lucky in our enemies.

          1. It was clear to me that they werent interesting in killing people.

            9/11 did a poor job of maximizing deaths – hitting the Big House and Neyland on a saturday where they both had home games would have done a much better job of that.

            Its clear they were aiming for finances and/or some symbolic American site. Which is now not possible via plane, shoe/underwear bomb only take down a plane.

            1. My theory is that they believed in a real life cargo cult. They saw the World Trade Center buildings and thought that they really were responsible for world trade rather than being the white elephants they were. I think they honestly thought that blowing up the World Trade Center would bring down the economy. The were obsessed with the buildings. They tried to blow them up twice in a ten year period.

              And you are right, it was a very inefficient way to kill people. Even if you couldn’t hijack the planes on a Saturday afternoon, crashing them into Times Square would have probably killed more people.

              1. The Twin Towers would have yielded a higher body count if the assholes realized that New Yorkers don’t get to work that early.

            2. And you see how many planes they are flying into buildings in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

              If you want to kill a lot of people, strap on a bomb and walk/drive into a crowded area. No plane necessary.

        2. There was this moron in Chapel Hill who wanted to get a gun and kill people, but he couldn’t, so he rented an SUV and tried to drive over people.

          I think that the negative publicity against SUVs saved lives by convincing that jihadist chump.

    4. People are fucking idiots. The only thing preventing another terrorist attack is that we either killed every intelligent member of Al Qaeda, or they think it’s more hilarious to watch us destroy ourselves than to act.

  6. “”And the scanners fare poorly against low-density materials such as thin plastics, gels and liquids.””

    Perhaps some clothes made out of the proper materials will prevent the scanner from seeing anything.

  7. The Government Accountability Office reported in March that it’s not clear that a scanner would’ve detected that device.

    Let’s not forget that these scanners don’t detect anything; they just produce an image. Its the highly-trained and motivated TSAer behind the desk that does the detecting.

    So, I would say the odds of this system detecting any sophisticated device are pretty close to nil.

    1. It is no different than the x-ray machines that they run your bags through. It really hard to sit for more than a few minutes and inspect bags. You get bored and start missing things. The human brain just isn’t cut out to do that, unless you suffer from some kind of autism. Honestly, there is a class of mentally disabled people who would be fabulous at it. But hiring them to inspect bags is just way too out of the box for people to accept.

      With normal people doing it, it is very ineffective. TSA tests its security all the time. And they routinely get stuff through. They just don’t like to talk about that.

      1. No kidding. After taking my overnight bag in my auto on a week-long fishing vacation, I unthinkingly repacked it for a plane trip without taking everything out first. When I got to Houston from MPLS-St. Paul, I found my fillet knife with a 9-inch blade inside. That object could not have looked like anything other than a knife, or maybe an exceptionally long ice pick, through the X-ray machine, and yet the person reading the image missed it.

        This was before 9/11, but the bag-scanning procedure then was the same as now.

    2. Considering the ratio of over-sized liquids Ive had taken at checkpoints, they do a piss-poor job.

      Over the last year, about 50/50.

      1. The last time they caught me, it was with a 3.3 oz thing of expensive facial moisturizer. I was so pissed!

        I actually swore to not fly again until the TSA was dissolved, but now my grandpa’s not doing so well so I won’t be able to stick to my guns 🙁

  8. You don’t have to take down many airplanes to make people decide it is not worth the risk.

    Is the ultimate goal to keep people from flying? If so, the terrorists have handed off the ball, and the TSA is running with it.

    1. Exactly, if nothing else the tax increases on tickets to pay for TSA has decreased flying as much as a few planes going down would.

    2. As I said above, TSA’s solution is to terrorize everyone into not flying so the Islamists don’t have to. It is safer that way.

  9. What is the implicit “tax” represented by time wasted in airports, missed flights (and opportunities), computers cameras and other miscellaneous personal effects lost and stolen?

    As somebody said the other day, this should be a goddam goldmine for teleconferencing companies.

