J. D. Heyes
Oct 29, 2012
After months of complaints, negative feedback, bad press and no small amount of controversy, the Transportation Security Administration has announced it will begin removing its naked body scanners out of key airports around the country.
Janet Napolitano, head of the Department of Homeland Security – which oversees the TSA – made the decision in recent days to pull the scanners from New York City’s LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International airports.
The question is why. Why did it take so long? And what’s the reason for the move? Understand that the machines are not being retired (at great taxpayer expense); they have simply been moved to other, less busy, airports where, presumably “far fewer passengers will be exposed to radiation,” reported the non-profit investigative media organization ProPublica, which added that the dangerous machines were already removed from Boston’s busy Logan International Airport earlier this month.
The Chicago Sun Times is reporting that the backscatter machines are going away from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport as well.
Oh, they’re not dangerous – Move is ‘strategic’
The TSA’s “official” excuse is that the machines were causing unacceptable delays at the two NYC airports and that removing them is an effort to speed up the lines.
Since when has the TSA given two hoots about customer service? This is the agency that allows its staff to grope kids, grandmothers and busty women, while allowing the criminals it hires to rob passengers blind before heading home to download child pornography.
No, some other reason that the agency feels is threatening – or potentially threatening – has forced this decision. Could it be that critics like us have been right all along – that the revealing backscatter x-ray machines actually do cause harm?
The agency says no, that’s not the reason. But when was the last time a federal agency admitted a mistake?
“They’re not all being replaced,” TSA spokesman David Castelveter told ProPublica. “It’s being done strategically. We are replacing some of the older equipment and taking them to smaller airports. That will be done over a period of time.”
“Older equipment?” The backscatter machines, which only came online beginning in 2009, are supposed to be state-of-the-art.
“Strategically?” Wouldn’t you like to know what this term is supposed to mean? Like, what’s the strategy?
This sounds an awful lot like the TSA’s way of reducing a known health threat while allowing itself an “out” by saying, in essence, “Hey, we never said they were dangerous…in fact, we’re still using them.”
Why do they have to be backscatter machines?
Granted, the agency does still utilize them in 25 of the nation’s busiest airports (though the agency won’t confirm which ones, according to ProPublica).
And, in late September, the TSA awarded three U.S. companies contracts that could potentially be worth as much as $245 million to develop the next generation of scanners; one design by American Science & Engineering uses backscatter technology.
But there are other, safer machines out there that are more than capable of screening passengers. One type utilizes millimeter-wave scanning technology, which emits less radiation and is far less invasive while still incredibly effective at finding objects on passengers.
Some scientists can’t figure out why the TSA won’t use this viable alternative.
“Why would we want to put ourselves in this uncertain situation where potentially we’re going to have some cancer cases?” David Brenner, director of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research, told ProPublica last year. “It makes me think, really, why we don’t use millimeter waves when we don’t have so much uncertainty.”
One final note: If they’re so safe, why doesn’t the TSA allow some independent, non-affiliated third party test the safety of the backscatter x-ray machines?
This article was posted: Monday, October 29, 2012 at 4:43 am