Agency issues worst debunking effort imaginable
July 1, 2011
While attempting to debunk revelations this week that have raised fresh concerns over the safety of radiation firing body scanners in airports, the TSA has simply repeated the same lies that are manifestly disproved by newly released internal government documents.
As we reported Monday , the documents, obtained via the Freedom Of Information Act by EPIC.org , reveal that the TSA, and specifically the head of the Department of Homeland Security, “publicly mischaracterized” the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in stating that NIST had positively confirmed the safety of full body scanners in tests.
We also noted that the documents, including internal TSA emails, revealed that TSA employees are greatly concerned by a surge in cancer cases  among their number. Agents stationed at Boston Logan airport directly voiced their concerns to a TSA representative who promised to relay them to TSA headquarters.
Yet in a statement posted on the official TSA blog  today, the agency attempts to debunk these revelations by repeating the very same claims that caught it out in the first place.
In The post titled TSA Cancer Cluster Myth Buster, “blogger Bob” writes:
“Independent third party testing and analyses of TSA backscatter technology have been conducted by the U.S. Army Public Health Command, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). They all came to the same conclusion by the way. It’s safe…”
Ignoring the fact that the FDA, the CDRH and NIST are decidedly NOT independent of the federal government, the false claim that NIST found the scanners to be safe is the very subject of the controversy.
The internal emails between NIST and the DHS show how NIST was “a little concerned” by a USA Today article  published November 15, 2010, in which Janet Napolitano, the head of DHS, claimed that NIST had “affirmed the safety” of the airport scanners.
In a private email response , NIST stated that the Institute had not, in fact, tested full body scanners at all for safety, and that the Institute does not even undertake product testing.
The email stated that the director of NIST was “not looking for corrections”, but wished to “offer clarification”, that the agency “doesn’t want any mischaracterization of their work continued.”
Another document obtained by EPIC  even shows that, far from affirming their safety, NIST warned that airport screeners should avoid standing next to full body scanners in order to keep exposure to harmful radiation “as low as reasonably achievable.”
Yet we have the TSA once again repeating the same claim that NIST has tested the scanners and found them to be safe.
The mind boggles.
In addition, blogger Bob again claims that Johns Hopkins APL found the scanners to be safe, however, another of the documents  contains the revelation that a Johns Hopkins APL study actually revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the “General Public Dose Limit.”
The TSA has issued about the worst debunking job one can imagine, as it serves only to reinforce the revelations further.
The TSA statement also reads:
“There is no relationship between any cancer diagnoses in Boston and the technology in the airport. (Based on a survey by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health). In fact, there were no body scanners at BOS when the complaints were filed.”
This is a very poor attempt at misdirection.
Firstly, the issue surrounds the fact that, a “large number of workers have been falling victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease”, according to the documents recently released by EPIC . Instead of admitting this to be the case and investigating further, the TSA has merely sought to downplay it and cover its own back by dismissing any possible connection to x-ray devices.
“The Department, rather than acting on it, or explaining its position seems to have just dismissed it. I don’t think that’s the way most other agencies would have acted in a similar situation if they were confronted with that question,” EPIC’s Marc Rotenberg has commented .
Secondly, the claim that there were no body scanners installed at the time of the complaints fails to address the fact that a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) carried out in 2004, found that some baggage scanners were in violation of federal radiation standards, and were emitting two or three times beyond the agreed safe radiation limit.
A further 2008 CDC report noted that some x-ray machines were missing protective lead curtains or had safety features disabled by TSA employees with duct tape, paper towels and other materials.
Thirdly, the claim that there were no body scanners at Boston airport at the time of the complaints does not address the fact that TSA agents are indeed concerned about the new scanners. Other agents have written to the CDC to express their concerns. All of these details were addressed in this USA Today article from last December.
The TSA also refuses to address the scores of real independent scientists  who have continued to speak out over the health hazards associated with the x-ray technology, noting that the body scanners are far from safe.
John Sedat, a University of California at San Francisco professor of biochemistry and biophysics and member of the National Academy of Sciences told CNet that the machines have “mutagenic effects” and will increase the risk of cancer. Sedat previously sent a letter to the White House science Czar John P. Holdren, identifying the specific risk the machines pose to children and the elderly.
The letter stated:
“it appears that real independent safety data do not exist… There has not been sufficient review of the intermediate and long-term effects of radiation exposure associated with airport scanners. There is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations.”
The TSA has repeatedly stated that going through the machines is equal to the radiation encountered during just two minutes of a flight. However, this does not take into account that the scanning machines specifically target only the skin and the muscle tissue immediately beneath.
The scanners are similar to C-Scans and fire ionizing radiation  at those inside which penetrates a few centimeters into the flesh and reflects off the skin to form a naked body image.
The firing of ionizing radiation at the body effectively “unzips” DNA, according to scientific research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology .
The research shows that even very low doses of X-ray can delay or prevent cellular repair of damaged DNA, yet pregnant women and children will be subjected  to the process as new guidelines including scanners are adopted.
The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety  concluded in their report on the matter that governments must justify the use of the scanners and that a more accurate assessment of the health risks is needed.
Pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning, according to the report, adding that governments should consider “other techniques to achieve the same end without the use of ionizing radiation.”
“The Committee cited the IAEA’s 1996 Basic Safety Standards agreement, drafted over three decades, that protects people from radiation. Frequent exposure to low doses of radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,”reported Bloomberg .
Scientists at Columbia University  also entered the debate recently, warning that the dose emitted by the naked x-ray devices could be up to 20 times higher than originally estimated, likely contributing to an increase in a common type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma which affects the head and neck.
“If all 800 million people who use airports every year were screened with X-rays then the very small individual risk multiplied by the large number of screened people might imply a potential public health or societal risk. The population risk has the potential to be significant,” said Dr David Brenner, head of Columbia University’s centre for radiological research.
In the face of all this, as well as the newly documents proving the TSA mischaracterized the safety aspects of x-ray technology it uses, for the agency to simply repeat the same statements over shows how little regard it has for the well being and security of its own employees and the public at large.
Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.net , and Prisonplanet.com . He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.