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)

FBI anti-terrorism expert: TSA is useless

Steve Moore, who identifies himself as a former FBI Special Agent and head of the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force Al Qaeda squad, says that the TSA is useless. He says that they don't catch terrorists. He says they won't catch terrorists. He says that they can't catch terrorists. Oh, he also claims 35 years' piloting experience and a father was United's head of security and anti-hijacking SWAT training and experience.

Frankly, the professional experience I have had with TSA has frightened me. Once, when approaching screening for a flight on official FBI business, I showed my badge as I had done for decades in order to bypass screening. (You can be envious, but remember, I was one less person in line.) I was asked for my form which showed that I was armed. I was unarmed on this flight because my ultimate destination was a foreign country. I was told, "Then you have to be screened." This logic startled me, so I asked, "If I tell you I have a high-powered weapon, you will let me bypass screening, but if I tell you I'm unarmed, then I have to be screened?" The answer? "Yes. Exactly." Another time, I was bypassing screening (again on official FBI business) with my .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol, and a TSA officer noticed the clip of my pocket knife. "You can't bring a knife on board," he said. I looked at him incredulously and asked, "The semi-automatic pistol is okay, but you don't trust me with a knife?" His response was equal parts predictable and frightening, "But knives are not allowed on the planes."...

The report goes on to state that the virtual strip search screening machines are a failure in that they cannot detect the type of explosives used by the “underwear bomber” or even a pistol used as a TSA’s own real-world test of the machines. Yet TSA has spent approximately $60 billion since 2002 and now has over 65,000 employees, more than the Department of State, more than the Department of Energy, more than the Department of Labor, more than the Department of Education, more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development---combined. TSA has become, according to the report, “an enormous, inflexible and distracted bureaucracy more concerned with……consolidating power.”

Each time the TSA is publically called to account for their actions, they fight back with fear-based press releases which usually begin with “At a time like this….” Or “Al Qaeda is planning—at this moment …..” The tactic, of course, is to throw the spotlight off the fact that their policies are doing nothing to make America safer “at a time like this.” Sometimes doing the wrong thing is just as bad as doing nothing.

TSA: Fail (via MeFi)

German cops call airport full-body pornoscanners "useless," EU requires opt out from scanning

Bruce Schneier rounds up a series of links about problems with airport full-body "pornoscanners." The German police call them "useless" (35 percent of fliers repeatedly set them off, though they weren't carrying anything dangerous), some scanners are set off by sweaty armpits, and the European Parliament requires EU aviation authorities to allow you to opt out of full body scans (both UK and Dutch airports have a "get scanned or don't fly" requirement for people pulled for full-body scans). Here a bit from the Agence France Presse:
The report said the machines were confused by several layers of clothing, boots, zip fasteners and even pleats, while in 10 percent of cases the passenger's posture set them off.

The police called for the scanners to be made less sensitive to movements and certain types of clothing and the software to be improved. They also said the US manufacturer L3 Communications should make them work faster.

In the wake of the 10-month trial which began on September 27 last year, German federal police see no interest in carrying out any more tests with the scanners until new more effective models become available, Welt am Sonntag said.

German Police Call Airport Full-Body Scanners Useless

DHS documents show agency isn't sure pornoscanners are safe

The Electronic Privacy Information Center is going great guns with its Freedom of Information requests to the DHS on the full-body radiation scanners ("pornoscanners") used in airports. EPIC's liberated documents suggest that the DHS itself has failed to adequately test scanners for radiation risk, that they're worried about this, and that they're taking steps to cover this up. Based on this stuff, I think you'd be nuts to go through a scanner -- and that the DHS's employees should refuse to operate them.
EPIC v. DHS Lawsuit -- FOIA'd Documents Raise New Questions About Body Scanner Radiation Risks : In a FOIA lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, EPIC has just obtained documents concerning the radiation risks of TSA's airport body scanner program. The documents include agency emails, radiation studies, memoranda of agreement concerning radiation testing programs, and results of some radiation tests. One document set reveals that even after TSA employees identified cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure, the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters - safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure. Another document indicates that the DHS mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST "affirmed the safety" of full body scanners. The documents obtained by EPIC reveal that NIST disputed that characterization and stated that the Institute did not, in fact, test the devices. Also, a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the "General Public Dose Limit." For more information, see EPIC: EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security - Full Body Scanner Radiation Risks and EPIC: EPIC v. DHS (Suspension of Body Scanner Program). (Jun. 24, 2011)
EPIC v. Department of Homeland Security - Full Body Scanner Radiation Risks (Thanks, HotPepperMan!)

