TSA head: We know nothing of Chertoff's pornoscanner conflict of interest. Also, who wants ice cream!

[Video Link.] At 4:55 in this (excellent) interview by CNN's Anderson Cooper, TSA administrator John Pistole claims to have no knowledge of former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff's conflict of interest regarding the recommendation to adopt Rapiscan pornoscanning devices.

(via Dan Gillmor)


  1. You know, I don’t care who sees an unrecognizable picture of my nekked shape. If it makes security checks faster and safer, I have no problem with it at all.

    1. It does neither. One of these machines takes about 15 seconds to do a full scan, literally an order of magnitude longer than walking through a metal detector. And they can’t detect anything in body cavities.

      And even if the were faster and more effective, the fact that you’re tossing away your rights and privacy so cavalierly is terrifying. Please tell me you don’t vote.

    2. Why in the world would you assume it would make your security checks either faster or safer?

      I mean I’d put up with a cavity search if it guaranteed fast, effective, useful security. But it wouldn’t. It would just be humiliating hand-waving in order to make people feel kind of almost sort of safer a bit, but also sore.

  2. William Vambenepe said it best:

    I opt out not because I’m prudish (I’m French, we have no modesty) but because I am a software engineer. There is a lot of software to control these machines, and it’s mostly new code. Which means it has bugs. Many bugs.
    Assuming the radiation level generated by the machines is safe (I have no expertise to judge one way or the other), that assumes normal operations. That’s a big assumption.
    In “normal” software, when there is a non-fatal bug it results in something looking strange to the user, or some incorrect transaction going through, which eventually might get caught. In these machines, unless the bug completely disables the machine, how can you tell there is problem? Your hair is not going to catch fire because the radiation level is 100 stronger than normal.

    Fatal Error

  3. wait a minute – they are actually called Rapiscans? I thought that was a joke (as in rape – a – scan). I know it’s a play on the word “rapid” but in hindsight, that is a terrible name.

    1. Yes, they are. I walked by the machine in Orlando airport earlier this week and was highly amused at the eponysterical ‘Rapiscan Systems’ screen displayed on the back of the unit.

    2. I know it’s a play on the word “rapid” but in hindsight, that is a terrible name.

      Wait until you see what the next model, the Velocirapiscan, does to your dangly bits.

    3. I agree with every word you just posted:

      “wait a minute – they are actually called Rapiscans? I thought that was a joke (as in rape – a – scan). I know it’s a play on the word “rapid” but in hindsight, that is a terrible name.”

  4. This is terrifying… why do we know more about these machines than the guy in charge of the TSA?

    What else doesn’t he know?!?

  5. It uses X-Ray radiation at very low levels . . . to say X-Ray is “safe” is misleading. It can cause cancer in high enough doses, and even in low doses in very rare cases. “Safe” is just shorthand in the medical community because X-Ray is a diagnostic tool with a value that far, far outweighs potential risks, but even then, it is off limits to pregnant and potentially pregnant women, and the rest of us wear gonad shields and lead shields over parts of the body not being X-Rayed.

    So when we say “safe” we are talking cost vs. benefit.

    The catch here is that there is no benefit to these stupid devices. A time saver (which they aren’t, really) is not a good enough benefit.

    The reality is that if we want to live in a free society we have to live with a little bit of risk and danger. Only cowards support eroding our freedom and our privacy in favor of a little more safety, and really it is only perceived safety. A safety placebo if you will.

    1. Or, to put it another way:

      “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety” B. Franklin 1775

  6. Will Pistole stop spinning once he’s in his grave?

    He asks us to do our own research while instructing us to use his information. He spouts the same talking points everywhere, but when confronted with a reasonable question about a conflict of interest, he doesn’t hesitate a moment, just moves right along covering the bullet points, avoiding real answers.

  7. Funny that nobody mentioned at 5:41 how Anderson mentions getting a pat-down himself and stumbles finding the words to describe it:

    “They basically, feel you up. I got one this weekend…

    It’s quite um… I’m not even sure how to describe it… It’s quite, intimate.”


    1. And arguments about profiling aside, how does aggressively searching Anderson Cooper help anyone? I mean, surely they recognized him and then had his passport to dispel any concerns about mistaken identity.

