Airport Scanners in 2014 – Fear and the End of Privacy
Katherine Carroll, Green Med Info
Terrorism – or the perceived threat of it – has turned democracies into paranoid armed camps in which the state feels justified in assuming that every citizen is a potential terrorist.” – John Naughton
We are the last ones to board the flight to LA. It’s not the first time that our refusal to pass through the airport scanner has caused us to nearly miss our flight. Donn is already ahead of me and in the spread-eagled, humbling position when I reach for my iPhone to get a picture. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent gathering my possessions ever so slowly, despite my telling her our flight is boarding, advises me not to touch anything on the belt. “Just a quick picture … I’m writing an article on the scanner that the European Union just banned at nearly the end of the 3-year trial period.”/1 “It’s against policy for you to touch any of your possessions.” But my talk about the EU banning the scanners momentarily diverted her attention.
I snatch my iPhone off of the “verboten belt” and quickly get my shot of my husband, Donn going through the process no one else in the vast lines of people opted for. Realizing she’s lost control, the TSA agent snaps, “Hurry and take it [after the fact] – that’s my boss coming!” and then proceeds to ask her burning question, eyes widening, “The EU did what?”
“They are banning them, scrapping all those expensive airport scanners declaring them unsafe at nearly the end of the term, but they are still in use in the US. They also revoked the once-mandatory ‘no scan/no fly’ rule.”/1 She pats me down and, over the top of her rote monologue, I tell her everything I know about the latest developments. “Send me your article please,” she admits with fear in her eyes, “I’m extremely worried about my exposure here.”
Meantime, Donn sees my Nikon in my stash of personal belongings and reaches over the counter, grabs it, and starts taking pictures of me getting the pat-down. The TSA agent’s boss is now running at top speed, telling him, “No pictures!! Put it away.” Donn says “Okay, will do” and then takes several more before complying. What is this “no picture” rule? Where is this stated? Are they afraid we’ll have evidence? Faces to pin a crime to when TSA agents are likened to those tried for Nazi war crimes for exposing our bodies and our unborn to cancer-causing radiation?
I hand my NHF business card to this woman and she said so sincerely, “Thank you so much. I will email you for this article.” She then trusted me with her name, which was all she could give back to me in exchange for having run her hands all the way up the inside of my mini-skirt in a move that would be called molesting were it done in any other setting than at a security checkpoint.
Compromise and Controversy Surround Airport Scanners
Whole-body x-ray backscatter scanners – which flood the body with x-rays in an effort to detect explosives and other weapons – have been deployed at U.S. airports since 2007. Although originally announced as a screening tool for a limited number of passengers, the government’s goal now is to use them for all U.S. airline passengers. Many passengers do not realize that they may “opt out” of the scans and “participate” in a full-body pat-down instead.
In 1998, prior to their installation at airports, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) brought together a team of radiation safety experts to determine whether any health risks were associated with the use of an airport scanner called the Secure 1000. Their joint conclusion resulted in the violation of a longstanding principle that humans should not be X-rayed unless there is a valid medical purpose. Yet, here we are; they are doing it.
In January 2011, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration, alleging that the scans and pat-downs violated his right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure. He is sick of being treated like a criminal and no longer flies. The judge threw the case out, claiming she did not have jurisdiction. “You have to realize, when you go to an airport you are not protected by the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. They can do anything they want and there is nowhere you can go to seek regress,” Jesse advises.
Individuals and groups have initiated lawsuits. Jonathan Corbett, who said he works in “technology,” is acting as his own attorney in a Federal lawsuit against the TSA. The suit objects to him being forced to enhanced pat downs – if he refuses to go through one of the machines – “that require the touching of his genitalia area by TSA officers.” Corbett also sewed a metal object into a pocket on the side of his shirt and passed through the backscatter x-ray with it undetected, multiple times, proving the machine’s ineffectiveness in detecting anything laterally. Others complain or sue for “groping,” and one woman had her breasts laughed at by TSA agents, one even following her to the boarding area saying he wished he had been part of that search. There have been comments about the similarities to Nazi Germany.
Some religious groups have refused to pass through the scanners, citing a violation of their privacy, while some on the other side of the scanner enjoy the “virtual stripping.” The U.S. Marshall’s Service admitted that it saved thousands of stored images from a Florida checkpoint even though they will claim images are never stored. Some of these body scans are leaked and circulated.
