[News] Body-Scanners May Not Work, But They Do Cause Cancer

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Nov 24 12:13:10 EST 2010

Something to Consider on Opt-Out Day: 
Body-Scanners May Not Work, But They Do Cause Cancer

Wed, 11/24/2010
by: James Ridgeway

Are you one of the millions of Americans flying 
this Thanksgiving weekend? Are you thinking about 
joining the national protest to opt-out of being 
run through an airport X-ray scanner?

If you’re worried about the alternative--getting 
groped by TSA screeners at the checkpoint--you 
might consider this: The government insists those 
back-scatter X-ray machines are perfectly safe, but many scientists disagree.

It’s not just a matter of some puerile TSA 
screeners giggling at your naked body. In a 
to John Pistole, administrator of TSA, New Jersey 
Congressman Rush Holt, a physicist and the 
Chairman of the House Select Intelligence 
Oversight Panel, raises the possibility that the 
machines might be carcinogenic. He writes:

In March, the Congressional Biomedical Caucus (of 
which I am a co-chair) hosted a presentation on 
this technology by TSA, as well as a briefing by 
Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University on the 
potential health effects of “back scatter” x-ray 
devices. As Dr. Brenner noted in his presentation 
and in subsequent media interviews, the devices 
currently in use and proposed for wider 
deployment this year currently deliver to the 
scalp “20 times the average dose that is 
typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry.”

Dr. Brenner has pointed out that the majority of 
the radiation from X-ray backscatter machines 
strikes the top of the head, which is where 85 
percent of the 800,000 cases of basal cell 
carcinoma diagnosed in the United States each 
year develop. According to Dr. Brenner, excessive 
x-ray exposure can act as a cancer rate 
multiplier, which is why our government should 
investigate thoroughly the potential health risks 
associated with this technology.

Various experts have questioned whether older 
people and children ought to be subjected to 
scanners, and whether people susceptible to or 
having melanoma and cataracts should undergo the scan.

Last April, four California scientists--biology 
and medical researchers--in a 
to the White House, warned that there had been no 
independent research done into the safety of 
backscatter X-rays, with the government relying 
entirely on the industry’s own claims of safety. 
They also said that the TSA’s claim that the 
X-rays were less dangerous than an ordinary chest 
X-ray were misleading because the dose isbeing 
calculated for the whole body, while in fact the 
entire X-ray is focussed on the skin of the body, 
which receives a much higher dosage--one they 
warned could lead to potentially serious cancer risk.

Holt, meanwhile, also questioned the efficacy of 
the body scanners, which would come as no 
surprise to critics who’ve been lambasting them 
for years. Last January, when the government’s 
appetite for body scanners got a big boost from 
the underwear bomber, there was skepticism about 
their ability to detect the types of explosives 
favored by would-be airline bombers. As I 
<http://motherjones.com/mojo/2010/01/airport-scanner-scam>wrote at the time:

Known by their opponents as “digital strip 
search” machines, the full-body scanners use one 
of two technologies­millimeter wave sensors or 
backscatter x-rays­to see through clothing, 
producing ghostly images of naked passengers. Yet 
critics say that these, too, are highly fallible, 
and are incapable of revealing explosives hidden 
in body cavities­an age-old method for smuggling 
contraband. If that’s the case, a terrorist could 
hide the entire bomb works within his or her 
body, and breeze through the virtual strip search 
undetected. Yesterday, the London Independent 
reported on “authoritative claims that officials 
at the [UK] Department for Transport and the Home 
Office have already tested the scanners and were 
not persuaded that they would work 
comprehensively against terrorist threats to 
aviation.” A British defense-research firm 
reportedly found the machines unreliable in 
detecting “low-density” materials like plastics, 
chemicals, and liquids­precisely what the 
underwear bomber had stuffed in his briefs.

