Chertoff Argues for Whole Body Scanners

Former HSA Secretary Michael Chertoff has jumped into the fray over whether to use full body scanners with an op-ed in the Washington Post. He urges that Congress fund "a large-scale deployment of next-generation systems."

Most airport security checkpoints use metal detectors. Al-Qaeda has shown that it knows how to avoid detection by using an explosive device that contains little or no metal, such as PETN, or pentaerythritol tetranitrate, used by Abdulmutallab and "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in 2001.

It will only be a matter of time before terrorists figured out how to avoid detection with these machines as well. One reason: The Government's publicly available list of which machines have been purchased for airport use. Each one carriesthe name of the company that makes them, and the company's website has all the particulars about the machine, including in some cases, what a particular machine doesn't screen. [More...]

Alternatively, by searching various scanners' web pages, which anyone can find using google, they will see which ones are Government certified. For example, the Rapiscan WaveScan 200, advertises that "the WaveScan 200 millimeter wave sensors do not image anatomical details, thus protecting privacy."

How much of a leap is it from that advisement to figuring out hiding explosives in one's crotch will not be detected?

I can't tell if TSA is using the Rapidscan 200 yet, but it has been using the RapidScan 1000, whose web page contains this notice:


The United States Department of Homeland Security has certified the Rapiscan Secure 1000 as an approved product for homeland security. Please visit www.safetyact.gov for more information.

If you go to Safetyact.gov, you'll find all sorts of helpful information, such as this list of approved HSA airport equipment:

The following "Approved Product List for Homeland Security" is provided pursuant to 6 U.S.C. § 442(d)(3) (the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002, or “SAFETY Act”) and 6 C.F.R. § 25.7(j) (2004) (Regulations to Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies):

You can then peruse the list and find, for example,

Rapiscan Systems, Inc.: Secure 1000®
December 18, 2006 – Rapiscan Systems, Inc., provides the Secure 1000®, a non-intrusive personnel screening system designed to detect both metallic and nonmetallic objects (such as ceramic, plastic, metallic, and organic matter, including liquid and solid explosives) concealed under a person's clothing. This Designation and Certification will expire on December 31, 2011.

You can also find what airports the machines are used in, for example, Melbourne. And,Manchester, UK, which is using RapidScan's backscatter.

Or how about the Smiths Detection, Inc.: Sentinel II™

December 13, 2005 - Smiths Detection, Inc. provides the Sentinel II™, a non-intrusive walkthrough portal that detects trace amounts of explosive material on the human body. This Designation and Certification will expire on December 31, 2010.

If you go to the website for the Sentinel, it says:

The IONSCAN SENTINEL II answers the need for screening people for trace explosives or narcotics. With it’s high throughput, the SENTINEL II is ideal for applications where large numbers of people need to be screened for threats quickly, such as at airports, customs, military bases, correctional facilities, at high profile facilities and public events.

Past security incidents, evidenced by the “shoe bomber”, show the lengths that terrorists will go when attempting to carry out their plans. Only the SENTINEL II from Smiths Detection dislodges particles from head-to-toe for sampling. By increasing the area from where samples are taken, the SENTINEL II is better equipped to help you determine whether explosives or narcotics may be concealed on a person, or when traces of these substances may remain on someone after handling explosives or narcotic material.

It even tells you what it's capable of detecting:

Technology: Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS)
Explosives Detected : RDX, PETN, TNT, Semtex, NG and others
Narcotics Detected :Cocaine, Heroin, PCP, THC, Methamphetamine, Ecstasy and others

The company conveniently lists all their security checkpoint machines on one page.

Googling the machine will let you know some of the airports it is deployed in, like Heathrow, Senegal, San Juan, JFK and Washington, Sacramento and Newark.

And finally, through EFF's FOIA lawsuits, lots of additional information on backscatters and whole body imaging is available, including which airports are using them.

These machines do reduce our privacy, but they are unlikely to stop someone who made a concerted effort to find out what airport is using what machine, and what that machine shows and doesn't, and how to get around it. So former Secretary Chertoff's arguments don't hold much water.

The machines are very expensive. Relying on them to safeguard us is just playing into the terrorists' plans. They aim to invoke fear and panic, and they realize they can do so even when their attack fails, as in Detroit. They know our reaction will be to ramp up security and spend vast amounts of money on machines that won't make a difference in the long run.

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  • Display: Sort:
    Chertoff's egregious conflict of interest (5.00 / 5) (#1)
    by shoephone on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 12:41:02 AM EST
    His consulting company, The Chertoff Group, represents companies that manufacture the body-scanning machines. He has a vested interest in making sure all airports buy the machines. His lobbying on behalf of these companies will net him a handsome personal profit. Unfortunately, the only news organization to point this out is NPR.

