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Posted by on Nov 16, 2010 in Politics | 0 comments

Calling A Spade A Spade: Time To End TSA Theatre And Corporate Profiteering

I Will Opt Out

I Will Opt Out

If you are planning to fly over the Thankgiving holiday, be sure to figure out if yours are part of the 70-or-so airports that have whole body imaging (WBI) machines.

These are your stimulus dollars at work: in March, TSA began deploying 450 advanced imaging technology units which were purchased with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds; they expect to have 1,000 deployed by the end of next year. FYI: TSA has 10,000 employees with “secret” clearances.

Despite Department of Homeland Security assurances that its airport screening methods are “risk based”, Jim Harper at the Cato Institute quotes a March 2010 GAO report in making his case that risk assessment is sorely missing from DHS/TSA procedures (emphasis added):

[I]t remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident based on the preliminary information GAO has received. . . . In October 2009, GAO also recommended that TSA complete cost-benefit analyses for new passenger screening technologies. While TSA conducted a life-cycle cost estimate and an alternatives analysis for the AIT, it reported that it has not conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the original deployment strategy or the revised AIT deployment strategy, which proposes a more than twofold increase in the number of machines to be procured.

No risk assessment. No “cost-benefit” assessment, even with a doubling of machines.

In a similar vein, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) has petitioned the D.C. Court of Appeals to review three DHS/TSA actions— one failure to act, one agency Order, and one agency Rule. EPIC called for a 90-day formal rulemaking process on WBI technology in May 2009; the Agency ignored them. EPIC believes that the body scanner program violates Fourth Amendment rights.

DHS/TSA has not performed a risk assessment or a comprehensive privacy assessment on WBI technology; the later is required by law. According to EPIC:

Courts have required that airport security searches be ;minimally intrusive, well-tailored to protect personal privacy, and neither more extensive nor more intensive than necessary under the circumstances to rule out the presence of weapons or explosives.

In spite of clear Fourth Amendment implications, DHS/TSA has invested millions on technology that they sold to Congress as being for “secondary” scanning of passengers who had aroused suspicion. Now they are sending passengers through WBI machines willy-nilly and are using an invasive pat-down as disincentive to the opt-out process.

[S]tarting tomorrow (30 October 2010), we’re going to start searching your crotchal area” — this is the word he used, “crotchal” — and you’re not going to like it.”

“What am I not going to like?” I asked.

“We have to search up your thighs and between your legs until we meet resistance,” he explained.

“Resistance?” I asked.

“Your testicles,” he explained.

‘That’s funny,” I said, “because ‘The Resistance’ is the actual name I’ve given to my testicles.”

He answered, “Like ‘The Situation,’ that guy from ‘Jersey Shore?'”

Yes, exactly, I said. (I used to call my testicles “The Insurgency,” but those assholes in Iraq ruined the term.)

I pointed out to the security officer that 50 percent of the American population has no balls (90 percent in Washington, D.C., where I live), so what is going to happen when the pat-down officer meets no resistance in the crotchal area of women? “If there’s no resistance, then there’s nothing there.”

“But what about people who hide weapons in their cavities? I asked. I actually said “vagina” again, just to see him blush. “We’re just not going there,” he reiterated.

I asked him if he was looking forward to conducting the full-on pat-downs. “Nobody’s going to do it,” he said, “once they find out that we’re going to do.”

In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation? “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.” He called over a colleague. “Tell him what you call the back-scatter,” he said. “The Dick-Measuring Device,” I said. “That’s the truth,” the other officer responded.

Crony Capitalism
About the profiteering: American Science and Engineering, Inc. reports record profits and a quarterly dividend. It makes both mobile and stationary backscatter x-ray machines that the Pentagon has deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan … and that TSA and local law enforcement is using in the U.S. Yes, there are mobile vans roaming U.S. streets that contain wide-area backscatter x-ray equipment.

AS&E has been in TSA’s pocket since 2005. A month after AS&E’s CEO testified before Congress about the importance of backscatter x-ray units to security (July), TSA awarded a $722,000 contract to AS&E “to upgrade its Z(R) Backscatter personnel screening system. Under the terms of the contract, AS&E will deliver an advanced Z Backscatter personnel screening system to the TSA for extensive testing and evaluation.”

Clearly, AS&E’s partnership with TSA has been lucrative for the company. Notice stock price and when dividends start. From Google:

ASII Stock

ASEI Stock - 10 Year via Google

It’s All Theatre

On the first anniversary of 9-11, Charles C. Mann wrote in TheAtlantic (emphasis added):

It is now a year since the World Trade Center was destroyed. Legislators, the law-enforcement community, and the Bush Administration are embroiled in an essential debate over the measures necessary to prevent future attacks. To armor-plate the nation’s security they increasingly look to the most powerful technology available: retina, iris, and fingerprint scanners; “smart” driver’s licenses and visas that incorporate anti-counterfeiting chips; digital surveillance of public places with face-recognition software; huge centralized databases that use data-mining routines to sniff out hidden terrorists. Some of these measures have already been mandated by Congress, and others are in the pipeline. State and local agencies around the nation are adopting their own schemes. More mandates and more schemes will surely follow.

[Bruce] Schneier is hardly against technology—he’s the sort of person who immediately cases public areas for outlets to recharge the batteries in his laptop, phone, and other electronic prostheses. “But if you think technology can solve your security problems,” he says, “then you don’t understand the problems and you don’t understand the technology.” Indeed, he regards the national push for a high-tech salve for security anxieties as a reprise of his own early and erroneous beliefs about the transforming power of strong crypto.


The trick is to remember that technology can’t save you,” Schneier says. “We know this in our own lives. We realize that there’s no magic anti-burglary dust we can sprinkle on our cars to prevent them from being stolen. We know that car alarms don’t offer much protection. The Club at best makes burglars steal the car next to you. For real safety we park on nice streets where people notice if somebody smashes the window. Or we park in garages, where somebody watches the car. In both cases people are the essential security element. You always build the system around people.

And that’s exactly NOT what DHS/TSA is doing with WBI technology. Most of the “security” measures implemented at U.S. airports post-9-11 are theatre: visible use of technology to convince Americans that their government is “doing something” to “protect them.” We know that “do not fly lists” are a joke. And Jeffrey Goldberg (TheAtlantic) makes the case that the theatre is misplaced:

By the time terrorist plotters make it to the airport, it is, generally speaking, too late to stop them. Plots must be broken up long before the plotters reach the target. If they are smart enough to make it to the airport without arrest, it is almost axiomatically true that they will be smart enough to figure out a way to bring weapons aboard a plane.

Schneier concurs. Back in January, he told NPR that WBI systems do not “detect low-density explosives.”

It doesn’t detect explosives that are thin. You know, it’s really very limited as to what it detects. It may or may not have detected the underwear bomber. We don’t actually know.

It’s simply theatre.

Just Say No. Opt-Out day is next Wednesday.

More at PS: shout if you’d like to be added to IWillOptOut as a writer.