Proposed TX law would criminalize TSA screening procedures

A Republican Texas legislator has introduced a bill that would make the TSA's grope-and-fondle secondary search into a felony, and would also criminalize installing and using a pornoscanner:
HB 1937 includes the following:

(3) as part of a search performed to grant access to a publicly accessible building or form of transportation, intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

(A) searches another person without probable cause to believe the person committed an offense; and

(B) touches the anus, sexual organ, or breasts of the other person, including touching through clothing, or touches the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person.

(f) .... An offense under Subsection (a)(3) is a state jail felony.

The Tenth Amendment Center adds, "the Texas legislature stands on solid ground. Local governments control airports and no enumerated power in the Constitution gives the federal government the authority to regulate them. Under the Tenth Amendment, airport operation falls under state jurisdiction."

Texas Legislation Proposes Felony Charges for TSA Agents (Thanks, Anulla!)

TSA has no regular testing system for its pornoscanners

Many experts are skeptical that the TSA's new backscatter pornoscanner machines are safe, but even the experts who endorse them are careful to bracket their reassurances with certain caveats: the safety of the machines depends heavily on their being properly maintained, regularly tested, and expertly operated. Whether or not you're comfortable with the intended radiation emissions from the scanners, no one in their right mind would argue that a broken machine that lovingly lingers over your reproductive organs and infuses them with 10,000 or 100,000 times the normal dosage is desirable.

But when Andrew Schneider, AOL's public health correspondent, contacted the TSA to find out what maintenance and testing is in place to ensure the safe operation of the scanners, he discovered that the TSA appears to have no regime at all to ensure that they are functioning within normal parameters. While the TSA claims that entities like the FDA, the US Army and Johns Hopkins all regularly inspect their machines, none of these groups agrees, and they all disavow any role in regularly maintaining and testing the TSA's equipment (the Army has tested machines in three airports, but has not conducted any further testing). And Johns Hopkins denies that it has certified the machines as safe for operation in the first place -- let alone taking on any ongoing testing and certification program.

For example, the FDA says it doesn't do routine inspections of any nonmedical X-ray unit, including the ones operated by the TSA.

The FDA has not field-tested these scanners and hasn't inspected the manufacturer. It has no legal authority to require owners of these devices -- in this case, TSA -- to provide access for routine testing on these products once they have been sold, FDA press officer said Karen Riley said...

Two-person teams from the Army unit performed surveys of the Advance Image Technology X-ray scanners at just three airports -- in Boston, Los Angeles and Cincinnati, she said. And that was all that the TSA asked the Army to do this year...

"APL's role was to measure radiation coming off the body scanners to verify that it fell within [accepted] standards. We were testing equipment and in no way determined its safety to humans," Helen Worth, head of public affairs for the Johns Hopkins lab, told AOL News.

"Many news articles have said we declared the equipment to be safe, but that was not what we were tasked to do," she added.

Moreover, the study said APL scientists were unable to test a ready-for-TSA scanner at their lab because the manufacturer would not supply one. Instead, the tests were performed on a scanner cobbled together from spare parts in manufacturer Rapiscan Systems' California warehouse.

AOL Investigation: No Proof TSA Scanners Are Safe (Thanks, Shebar!)

(Image: Bottle: entry in Bruce Schneier's TSA logo competition, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from bazzargh's photostream)

Pornoscanners trivially defeated by pancake-shaped explosives

In case you were wondering whether pornoscanners are harder on the vast majority of innocent, non-terrorist fliers, or the minuscule minority of terrorists, wonder no more. From Leon Kaufman and Joseph W. Carlson's "An evaluation of airport x-ray backscatter units based on image characteristics," published in the Journal of Transportation Security:
The penetration not only distributes exposure throughout the body (this affecting the calculation of effective dose, which comprises a sum over all organs), but tends to diffuse the effects caused by contraband materials. Images can be made at low entrance exposures, but of very poor spatial resolution and S/N. The calculated signal excursions at high kilovoltage are so small as to make it doubtful that at any reasonable exposure levels density differences will be noticeable unless the contraband is packed thickly and with hard edges. Although the excursions are larger at low kilovoltage, they are still small and in the noise of the device's operational limits. The eye is a good signal averager at certain spatial frequencies, but it is doubtful that an operator can be trained to detect these differences unless the material is hard-edged, not too large and regular- shaped. Anatomic features and benign objects add structured noise that interferes with signal averaging. Figure 18 shows a widely-distributed backscatter image. On the left is a complete view of her torso, on the right, a section has been blacked out. While the breasts are easily recognized at right, without some prior knowledge of the subject, it would be hard to distinguish the increase of intensity in the superior part of her breasts from the natural gradients of the image.