    Chertoff/Body Scans/Conflict of Interest.

    Well (none / 0) (#2)
    by Steve M on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 01:09:50 AM EST
    at least the WaPo points out the conflict of interest, but it's still pretty ridiculous for them to give him column space under the circumstances.

    And he's busy blaming the ACLU (none / 0) (#3)
    by shoephone on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 01:42:57 AM EST
    for the fact that America is not secured with a body-scan machine in every airport.

    Darn those civil libertarians!


    But doesn't talk about what (5.00 / 3) (#7)
    by Militarytracy on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 09:05:46 AM EST
    he did to the no fly list and how it is full of people who simply disagreed with him and the Bush administration. And now the actual terrorist threats are supposed to be gleaned from that cluttered POS.

    Sounds like the voting machine fiasco (none / 0) (#8)
    by hairspray on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 09:58:38 AM EST
    all over again.  Diebold and others were there waiting to provide high cost solutions to hanging chads.  Only they weren't as forthcoming as these body scanner people.  Isn't it strange just how many erstwhile Republicans there are in these businesses?

    My Solution: Fly Naked (5.00 / 2) (#4)
    by Dan the Man on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 01:49:23 AM EST

    Now why would you want to subject (none / 0) (#16)
    by Radix on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 01:11:08 PM EST
    the innocent to seeing me naked?

    Why they gotta make... (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by kdog on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 07:48:22 AM EST
    the bomb particle detectors narcotic detectors too?  Jerks.

    Here I was ready to support the bomb puffers...not no more.  The skies just keep gettin' unfriendlier...may as well scrap the TSA and put the DOC in charge of air travel security.

    Thank you for flying Con-Air.

    seriously (none / 0) (#6)
    by nycstray on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 08:16:31 AM EST
    I wonder if they can program it to what they want to detect? Seems like it would be a problem if they started getting alerted to anyone who might have smoked pot or been around it prior to going to the airport. Not a security issue in my mind, and perhaps hampers the 'system'. Not too worried that pot in someone's carry on is going to take down a plane :)

    Local news is saying Newark is on the short list for the full body scan machine. Seems they already have the puffer . . .


    Terror is so useful! (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by lambert on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 11:09:19 AM EST
    Jeralyn writes:
    [Terrorists] know our reaction will be to ramp up security and spend vast amounts of money on machines that won't make a difference in the long run.

    Chertoff knows this, of course.

    Like they say: One hand washes the other! Even if in blood....

    Thanks, Jeralyn (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by BackFromOhio on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 01:11:23 PM EST
    for, once again, providing useful, detailed information on which to base the discussion.

    Chertoff's pitch (none / 0) (#9)
    by JamesTX on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 10:31:38 AM EST
    is one of the more obvious examples of the way the complex which Eisenhower warned us about works. If it were not so seriously dangerous, this sales pitch would be comical.

    Increasingly, we are hearing about people being caught with drugs by TSA. I think it is interesting the ad for the "IONSCAN SENTINEL II" (how cute, I wonder how much the marketer who came up with that name was paid) seems to emphasize drugs as much as explosives. One would think the marketing literature for high end stuff like this would reflect what people in the field are thinking about and excited about. Might it be this is an important secondary (or hidden primary) purpose for all this? That is, with case law now being anything discovered in the course of a legal search (even if it had nothing to do with the reason for the search) is good stuff. My bet is this is more about opening the door for legal general shakedowns than it is about bombs on planes. My bet: We will see a steady expansion of this "screening" crap outside of airports and into every public forum and right of way. I hate to predict bad things, but my bet is there will be some "roadside bombs" in the U.S., and this "security screening" will expand to highways and everything else. Every means of travel will be permeated with searches, and since they are legal, anything found will be good for evidence.

    Herein lies the heart of the Fourth Amendment. We are giving it away, and we should be paying attention. We will never get it back.

    "...and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

    Israeli system apparently works (none / 0) (#10)
    by Upstart Crow on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 11:04:31 AM EST
    There is some interesting stuff on the 'net right now about the Israeli system of "finding out what's in their heads, not in their bags."  

    I've been through Israeli security as someone who didn't answer the questions right, and it's a pretty intense experience.  

    A guy like the nutbag bomber -- who didn't even bring a coat to travel to a city that is colder than Moscow -- would never have gotten through.

    The questions are invasive -- but then, so is a full body scan. I prefer the questions.

    Sorry (none / 0) (#14)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 12:48:25 PM EST

    Thats "profiling" which is verbotten.  The Isrealis are looking for terrorists and our PC culture means we have to search for things.  