All of this bad press coupled with the fact that TSA shut down for three days over a busy Thanksgiving holiday, not even offering pat-downs when their public image came under question and the fact that lateral views are not registered on scans, so weapons and “metal objects” can and have been brought through without detection and they don’t detect “booty bombs” either – anything inside the body, make the scanners a dubious and dangerous entity that are definitely not about “safety in the skies” at all.
An anonymous blog comment on the TSA’s blog.tsa.gov site made this observation in January 2012 about the Top 10 Catches of the Year (three of the ten were snakes, turtles, and a tactical martial arts spike):
“And just think, those Top 10 Finds only cost us, the lowly taxpayer, what $8.1B? Good God, think of the good that could have been done with that money compared to employing a bloated, undereducated work force whose Top 10 Finds don’t amount to a hill of beans. Add this pathetic look at the successes to the scorching information released by Congress and you see that we’re paying a lot for little to nothing.”
11th Hour Reprieve
In the U.K., a “no scan/no fly” mandate was recently revoked. Manchester Airport has been the only European airport using the £80,000 machines; but after a three-year trial, the European Commission (EC) declared them unsafe. Last May, the EC reviewers had stated that the scanner’s risk was “close to zero,” so it was understandable that Manchester airport would expect the technology to be approved for permanent use. However, with no approval forthcoming, the Manchester Airport authorities have been left with no option but to axe their 16 scanners because the EC does not allow security trials to exceed a three-year period.
So, even though the report from the EC in May had claimed that radiation doses were “very low,” it did ominously add that the long-term effects – such as cancer risks – from its use could not be ruled out. Meanwhile, a U.S. academic, Dr. David J. Brenner, opined that these scanners could deliver up to twenty times more radiation to the skin than previously thought – potentially increasing the risk of skin cancer. It is well known that there is a direct correlation between radiation exposure and cancer.
Radio-Frequency Scanners and Their Health Risks
A competitive technology to backscatter X-rays is millimeter-wave radio-frequency (RF) scanning. RF scanners based on this technology either actively or passively scan the body for hidden weapons and explosives. Canadian airports employ these devices to screen passengers. To my view, the adoption of this newer, supposedly safer technology is still a death-march for the unborn, and even the young, which can initiate tumors and infertility.
“Don’t let your child go through that thing!” my raised voice surprised even me. I had been waiting at least fifteen minutes for the pat-down on my recent, return flight home. This seems to be the “reward” for standing up for oneself against Homeland Security. My unexpected outburst drew the supervisor and a policeman this time. A small Asian girl was being steered through the new RF airport scanner, her father behind guiding her. Both stopped in their tracks.
The “asleep at the wheel” TSA agent assured them that the new Radio Frequency scanners are “completely safe.” Yet, she was still opening the bypass, motioning them away from the infertility-inducing scanner into the safer zone, and shooting me a hateful glance. Countering her lie, “Have you seen the PubMed article on RF and airport scanners? It reports infertility. Do your homework; it’s not safe.” The policeman was now right by my side.
How many children have passed through so-called “safe” replacement RF scanners? Studies have shown that children’s brains receive higher exposure of RF than adults, particularly in cell phone use. Cumulative exposure is of concern. Of particular concern are TSA staff in the vicinity of scanners who are receiving a marked, cumulative exposure effect. Pilots, flight attendants, frequent fliers, pregnant women, and those who have not yet confirmed a pregnancy are all at high risk.
A 1995 study in the May/June issue of Microwave News reports RF/MW-exposed soldiers have more leukemia and lymphoma. “Polish military personnel exposed to radiofrequency and microwave (RF/MW) radiation had significantly higher rates of leukemia and lymphoma than those who were not exposed, according to a new study by Dr. Stanislaw Szmigielski of the Center for Radiobiology and Radiation Safety and the Military Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, both in Warsaw. The risk of developing these cancers was more than eight times the expected rate for younger soldiers. ‘These new results support our previous findings of a cancer link,’ Szmigielski told Microwave News.”
The study was the most detailed ever of an RF/MW-exposed population, covered fifteen years, and surveyed over a 100,000 soldiers a year. As Microwave News reported, “[t]he exposed personnel’s overall risk of all types of cancer was about double that of the controls. For leukemia and lymphoma, the risk rose to more than six times the expected rate for all age groups and to over eight times for those servicemen between the ages of 20 and 49. All of these risks are statistically significant.”