It is very likely that a large (15-20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology, ironically, because of its large volume, since it is easily confused with normal anatomy. Thus, a third of a kilo of PETN, easily picked up in a competent pat down, would be missed by backscatter "high technology". Forty grams of PETN, a purportedly dangerous amount, would fit in a 1.25 mm-thick pancake of the dimensions simulated here and be virtually invisible. Packed in a compact mode, say, a 1 cm×4 cm×5 cm brick, it would be detected.

The images are very sensitive to the presence of large pieces of high Z material, e. g., iron, but unless the spatial resolution is good, thin wires will be missed because of partial volume effects. It is also easy to see that an object such as a wire or a box- cutter blade, taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible. While there are technical means to mildly increase the conspicuity of a thick object in air, they are ineffective for thin objects such as blades when they are aligned close to the beam direction.

An evaluation of airport x-ray backscatter units based on image characteristics (PDF) (via /.)

Pornoscan Santa xmas card


This funny xmas card was in my PO Box this morning, courtesy of Eric Mueller!

Rapiscan Santa and reindeer, Xmas Card from Eric Mueller and Ramona Ponce

Molecular biologist on the dangers of pornoscanners

Jason Bell, "a molecular biologist and biophysicist... a Ph.D. candidate in Steve Kowalczykowski's lab at UC Davis," has posted a detailed critique of the research on the safety of airport backscatter radiation scanners. His specialty is the "molecular mechanism of how mutations in the breast cancer susceptibility gene, BRCA2, result in cancer," and he's posted a detailed, lay-friendly explanation of the scientific concerns expressed by the UCSF team that believes that they are unsafe for use.
Which brings me to how the scanner works. Essentially, it appears that an X-ray beam is rastered across the body, which highlights the importance of one of the specific concerns raised by the UCSF scientists... what happens if the machine fails, or gets stuck, during a raster. How much radiation would a person's eye, hand, testicle, stomach, etc be exposed to during such a failure. What is the failure rate of these machines? What is the failure rate in an operational environment? Who services the machine? What is the decay rate of the filter? What is the decay rate of the shielding material? What is the variability in the power of the X-ray source during the manufacturing process? This last question may seem trivial; however, the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory noted significant differences in their test models, which were supposed to be precisely up to spec. Its also interesting to note that the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory criticized other reports from NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) and a group called Medical and Health Physics Consulting for testing the machine while one of the two X-ray sources was disabled (citations at the bottom of the page).

These questions have not been answered to any satisfaction and the UCSF scientists, all esteemed in their fields and members of the National Academy of Sciences have been dismissed based on a couple of reports seemingly hastily put together by mid-level government lab technicians. The documents that I have reviewed thus far either have NO AUTHOR CREDITS or are NOT authored by anyone with either a Ph.D. or a M.D., raising serious concerns of the extent of the expertise of the individuals and organizations evaluating these machines. Yet, the FDA and TSA continue to dismiss some of the most talented scientists in the country...

Furthermore, when making this comparison, the TSA and FDA are calculating that the dose is absorbed throughout the body. According the simulations performed by NIST, the relative absorption of the radiation is ~20-35-fold higher in the skin, breast, testes and thymus than the brain, or 7-12-fold higher than bone marrow. So a total body dose is misleading, because there is differential absorption in some tissues. Of particular concern is radiation exposure to the testes, which could result in infertility or birth defects, and breasts for women who might carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. Even more alarming is that because the radiation energy is the same for all adults, children or infants, the relative absorbed dose is twice as high for small children and infants because they have a smaller body mass (both total and tissue specific) to distribute the dose. Alarmingly, the radiation dose to an infant's testes and skeleton is 60-fold higher than the absorbed dose to an adult brain!

Review of the TSA X-ray backscatter body scanner safety report: hide your kids, hide your wife (Thanks, Marilyn!)

German Pirate Party members strip off for Berlin airport scanner protest

Hardy members of Germany's Pirate Party stripped down to their underwear and went to Berlin airport, their bodies marked with slogans in makeup or on paper signs: "Something to hide?", "Be a good citizen -- drop your pants."

One woman has the word diaper scrawled on her lower back with an arrow pointing to her underwear and the word prosthetic printed on her leg. The word piercing and an arrow point to one of her breasts.

The full-body scanners use high-frequency radio waves to produce an image of a passengers naked body beneath clothes. Anything a passenger is carrying against the body -- weapons, drugs or explosives -- would be exposed. The scanners would also reveal the presence of prosthetic devices and breast implants.