      Does the TSA seriously expect Anderson Cooper to blow up a plane? And assuming they do not, then this is just political correctness, which in this case means knowingly wasting security efforts. That is, security theater of the most obvious sort.

      1. I’d use any excuse to intimately pat down Anderson Cooper, myself.

        But that’s just me being a pervy horndog, and has nothing to do with security, real or theatrical.

  8. I think “pornowave” sounds more sensational than “porno-scanner”, and is certainly more apropos in that it alludes to a microwave oven.
    Not being picky here or anything.. just sayin’!

  9. You know, I bet John here doesn’t have to walk through the scanner or get a pat down. I bet he gets to just walk on by. .. I’m not 100% sure but that’s how I feel after watching this video. Also why didn’t they ask about the radiation these machines give out too? VibroCount, I agree with what you said.

  10. “Pornoscanner” I mean really, is this where this debate really needs to go. Why not just call it the “Rapeing-murder-incest-pedopphile-Nazi-Holocaust-genital laugh-a-tron-Mutilator-machine”?

    1. Why not just call it the “Rapeing-murder-incest-pedopphile-Nazi-Holocaust-genital laugh-a-tron-Mutilator-machine”?

      Because that would violate an existing trademark?

    2. It does lower the level of discourse a bit. The TSA has promised us these will only be used tastefully, so really, they’re eroticascanners.

    1. I vote for really bad dye job. The eyebrows look like they’re there, only so grey they appear opaque.

      Weirder is the partially worn off botox and the apparent eye-lift. Combined with “stay on target” rote spewing of talking points, this bureaucrat comes off robotic, unsympathetic and evasive. I’m surprised he’s not winded from dodging all those questions.

      1. While technically correct, the word “bureaucrat” has a connotation that suggest lazy, tenured, big-government liberals with desk jobs, maybe tax collectors.

        Make no mistake about it — this guy is a plant or pawn for the right wing military-industrial complex, the machine that profits from our fears and makes billions off of the sale of magic black boxes sold by lobbyists.

        If shoe bombs created the need to take off our shoes at the checkpoints, underwear bombs created the need to walk through porno-scanners or be subjected to “intimate” groping, what liberties will the inevitable asshole bomb, a bomb that will complete the next propagandistic stage in clockwork fashion, require us to shed?

  11. Why is there not a movement to get John Pistole’s Rapiscan image, and the images of other TSA administrators, released to the public? If we shouldn’t be ashamed, they shouldn’t be ashamed.

    I even have a name for it: SHOW US YOUR PISTOLE.

  12. As a small ray of hope, I recently passed through the San Diego airport (where this whole debacle started) and as far as I could tell the pornoscanners were not in use at all. Even in the checkpoints which had been entirely converted with prominent backscatter machines and GET USED TO THIS signage, passengers were being directed to the single metal detectors off to the side, where they were given very brief and lackadaisical pat downs before going on their way.

    Could have just been a timing thing, but I’d prefer to humor the illusion that the powers that be are finally getting the message about something, even if they’re lying through their teeth about it as they do everything else.

  13. Oddly enough Israel doesn’t use any of these machines. Some people just use what works and ignore what doesn’t.

  14. Pistole must be from Eastasia.

    “We just want to partner with the travelling public…”, as long as by “partner” we mean “compliance”.

    TSA makes arbirary rules, citizens must obey – Partners.

    The bottom line is that the whole TSA passenger screening process does nothing for real security, creates a very real risk of terror attack by congregating large numbers of people in a vunerable area and violates citizens freedom.

    Where is our leadership? Where is the “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself” speech update?

    Land of the Free, Home of the Brave? not so much.

  15. To be fair, to say that anything causes cancer implies that it is the sole factor. Indeed, as I have said for years, everything causes cancer in this meaning. Eating food and breathing allow your body to metabolize food which create free radicals. These harm your cells DNA and increases the likelihood of a malignant mutation.

    X-rays at any level contribute to the likelihood of cancer. The question is, are you willing to receive a reasonably above average dose of radiation, beyond that you will already get by flying, for absolutely no real benefit.

    Terrorists are assholes and they have assholes, too. And stomachs. I know you saw the dark knight. Body cavities are the place to hide things. Inmates in the US prison system have known this for years. It’s nature’s pocket.

