Posted by DrJohn on 14 December, 2010 at 10:00 am. 24 comments already!


Feel safe? Don’t. Airline security is a joke.

There’s just no other way to put it. And it’s administered by idiots.

The stories keep piling up. Adam Savage (WTF, TSA?) tells a story that is hilarious in spite of it being so not funny. Savage inadvertently got two 12 inch razor blades onto the plane with him.

Bruce Schneier points to this video and says

The video is worth watching, even if you don’t speak German. The scanner caught a subject’s cell phone and Swiss Army knife — and the microphone he was wearing — but missed all the components to make a bomb that he hid on his body. Admittedly, he only faced the scanner from the front and not from the side. But he also didn’t hide anything in a body cavity other than his mouth — I didn’t think about that one — he didn’t use low density or thinly sliced PETN, and he didn’t hide anything in his carry-on luggage.

Full-body scanners: they’re not just a dumb idea, they don’t actually work.

Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab would not have been stopped by the new machines:

But Ben Wallace, the Conservative MP, who was formerly involved in a project by a leading British defence research firm to develop the scanners for airport use, said trials had shown that such low-density materials went undetected.

Tests by scientists in the team at Qinetiq, which Mr Wallace advised before he became an MP in 2005, showed the millimetre-wave scanners picked up shrapnel and heavy wax and metal, but plastic, chemicals and liquids were missed.

If a material is low density, such as powder, liquid or thin plastic – as well as the passenger’s clothing – the millimetre waves pass through and the object is not shown on screen. High- density material such as metal knives, guns and dense plastic such as C4 explosive reflect the millimetre waves and leave an image of the object.

Cory Doctorow notes that an article in the Journal of Transportation Security says that specially shaped explosives would likely avoid detection:

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.

And the health effects of this kind of radiation are still not determined.

Several University of California, San Francisco faculty members, in a letter of concern, state “there is good reason to believe that these scanners will increase the risk of cancer to children and other vulnerable populations,” and recommend the reevaluation
of the “potential health issues [they] have raised before there are irrevocable longterm consequences to the health of our country.” The scientists and physicians have also noted that the comparison of backscatter Xray machine dosage to “cosmic ray exposure inherent
to airplane travel or that of a chest Xray,’’ is “very misleading,” while “real independent safety data do not exist.”

That might not be the worst of it. All those people who scoot through the plane to clean it up? All those baggage handlers? The caterers?

All exempt.

Ground workers?


Patrick Smith notes one more bitter irony:

An airline pilot who once flew bombers armed with nuclear weapons is not to be trusted, and is marched through the metal detectors before every flight, just like passengers. But those workers who cater the galleys, sling the suitcases and sweep out the aisles can amble through a turnstile unmolested?

So in summary, these new machines aren’t going to find the bombs and there is a gigantic personnel security hole in the system.

Happy trails.

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