As such, there have been privacy and legal concerns raised about the invasive equipment, particularly because its unclear if the scanners would be able to detect explosives hidden in body cavities and would therefore likely provide only minimal security.

Full Monty Scanner or Enhanced Pat-Down - the Only Options? (Thanks, J9C, via Submitterator)

Menstruating woman subjected to TSA grope because panty-liner obscured her vulva on pornoscanner

A self-described "rule follower" went through an airport pornoscanner wearing a panty-liner (she was menstruating). Because the hygienic item obscured the screener's view of her vagina vulva, she was made to endure a humiliating fondling, "so invasive that I was left crying and dealing with memories that I thought had been dealt with years ago of prior sexual assaults."
These new scans are so horrible that if you are wearing something unusual (like a piece of cloth on your panties) then you will be subjected to a search where a woman repeatedly has to check your "groin" while another woman watches on (two in my case - they were training in a new girl - awesome). So please, please, tell the ladies not to wear their liners at the airport (I didn't even have an insert in). I'm a strong, confident woman; I'm an Army vet (which is why those camo liners crack me up), I work full-time and go to graduate school full-time, I have a wonderful husband, and I don't take any nonsense from anyone. I don't dramatize, and I don't exaggerate. I'm trying to give you a sense of who I am so you won't think that this is a plea for attention, or a jumping on the bandwagon about the recent TSA proposed boycott. I just don't want another woman to have to go through the "patting down" because she didn't know that her glad-rag would be a matter of national security."
There are plenty of TSA apologists who say that objections to the TSA's invasive "pat-downs" are just whining from people don't want to go through the backscatter radiation machines -- we bring it on ourselves. But as we've seen, anything out of the ordinary -- wearing a fabric pad during menstruation, artificial limbs, medical prostheses, etc -- can send you off for a date with Doctor Jellyfinger, Junior G-Man extraordinaire.

By declaring war on the unexpected, the TSA has set in motion a policy that makes the lives of cancer sufferers, disabled people, people who've had major surgery, and many others who're already having a hard time even harder.

TSA Groin Searches Menstruating Woman (Thanks, Jen!)

TSA looks at Adam Savage's junk, misses his two 12" razor blades

Back in May, before the widespread introduction of pornoscanners at US airports, Mythbusters' Adam Savage was selected for an early test of the machines. As he recounts in this presentation from w00tstock Seattle, the pornoscanner turned up a long and loving look at his penis, but the screeners missed the fact that he'd forgotten to leave his two 12" razor blades at home before setting out for the airport.

#w00tstock Seattle: Adam Savage says "WTF, TSA?" (Thanks, EMJ, via Submitterator!)

Traveller re-enters USA without passing through a pornoscanner or having his genitals touched

Matt returned from Paris to Cincinnati, where he was given the choice of a pornoscanner or a bit of the old nutsack-fondling from the TSA. Instead, Matt insisted that it was his right as an American with a passport who was n ot suspected of any wrongdoing to enter his country. The TSA told him the airport cops would arrest him if he didn't comply. The airport cops told him it was up to the TSA and clearly didn't appreciate being made to do someone else's dirty work. In the end, he was escorted out of the airport without having to submit to either procedure. He recorded much of the encounter on with his iPhone's audio recorder, too.
He offers as an alternative, "What if we were to escort you out with us? It would involve a pat-down, but it would be us doing it instead."

"Would you touch my balls?"

"I don't want to touch your - genital region, but my hand might brush against it."

I clarify, "Well, like I said, I'll do whatever you say is mandatory. If you tell me that you have to touch my balls--"

"--I said no such thing. You're putting words in my mouth."

"OK. I apologize. If you say that a pat-down is mandatory, and that as a condition of that pat-down, I may have my genitals brushed against by your hand, even though you don't want to, I will do that. But only if you say it is mandatory."

"I'm not going to say that."

You Don't Need to See His Identification (via Reddit)

What John Pistole means when he talks about "enhanced" TSA checkpoints

In this video, YouTube user SpinRemover adds subtitles to TSA boss John Pistole's now-infamous Anderson Cooper interview, translating bureaucratese into plain English.

John Pistole gets honest about Porno Scanners and pat downs.. (Thanks, Jumbie, via Submitterator!)

Federast: t-shirt for the age of TSA pornoscanners and grope-a-thons

At $34.99, this "Federast" t-shirt may be one of the more expensive means of getting singled out for punitive treatment at an airport checkpoint.

Federast (Thanks, Janee!)