    All this tech protects against is non-metallic weaponry that can be hidden easily between maybe 2 layers of clothing and the skin. So basically it protects only against ceramic/plastic knives and shivs. This tech is pretty clearly a horrible return/risk, even compared to standard security technology.

    Honestly, why doesn’t the TSA just provide security by telling people to man the fuck up and kill anyone who tries to hijack their plane? The terrorists will be outnumbered, they won’t have guns, they will probably have a dinky shiv or knife that might give you a nasty cut (which you will almost certainly live through if they don’t cut your throat). Normal people are going to make up most of the plane and they should be able to take 10-12 mentally ill people on. Not to mention all the adipose armor americans have.

  16. The head of El Al security says TSA scanners and pat-downs are ineffective. He also says 9/11 could not have occurred in Israel. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQum39C8K9Y

    Israel has a near-perfect airline security record.

    The TSA’s scandalously incompetent Pistole should be replaced with someone as superior as Israel’s security experts. Don’t American fliers deserve to be as safe as Israelis?

    1. Enough with the Hasbara already. Israel is not exactly an ideal model to follow in the fight against terror.

      Anyway 9/11 assholes said that part of their motivations for terror is Israel’s crimes and US support for it to carry them out/get away with them. It’s things like that which encourage qaeda attacks in the first place.

      It’s been 9 years and the same still goes on: more US money and weapons to Israel to continue to occupy, kill, and colonise. More US support for authoritarian regimes in the ME, more US bases built all over. More US killing of innocent Muslim people, with joystick controlled drones. Change foreign shitpolicy, not improve TSA annoyances.

    1. I would advise against using those. If the TSA screeners see those on the body scan, they’re likely to pull you aside for a full strip search. I seriously doubt that the screeners can tell the difference between flying pasties and plastic explosives by looking at the scan images. And, even if they could, they’re likely to assume that you’ve got explosives hidden behind the pasties.

  17. I flew out of OHare yesterday, and I was completely ready to face the x-ray attendant and say defiantly “I… OPT… OUT” and then get body groped while I hum the Battle Hymn of the Republic. But instead I was waved to the metal detectors. I was going to try again coming home from Philly, but I don’t think they have the Rapiscans. So now I have civil disobedience blue balls.

    1. If Chertoff and Pistole are smart they’ll instruct screeners to revert to traditional x-rays until “opt-out” day is over, thus deflating the energy of the grassroots protest against the invasive procedures and then resuming business as usual after the holiday weekend.

    2. I was going to try again coming home from Philly, but I don’t think they have the Rapiscans.

      That brings up something I’ve been wondering about: how can you find out which airports have the new scanners and which don’t?

    3. I’m not sure how you can find out whether an airport has rapiscans or not, but afaik Philly International does not yet. Taking a flight out of there next week, though…

  18. At the moment, last I checked Philly only has the Rapiscans at Terminal F, which is used for short-haul, small-plane US Airways flights.

    US Airways also files out of Terminal B and C, and has a shuttle bus you can take between Terminal C to F, once you’re past the security checkpoint.

  19. I STILL regret not buying the metal copy of the Bill of Rights in Vegas after seeing Penn and Teller’s show. I got waved aside for a patdown on our way back to Seattle.

    Gotta fly home for T-day and I’ll be opting out of any scanners.

    Still boggling over the marketing genius who thought Rapiscan was a great name. I keep heading to the long-a instead of the short-a.

    1. I STILL regret not buying the metal copy of the Bill of Rights in Vegas after seeing Penn and Teller’s show.

      You can still get one from the EFF.

  20. How are you calling this an “excellent” interview? Those are basically softball questions that allow the TSA to spout their talkingpoints uninterruptedly.

    There’s not even a “he-said / she-said” rights activist on to “balance” the conversation.

    All Cooper did was to set up the situation so the TSA was able to explain away anything that gave them bad press.

    It’s a totalitarian nightmare that people won’t be able to fly without the government closely examining their genitals, either manually or through naked scanners, and that needs to be addressed.

    How many “dystopian future” novels got that one right?

  21. What’s so hard about using advanced software to analyze scans and output a simple body outline while highlighting contrasting objects/areas? We’ve been watching real-time augmented reality for some time now, specifically in football…what kind of people develop a machine that show you as naked?

  22. Am I really the only person that thinks we shouldn’t be asking the question “would this device catch the X bomb” but rather “is this device worth the price (in time, money, liberties, etc.)?” and “might this money be better spent elsewhere?”

