HOWTO get metal through a TSA full-body scanner

Jon Corbett, an engineer who is suing the TSA over the use of full-body "pornoscanners," has developed and documented a simple way to smuggle metallic objects, including guns, through the scanners. He tested the method at real TSA checkpoints, producing video-documentation that shows him apparently passing through the scanners with odd-shaped metal objects in a hidden pocket sewn into his garments. The method relies on the fact that the scanners show subjects' bodies as light objects on a dark background, and also render metal as dark objects. If an object is off to the side of the subject -- in a side pocket, say -- it shows up as black-on-black and is thus invisible.

To put it to the test, I bought a sewing kit from the dollar store, broke out my 8th grade home ec skills, and sewed a pocket directly on the side of a shirt. Then I took a random metallic object, in this case a heavy metal carrying case that would easily alarm any of the “old” metal detectors, and walked through a backscatter x-ray at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. On video, of course. While I’m not about to win any videography awards for my hidden camera footage, you can watch as I walk through the security line with the metal object in my new side pocket. My camera gets placed on the conveyer belt and goes through its own x-ray, and when it comes out, I’m through, and the object never left my pocket.

Maybe a fluke? Ok, let’s try again at Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport through one of the TSA’s newest machines: a millimeter wave scanner with automated threat detection built-in. With the metallic object in my side pocket, I enter the security line, my device goes through its own x-ray, I pass through, and exit with the object without any complaints from the TSA.

$1B of TSA Nude Body Scanners Made Worthless By Blog — How Anyone Can Get Anything Past The Scanners (via MeFi)


  1. At first I was like: “Boing Boing is writing about a heavy metal/hard rock band called TSA”.
    Dyslexia… I’m a moron

  2. I did opt out of this scanner not long ago and got a free government massage and I enjoyed that since that felt good. Reading about how taxpayers have been bilked out of money for this faulty device does not make me feel very good though.

  3. I totally get not trusting the government, and I’m in agreement with the criticisms of the TSA’s failures, but does he really advocate privatizing airport security (~4:10) as part of the solution?

    If you think it’s bad now, just wait until Wackenhut gets their tentacles wrapped around it!

    1. Airport security used to be run privately, and still is in some airports.   The push to turn it into a new government fiefdom came after the security  failures of 9/11, despite the fact that the real failure of 9/11 was in our ability to imagine what the hijackers did, a failure which has since been quite thoroughly corrected.

      It is unfortunate that the TSA managed to _lower_ security standards, increase costs and turn flying into an exercise in compliance.   But the problem is one of methodology, not ownership; privatizing the TSA without changing the methodology will do nothing to help matters.   Indeed, you could argue that the pornoscanners are in fact an attempt to privatize some aspect of security.   As usual, to the great profit of the government contractor, and the impoverishment of the national treasury.

    1.  How about  the more effective walkthrough metal detector WITHOUT the porno/radiation scanner?

    2. If you have to add metal detectors to the scanners, why use the nude scanners to begin with? They don’t seem worth the cost and radiation, to me.

  4. It will be interesting to see if independent confirmation of his experiment can be accomplished.  Unfortunately he has a vendetta against the TSA which makes any statements/experiments done by him suspect.  Grainy bouncing video does not count for much!  On the other hand it is only with motivated people that change gets accomplished. 

    1. Yeah, watching it he sounds like a hysterical, hyperbolic cook. But then… is what he’s saying correct? I guess that’s the question. 

      The scanner I went through I thought highlighted areas like a sort of ‘zone’, so it wouldn’t require visual identification.

    1. Not that simple MrEricSir – a human may not be able to see if it’s the right density to blend into the background, and the user has hung it off to the side of loose clothing so it’s not between the camera and the body.   And as pointed out below by iHominid, just take two shots (side and front) and you’ll find it.  Unless like you stash it inside a massive ‘fro.

    2.  Were one of a devious turn of mind, it’s almost as if these machines had been deliberately designed to allow ‘approved persons’ through – instructed in how to hide their materièl – and that all Corbett has done is blow the gaff.

  5. Great – another “Squirrel!”.  In ~4 months when I next fly I’ll have to turn 90 degrees and let them unconstitutionally scan me a second time from a different angle as TSA Security Theater reacts to PR, and this is going viral soon.  Thanks, Jon & BoingBoing.  