  10. How soon can we expect a TSA agent to “justify” his existence, in the manner of an arsonist fireman, by planting a bomb on an airplane?

    1. At some point, they’re going to have to justify having never caught a single terrorist, yet insisting that we need ever more invasive security procedures.

      I won’t be holding my breath, however.

  11. “Air travelers now face a few bad choices: Submit to the body scanner, endure an invasive manual pat-down or accept an $11,000 civil fine.”

    If nobody has noticed yet, here it goes: This is clearly a rent-seeking scheme. The fine and the pat-down are CLEARLY, CLEARLY meant to make people use the scanners, so as to justify the purchase of the machines. This is 3rd World stuff, people, the kind of schemes that Latin American and African governments run.

    1. Since our President came from what amounts to a third world government (Chicago), that makes a lot of sense. And yeah, why are they so obsessed with deploying machines that even the GAO admits don’t stop the threat? What is that mythical statement from Watergate? Follow the money. Someone is getting rich selling those machines.

      1. “”And yeah, why are they so obsessed with deploying machines that even the GAO admits don’t stop the threat?””

        DHS was gung-ho about that when Bush was in office. Not that Obama should get a pass, but let’s don’t pretend this is Obama’s doing. There’s plenty of blame to go around.

        1. I don’t think it is Obama himself. But someone within TSA is connected with someone who is getting rich selling these machines.

          1. Hell yeah. And if I remember correctly it’s L3 a defense contractor.

        1. Oh no, not former DHS honcho Michael Chertoff too!


  12. If you want to kill a lot of people, strap on a bomb and walk/drive into a crowded area. No plane necessary.

    And yet, strangely enough, there does not seem to be a proliferation of these crowd-bombing incidents. It’s almost as if the threat is not particularly great.

    1. I think that is the result of a couple of things. First, it is harder to get terrorists into the country than it is to get them into Iraq or Afghanistan. If you have a ton of willing jihadists, blowing up markets is a great way to go. If you can only get a few of them into the country, you don’t want to waste them. I think our enemies are biding their time trying to pull off something really big. If they really wanted to, they could do a suicide bombing in a shopping mall today. But they want more than that.

      Second, they don’t have a good network of bomb builders. It is harder to build a suicide bomb than you think it is. So the lone wolves who have stuck, like the dumb ass at Fort Hood, or the idiot in North Carolina, have used other methods. There has been a fair number of low level attacks, they just haven’t been bombings because they don’t have any bomb builders here. And don’t forget the failed Times Square bombing. That would have been exactly what you are talking about if the guy would have been a better bomb builder.

      1. “”Second, they don’t have a good network of bomb builders. “”

        In the US, which goes to your first point. They do have good bomb builders but they need them to fight against our troops. In that respects, fighting them over there may keep them from coming here, at least the good bomb builders. But does that mean war forever? At some point we just need to accept a level of risk and go about our business.

        1. The enemy gets a vote on things. Honestly, our choices are fight them over there forever or put up with them over here until they quit. And I don’t think they are going to quit anytime soon.

          I don’t think either side of the war debate is willing to face that fact that there are no good options.

          1. “”I don’t think either side of the war debate is willing to face that fact that there are no good options.””

            Maybe. I tend to think they do know that, and everything they are doing in the WoT is the less evil option. Including the current TSA debacle.

            1. SO you’re saying that this TSA bullshit is the less evil option to flying with all of those terrorists that have taken down planes since 9/11?

              I mean, all of those terrorists they didn’t catch and who were able to reek havok.

              I mean all of those terrorists that are sure to strike at any moment if we don’t have the TSA feeling up my 3 year old son.

              Bullshit. The TSA has not done a GODDAMN THING TO STOP TERRORISM. Not. One. Goddamn. Thing.

  13. But someone within TSA is connected with someone who is getting rich selling these machines.

    Chertoff, according to a thoroughly unreliable and unsubstantiated allegation I saw on the intertubes.

    1. Yeah, Rapiscan which from the words of Rep Duncan.

      “The former Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, represents Rapiscan, the company which is selling these scanners to his former department.”…..ers-to-tsa

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