    It seems like everyone in the TSA and most people in the media have some delusional fixation on preventing any *airplane* bombing of any kind which, given how safe air travel is in general, seems like a terrible way to spend our time & money. Let’s stop acting like there is such a creature as perfectly safe travel and instead deal with acceptable risks. Stop acting like passengers need to “know” that there are no bombs on board. Stop asking if scenario X could be prevented.

    The whole discussion is infantile.

  23. Unfortunately I had to make several trips by air last week and (being I am old) decided to “chance” the Porno-scanner. Two out of the five airports I went through had the machine. Because I have a replaced knee I received the “I wanna touch you all over, And over again, I wanna touch you all over, Till the flight closes in” “pat-down” whether I went through the Porno-scanner or Metal Detector.

  24. I love how he claims the pat down of the three year old was an urban legend yet did we not see video of that here just this week?

  25. Until my 4th amendment rights are protected, I will never step onto airport property again. I am not giving up my rights to get on board a glorified bus.

  26. I wonder what would happen if you started to perform the same procedure on the TSA screener who was giving you the pat down. “What? Apparently this is an okay thing to do to people.”

  27. Interview? What interview?

    All I noticed was a world and cosmic rings revolving and intersecting rhythmically… left, right… calming me and lulling me into a sense of, um, security.

    Seriously, it is no wonder the average consumer of TV news has no idea what is going on if that kind of hypnotic device is in regular use. (I am not in the USA and have never watched anything from CNN before. I genuinely did find it hard to focus on the content.)

  28. I’m a bit curious about the pat downs. Do they change gloves between each person? I would hate to get crabs just because the person ahead of me has them.

  29. I’ve just done the maths, and it’s about where I expected it to be.

    http://www.rapiscansystems.com/sec1000faqs.html states:
    10 microREM per scan
    which is 1e-7 sieverts.

    http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/34532 cites a source which is 404’d:
    30,000 flights per day
    so, 10 million/year, for a total dose of 1 man-sievert/year.

    Assuming the Linear No Threshold model, according to the ‘Committee on Radioactive Waste Management’ at http://tinyurl.com/36qajsy, the number of fatalities per man-sievert is 0.06.

    So we’re expecting a death at some point in the next 17 years, if we assume everyone gets scanned. As I said: about what I expected.

    1. Anon#53:
      You have 10 million flights per year. But that’s in airplanes, the number of passengers per year is more like 800 million. So multiply by 80 to get about 5 people per year killed by these things.

      (Or if you prefer, it’s like the TSA choosing to blow up a plane full of passengers every 17 years instead of just putting a bullet in one person’s head.)

  30. The “National Institute of Science and Technology “is an engineering college in Orissa, India.

    I think he means the National Institute of Standards and Technology…but maybe not.

  31. @ Anon #53
    “I’ve just done the maths”

    … but, ur doin it rong

    30000 x 365 = 10,950,000
    But thats *flights* per year

    Multiply that by … what? 200 pax per flight?

    10,950,000 * 200 = 2,190,000,000 passengers/yr

    2,190,000,000 x 1.10^-7 = 219

    219 * 0.06 = 13 deaths. Per year. Or one per month.

  32. bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch.

    You people HAVE an option. That’s why they’re doing both!!
    I swear there’s not a rational bone in any of your bodies.

    (Full disclosure, I’m currently working on a device that rips out all of your pubic hair searching for explosives residue unless you give me one hundred and four dollars. And opting out of entering the device is, apparently, cause for a civil suit. I’m making us safer.)

  33. As one in the airport/aviation business for thirty years, people who think this is a safer and faster method are ignorant fools. I will not go into details but i will say this, when the next terrorist shoves the latest explosive technology into their body cavity…then what? This entire process is more a testament to capitalism merging with the desire by the powers that be to get the US Citizenry accustomed to the fascist state.

    You morons who think this is benevolent safety better get a clue. This is training. I would like to fly with ‘Guns and Knives’ airlines. We have become a nation of pantie waists. The capitalists making billions on war making machinery and now terrorist detection are bankrupting us. We are being manipulated into the evisceration of the body and soul of America.

    We need to reel it all in and focus on the United States of America, people. Does anyone hear me out there?

Comments are closed.