The TSA Responds But Doesn’t Deny How Easily Foiled Nude-o-Scopes Are

A video is circulating (which i posted yesterday) purporting to show how easy it is to foil TSA’s nude-o-scopes, rendering them useless as a tool for averting actual terrorists, they’ll catch only folks who aren’t actually out to purposely fool the machines like people who forget they’re carrying things through the checkpoint that they aren’t supposed to.

The TSA has responded on its blog.

They don’t deny the claims made in the video. Instead they say that they test the machines before rollout, the machines have detected stuff, the machines aren’t the only thing they do for security anyway.

Oh, and it’s better to have (flawed, easily foiled) machines than not to have them (without factoring in cost and whatever else they might do for security instead..) And of course the machines are optional anyway, which has nothing to do with the criticism.

In other words, “Look! Shiny things!” let’s distract from the expensive machines we’ve bought and make people go through, possibly exposing travelers to unneeded radiation for no security benefit while compromising privacy rights in the process.

It’s most telling that they try to dismiss “some guy” who made the video but don’t ever deny that the machines can be easily foiled in the way laid out, a simple sewing kit creating a pocket in the side of a shirt so that metallic items appear against the machine’s imaging background rather than against the graphic of the traveler’s body.

I didn’t have a strong independent opinion of the validity of the claims in the video, TSA’s response suggests to me that the claims are more credible than i would have imagined.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I wonder how long it will be until they start cranking up the power levels and running more and more scans from more and more angles to address more and more flaws in their reasoning creating a longer and longer wait. The sad thing is that the TSA is one of the few agencies that both the left and the right side of the political system are disgusted with and yet we can’t seem to do anything about it. Just goes to show how completely broken our system of government has become. Even when most of us agree that something has gone completely wrong we still can’t do much of anything to actually fix it.

  2. Apart from its employees and its suppliers, who is supporting the TSA? Is it that no one can agree on what would be better? Or is it that, if you set a target of guaranteeing security (instead of trying within reason to stop bad guys), you will inexorably move towards the sort of agency we have?

    What I find particularly strange is that I don’t see any broad movement against this most intrusive of government agencies.

  3. Just sad: we were once a great nation of common sense, honest politicians and legislators,and now were spiraling to our own demise, with cumbersome idiocy.

  4. I opt out of the AIT machines every time. The comment from S above made me realize that one could basically tape anything to the underside of their foot (inside their sock) and it wouldn’t be detected in the pat-down. Nor would it be caught by the metal detector…. because you don’t go through the metal detector as an opt-out.

    Unbelievable.

  5. For those worried about radiation—
    Have you ever thought about all of the background radiation you pick up when flying?

    Did you know that the average person 450 mRem per year from natural sources (cosmic terrestrial, ), and man-made (irradiated foods, X-ray) and foods with potassium such as bananas.

    I don’t think another scan in a security line is any more dangerous than any of these. Besides, I would rather be X-ray than groped.. I mean patted down.

  6. Coming out against the TSA as a politician at this point is much like coming out as wanting to change our drug policy. No politician has ever lost reelection because he was too tough on drugs, but a few have lost it because “they’re going to let criminals roam the streets”. Similarly, a politician who comes out and overtly wants to disband or redesign the TSA is “soft on terror”.

  7. The issue isn’t the radiation, per se, because yes, you get more by far just by flying for a few minutes. It’s that the radiation is concentrated only on the skin, whereas in most x-rays, it allows doctors to see internal structures. A group of scientists/doctors from the USC California stated concerns that the effects of such targeted radiation to the skin, however “little” it might be, hasn’t been studied enough. See: http://www.npr.org/assets/news/2010/05/17/concern.pdf

    As someone who has quite a high risk of getting skin cancer at some point in my life, I’ll be choosing to opt out so long as they allow me to. That said, this is only really an issue with backscatter units. I believe the MMW machines are safer, but I’d need to look into it more before feeling comfortable going through them on a regular basis.

  8. @Bryce: The issue with radiation from a scanner is that passengers receive radiation when no benefit is received in trade. See the forums for all the explanations of how AIT is no more effective (and often less effective) than non-AIT screening methods.

    When flying, the radiation passengers are submitted to is a tradeoff for generally fast transportation between distant places. We accept that tradeoff.

    Similarly, radiation absorbed from bananas have the tradeoff of nutritional value. Kitchen microwave ovens provide convenience for daily food preparation. A doctor (at least mine) is hesitant to order an X-ray or CT scan unless there is definite medical benefit to doing so.

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