    Sarcasm aside, I wonder if this info & the original post should have followed software vulnerability processes where ‘authors’ are notified & given a chance to respond before publication…not that I trust the TSA to react well to such, and I’d bet money it would result in an FBI visit to Jon, if it has not already. Edit: Spelling & TSAOutOfOurPants blog says it was delivered ahead of time – I’d love to read about that experience in addition to watching the video…

    1. Exactly what I had in mind before even watching the video. The only step required to take care of this problem with the scanners is make people walk through them a second time. 

      Of course this isn’t a good thing. There are already loads of questions about whether these should be used at all, let alone twice every time you need to fly. Also the queues. Soon enough airports will require at least 3 hours before even a domestic flight at the rates of extra security being added.. 

      Good-bye time advantage for shorter trips!

  6. Technically his approach makes a ton of sense – put things you don’t want detected away from your body so they show up over the background (and hopefully blend into it).  Kind of like putting a white piece of paper down on a copy machine and making a copy of it – it hardly shows up, and only someone paying attention can figure out it’s there.

  7. $1B–Can we American taxpayers ask for a refund from Rapiscan/L3 and Friends of Chertoff?

  8. And so the only thing that shows up as white in these scanners is the human body. I wonder, why is that? Apparently some of the electromagnetic radiation or particles are reflected back because of the density of human flesh (consisting mostly of water). Also, the human skeleton is not revealed by these machines.

    Therefore, a weapon that is surrounded by a container (made of leather, water-proof cloth, or plastic) with a thin layer of water should also appear the same color as the human body and it would be less visible to the scanner, especially if the container was molded to fit the contour of the human body. This would apply to the millimeter wave machines that are in use, although it probably doesn’t generalize to the scanners that emit low-energy x-rays.

    With low-energy x-rays, the situation is more complicated as some of the radiation passes through the human body and some of it is reflected back to the scanner. Thus, a weapon made of high density material, such as metal, would probably still show up on the scanner, even if it was swallowed. To elude detection from an x-ray backscatter machine, the weapon would have to be made from lighter elements, including such materials as a carbon composite, plastic, glass, or bone.

    1. It’s not alpha radiation, where did you hear that? It’s millimetre wave or some kind of x-ray.

    2. You mean to say that yokel class, with their pigs and chickens and small milking cows, could pass through the scanners on their haywains with impunity? All they have to do is get their pig to swallow the weapons?

      Never did trust those there peasants.

      1. For the millimeter wave machines that are in use, weapons that are swallowed by pigs could not be detected. Therefore, the yokel class could arrive inside the plane fully armed.

        For the machines that use x-rays, the swallowed weapons would have to be made of a less dense material than metal, otherwise they could probably be detected.

        So which airlines allow peasants to enter the plane with their farm animals? I want to be certain to avoid them.

  9. The video ignores that the scanners do not just generate front and rear, but also side view images. The metal case should show up on those shots. Otherwise, the machines’ software would need to have very fancy computer vision algorithms to remove objects from the scan that occlude the person behind it. Very unlikely. It is both complicated and counter productive.

    I don’t like the scanners, but I’m very sceptical of the video. If the story about the smuggled metal case is real, then are more plausible explanations for the failed detection, such as the scanners attendant not paying attention.

  10. I have no love for the TSA period  , however was it really wise to post this type of Achilles heel to a public blog ?  Willing to bet in the next few days we see at least 10 copycats arrested trying to pass /fake the TSA’s  radiation machines……….I have said in the past that there is no real security until all cargo goes through a secure scan of some sort , however this revelation is very disturbing on a multitude of levels.

    1. Concern trolling? Really?

      Yes, it was wise to expose the ineffectiveness of a purported security measure that has cost  millions of dollars and invades the privacy of travellers to an extent that many are uncomfortable with. Otherwise it would still be possible for the TSA to claim that the expense and indignity are justifiable.

      It would be ridiculous to pretend that keeping quiet about it could do any good whatsoever. It is ALWAYS a good idea to make criticism of government as honest, factual, public and open as possible. Free speech: use it or lose it.

    1. some, like me, like to monitor their voice on the mic feed. it provides better feedback to ensure only one take

  11. as much as i  have no desire to see the pronoscanners for 1 more minute in the airport, wouldn’t a 360 degree scan discover this type of concealment? presumably the next iteration of the pronscanner will have a turntable attachment. thus adding an extra 5 minutes to every scan.

  12. Well, what if they add another check where they also get a view of the negative image?

    And by the way, wouldn’t it be reasonable to be asking for studies to be set-up to investigate any related problems that could arise to the frequent flyers by the use of these scanners?

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