Nuclear physicist Prof. Peter Rez of the Arizona 
State University says that the backscatter device 
is notoriously bad at spotting liquids or 
semi-liquids, which is exactly what explosives 
like C-4 or plastique are. Moulded to blend 
smoothly with the skin, he said, such explosives, 
even on the outside of the body, would be 
virtually indistinguishable from flesh, 
especially on a person with folds of skin on the body.

Just to be sure I am not going off the deep end 
on this subject, I emailed Steve Elson, the 
intrepid former Navy Seal who worked on the 
federal government’s Red Team, which was 
deployed  in the years before 9/11 to test 
airport security by infiltrating through check 
points. This they did with ease; but no one ever 
paid any attention to their reports. Since 9/11 
Elson has worked on and off with television 
crews, continuing to penetrate airport security 
carrying with him all manner of guns and IEDs, 
and for the most part avoiding detection. In a 
CBC program last year at this time, the Canadians 
reviewed the air security situation and found it 
to be wanting. The reporters also got hold of a 
report from the Canadian transport people which 
raised questions about the effectiveness of full 
body scanners, especially when they are used in 
combination with metal detectors: A person 
passing through one machine after another would 
have to place their arms in different positions 
and the Canadians found the body scanners would 
fail to detect objects like rings or bracelets on 
extended arms because the mechanism could not 
reach high enough to take them in.

The Washington Post recently carried a list of 
people exempt from body scanning, including cops 
and military in uniform. (They might have added 
members of Congress. Republican House 
Speaker-apparent John Boehner, on a commercial 
flight recently, simply walked around the device, 
and ducked both the zapping and the groping.) I 
asked Elson about the exemptions, and he replied:

When I was traveling through Chicago last January 
on my way to Toronto to do an interview, I had 
some time between planes. Got a sandwich. No 
place to sit down so I literally walked into the 
back of a checkpoint that was enclosed by glass 
so everyone could see what was going on, sat down 
on a bench and ate my sandwich, and  watched. No 
one touched the pilots. Ergo, all I needed was a 
pilot’s uniform, bought or stolen, and a 
photoshop badge. Put explosives on my body, no 
metal, walk through, pick up my stuff and off to 
the plane. Likewise, I could do something similar 
on the ramp. Best time is in cold weather and 
snow storms. Do it as night approaches. People 
don’t care about security, just getting the job 
done and getting out of the weather. Steal a bag 
tag, make an unauthorized entry (no problem), 
walk up to a plane and throw it in with 50 lbs explosive.

Elson has always contended that the body scanner 
couldn’t detect explosives in body cavities. In 
his email he added this: “The machine can see 
through a thin layer of clothing and probably 
detect explosives strapped to the body.” But he 
pointed out that Leslie Stahl on 
Minutes”worried about exposing private parts, 
but  noted she could see a woman’s bra. “If she 
could see the bra, that means she could not see 
through the bra. A bra bomb or explosives molded 
to the breast wouldn’t be seen,” he continues. 
“And a woman, because of her anatomical 
construction, could easily
 bring a several pound 
IED fully assembled with timer, detonator, power 
sources right through the checkpoint. If scanned 
or patted down it would make no difference. Once 
on the plane she has the option to leave it 
in  the plane
and get off.” Ellison warns that a 
well planned Al Qaeda operation, “if they did it 
right, could knock down 50 planes in 30 minutes. 
Think about what that would do to US air operations.”

In my opinion, the best answer to airport 
security is the mass deployment of dogs. Give me 
a friendly German Shepherd, and I’ll gladly 
submit to being sniffed, rather than patted, 
wanded, or scanned. But unlike the scanner 
companies, dogs have no powerful lobbyists, like 
former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, to advocate on their behalf.

James Ridgeway, an occasional columnist for 
ThisCantBeHappening!, is senior Washington 
correspondent for Mother Jones Magazine. For 30 
years he was Washington correspondent for the 
Village Voice. He has his own blog called 
<http://unsilentgeneration.com/>Unsilent Generation

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