    BTW, scanners used on 100% of the passengers will be as ineffective as the 100% scan of hand luggage due to human response repetative boring activity.  They may be effective if used rarely on suspect travelers.  

    These scanners may not be effective for items inside a human body cavity.


    I can't believe that (none / 0) (#15)
    by BackFromOhio on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 01:10:11 PM EST
    there isn't a way that the technology could be designed to send off alarm bells when certain things are found by the scanner.

    Israeli justification (none / 0) (#18)
    by Upstart Crow on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 01:59:23 PM EST
    The Israeli justification, of course, is that they are not singling out on the basis of ethnicities or races -- but on the basis of history and experience.

    That would mean little old ladies with osteoporosis would not have to take off their shoes -- until a little old lady with osteoporosis was found to be toting a bomb.

    In the end, of course, it amounts to profiling. But is there really any way around this?  Do all the little old ladies have to go through invasive body scans just to maintain the appearance of egality? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

    A different downside of the Israeli system is that they have a huge conscripted youth force to do this enthusiastically and creatively.  We have near-minimum-wage staff that is already overburdened.

    Again, I went through the intense questioning, and it wasn't as bad as being "patted down."


    p.s. on profiling (none / 0) (#19)
    by Upstart Crow on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 02:01:04 PM EST
    I was not being questioned as any kind of profiling -- I am a pale-skinned Americano. But I did have some flakey travel arrangements that made them suspicious.

    that is profiling (none / 0) (#23)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Jan 04, 2010 at 08:57:18 AM EST
    The Israeli's (none / 0) (#20)
    by Socraticsilence on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 04:01:20 PM EST
    also have an exponentially smaller air infrastructure and industry- Domestic Travel by Air is smaller to a degree that's hard to imagine whereas in the US its by far the largest component of Air travel.

    I Scanned Chertoff's Brain (none / 0) (#12)
    by john horse on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 11:15:35 AM EST
    and you know what I found.  Someone who wants us to be so afraid that we will want to give up our basic liberties and freedoms for what we think will be security.  

    And here is something that rightwingers like Chertoff have in common with the terrorists.  They also want us to be afraid and hope to get us to overreact by doing things like invading countries and restricting liberties.  Both the rightwing and the terrorist gain by the overestimation of the terrorist threat.  I'm not interested in what they're selling.    

    An examination of the (none / 0) (#13)
    by KeysDan on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 11:20:00 AM EST
    existing "system" seems in order prior to a hurried, expensive and questionable addition to said "system".  Of course, there will be no discussion of cost/benefits as with the health care debate where the Dartmouth Atlas, the bible of the Obama health care gurus, claims that more care is not better care (qualified sometimes, as more is not necessarily better).  Or, that the Dartmouth studies only considered the costs of  those whose "outcome" was death, and overlooked  those who lived.

    Wrong Conclusion Jeralyn! (none / 0) (#21)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Sun Jan 03, 2010 at 03:33:27 AM EST
    ""the WaveScan 200 millimeter wave sensors do not image anatomical details, thus protecting privacy."

    How much of a leap is it from that advisement to figuring out hiding explosives in one's crotch will not be detected?"

    Your conclusion is wrong.  The machine will show the explosives.  The computer program will blur the display of lines of flesh in that area, but not of inanimate objects.

    As an engineer with many years experience including 31 in the US Navy, I can say that in general the statement that the terrorists will continue to seek to circumvent the technology and the "intelligence as well" is correct, but the conclusion that they will find "much success" is wrong.  (Note the operative wording is "much success.")
    The eye of the (opportunity) needle that the terrorists must thread will be made smaller and smaller and the terrorists will find it much more difficult to manage.

    And yes there are ways to prevent these machines and pat-downs from being successful.  For example you can implant an explosive in someone's body.  You would be able to detect it or the detonator though someone might say that it is a metal plate or something used in surgery.  If the terrorists went to this length then it might be that a normal x-ray would be required of a person if they wanted to fly.  Otherwise they would be out of luck.

    I could go on with other possibilities but I am stretching as much as those people seeking to prevent these machines.

    I will say though that if people want aircraft travel to remain reasonably available and inexpensive they will adapt to these necessary measures.  After all someone who protests may eventually just be told "sorry you will have to take the special "non privacy intrusive" flight that runs only once a month and is 10 times as expensive and piloted by young daredevils and very old guys who will take the risk for the money."

    WoW! (none / 0) (#22)
    by roger on Sun Jan 03, 2010 at 01:28:46 PM EST
    Seems like a lot of trouble, just to find my weed! Which is what this is really for