TSA: we still trust body-scanners, though "for obvious reasons" we can't say why

Yesterday, I wrote about Jon Corbett's video, in which he demonstrates a method that appears to make it easy to smuggle metal objects (including weapons) through a TSA full-body scanner. The TSA has responded by saying that they still trust the machines, but they won't say why, "for obvious security reasons."

As Wired's David Kravets points out, Corbett is only the most recent critic to take a skeptical look at the efficacy of the expensive, invasive machinery. Other critics include the Government Accountability Office ("the devices might be ineffective") and the Journal of Transportation Security ("terrorists might fool the Rapiscan machines by taping explosive devices to their stomachs").

Corbett responded to the TSA's we-can't-tell-you-or-we'd-have-to-kill-you rebuttal with "You don't believe it? Try it."

“These machines are safe,” Lorie Dankers, a TSA spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview.

In a blog post, the government’s response was that, “For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail, however TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field.”

TSA Pooh-Poohs Video Purporting to Defeat Airport Body Scanners


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  1. To be relevant, the guy would have had to show that just carrying the same peice of metal where his technique would not work was getting busted by the TSA. Perhaps they can see it just fine and think its not dangerous? 

    And if this “hack” does work, the TSA will just ask you to turn 45% and 90% and take more pictures of you going forward. 

    1. The point isn’t that if the TSA got a do-over they might get it right.

      The point is that the TSA spent billions of dollars of your and my money to take nude pictures of people, and all they can cite in their blog post defending the boondoggle is a single gun (that the old WTMDs would almost certainly have found), two non-metallic weapons (that probably would have made it through the WTMDs, but also aren’t any more dangerous than thousands of items you can find in the “sterile zone” at any airport), and some drugs (because busting potheads clearly makes us all more secure).

  2. “TSA conducts extensive testing of all screening technologies in the laboratory and at airports prior to rolling them out to the entire field.”

    No fair! Corbett didn’t follow standard lab procedure!

  3. The TSA’s scanners are doing absolutely nothing, in real terms, to improve security anyway. They’re pure security theater and boondoggle.

    The next serious attacker won’t be an airplane passenger.

  4. you know, it’s not very charitable of me, but if someone manages to walk a bomb through the front door of TSA headquarters I’m afraid I’m going to have a veritable conniption fit of pants-wetting laughter.

    1. Blowing up 601-12th Street South won’t cause “terror,” but rather celebration.

      A more valuable (in terms of “terror”) target would be for the “terrorist” to detonate in the midst of one if the more crowded lines waiting to go through the Rape-I-Scan machines, as there’s no defense possible.

      The only effective response to such an attack: http://www.schneier.com/essay-124.html

    1.  “obscurity”!!! OH!!  (“Melvin! , it’s “obscurity”, NOT “stupidity”!  (damn minimum wage knuckle heads, don’t know why I ever left the BAFT grumble grumble)

  5. Their statement is completely true. It is obvious that they can’t tell us that they are lying about the efficacy of this security. It would be very unreasonable to expect them to admit that.

  6. TSA blog says:

    A video is making its way around the interwebs this morning from some guy claiming he figured out a way to beat our body scanners (imaging technology).

    I watched the video and it is a crude attempt to allegedly show how to circumvent TSA screening procedures.

    And yet nowhere do they actually say that this guy’s technique doesn’t–SQUIRREL!

  7. You want me to hand air port security over to private, for profit, international corporations because you think they will do a Better Job???

    1. The most frequent travelers I know tell me that the airports that currently have private security contractors (like SFO) are far less painful to transit than most others.

  8. Obviously because they spent billions on the things, and admiting how easy it is to fool them wouldn’t exactly look good.

  9. Not to condone these idiotic machines, but couldn’t the scanners’ output be altered to produce separate images on black and white backgrounds with both positive and negative filters to show items attached to the side of a body?  This is why I like taking the train :)

  10. Obvious security reason =  government contractors making billions of dollars selling the government pointless, intrusive technology, while government looks ‘tough’ on security.

  11. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” -Upton Sinclair

  12. One of the things that gets me is how the government always uses the “For obvious security reasons we can’t tell you…” When the world of Opensource software has already proven that openness actually trumps security through obscurity every time. If you invite people to punch wholes in your security and find better ways to be more secure, the whole system is more secure in the end. If on the other hand, you try to hide behind obscurity in order to stay safe, someone will purposely or accidentally find your weaknesses and then anyone can secretly use those weaknesses without anyone being any wiser about how it all went so wrong.

  13. You know I agree completely. The machine is perfectly safe. There is no threat to the machine. It’s safe even if it lets through a passenger with a weapon. It’s safe in not getting cancer if it malfunctions. It’s perfectly safe. It’s the people who rely on the machines who are not safe.

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