“Statistically significant” here translates into “bad news for TSA,” and for millions upon millions of passengers, as the government merely trades one brand of “death-march” for another and risks creating RF-induced infertility in many passengers. Remember, as further reported, “[n]o large-scale epidemiological cancer study of RF/MW exposed workers has ever been done in the United States. A 1992 investigation of U.S. Army artillery crews did find impaired reproductive function, but no attempt has been made to investigate this finding.” This is bad news for everyone.
The Worst is Yet To Come
There is even more cause for alarm for what is soon to come. Laser-Based Molecular Scanners – using terahertz (THz) radiation (i.e., near the microwave range) – are scheduled to be deployed at airports within two years. As one publication so aptly put it, “[w]ithin the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body—agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you. And without you knowing it.”
This is a cause that everyone can involve themselves in. Purportedly, THz radiation poses no health risk when it scans people. But they said exactly the same thing about back-scatter x-ray scanners too. And, since when have we started believing what the government tells us?
A 2008 study investigated this type of radiation and concluded that it causes genomic instability, which could lead to cancer. As the study stated, “[o]ur results demonstrate that exposure of lymphocytes in vitro to a low power density of 0.1 THz radiation induces genomic instability. These findings, if verified, may suggest that such exposure may result in an increased risk of cancer.”
The scariest part of this study is that this terahertz radiation “is able to excite low-frequency collective vibrational modes of biomolecules.” In other words, the very fabric of our DNA is affected by this radiation and, with it, our ability to replicate our own DNA. We may walk away from the scanners feeling fine, but our DNA sure doesn’t. Do that enough times and we may irreparably scramble our own genetic code.
While schools in Europe are returning to hardwired internet systems and prohibiting cell phones in schools so as to reduce electro-smog and unhealthy EMF exposure, the American government is ramping up its efforts to bombard us against our will with more harmful radiation that assaults not only our bodies but our privacy. This must stop, and sanity and common-sense must return to travel.
Now is the time to take a proactive stance before the next onslaught of radiation against our society is set to be unleashed by 2014. Not flying – as Jesse Ventura has chosen to do – is no answer. If the new laser-based molecular scanner is allowed in airports, our health, liberty, and privacy will be sacrificed; and we will walk sick and conquered to our graves.
-  Air-related complaints can be filed at: http://airconsumer.ost.dot.gov/escomplaint/es.cfm.
-  David Kravets, “TSA Pooh-Poohs Video Purporting To Defeat Airport Body Scanners,”Wired, March 7, 2012, at: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/bodyscanner-video/, last accessed December 17, 2012.
-  Travelmail Reporter, “Manchester airport axes controversial ‘naked’ scanners after EU fails to approve them,” Mail Online, 17 September 2012, at:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-2204387/Manchester-airport-axes-controversial-naked-scanners-EU-fails-approve-them.html#ixzz2AM21TInL, last accessed December 17, 2012.
-  David J. Brenner, “Are X-Ray Backscatter Scanners Safe for Airport Passenger Screening? For Most Individuals, Probably Yes, but a Billion Scans per Year Raises Long-Term Public Health Concerns,” Radiology, April 2011 259:1 6-10; doi:10.1148/radiol.11102347. Full text may be read at: http://intl-radiology.rsna.org/content/259/1/6.full.pdf+html?sid=078fc9c9-366f-4b15-bd37-26111060c626.
-  See Health Canada notice on use of this technology at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/life-vie/airport-scanners-aeroports-eng.php.
-  “RF/MW-Exposed Soldiers Have More Leukemia and Lymphoma,” Microwave News, Vol. XV, No. 3, May/June 1995, p. 1, at: http://microwavenews.com/news/backissues/m-j95issue.pdf.
-  “Hidden Government Scanners Will Instantly Know Everything About You From 164 Feet Away,” Gizmodo, July 10, 2012, at: http://gizmodo.com/5923980/the-secret-government-laser-that-instantly-knows-everything-about-you, last accessed on December 17, 2012.
About the Author
Kat Carroll, NTP, Associate Editor enjoys hosting guests at Adytum Sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest as well as writing for several blogs and magazines and is Associate Editor of NHF’s Health Freedom News. Additionally Kat is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and clinic administrator at her and her husband Donn Carroll’s Optometry clinics.