TSA’s X-Ray Nude Body Scanners Output 50% More Radiation Than Admitted To By TSA?

Rapiscan Nude Body ScannerA few weeks ago, scientific researchers from top universities released a report confirming my 2012 demonstration that anything can be easily smuggled through the TSA’s nude body scanners. While this (again) made headlines all over the world, the media seemed to have missed one detail that the scientists noted at the end of their study as an addendum: they measured the radiation dose given by these machines and found it to be way higher than admitted.

People were rightly concerned about being dosed by x-rays as a condition of flying from the moment the TSA suggested using nude body scanners. You may recall that the TSA dismissed these concerns — their official line from the very beginning regarding radiation safety:

Backscatter technology projects an ionizing X-ray beam over the body surface at high speed. The reflection, or “backscatter,” of the beam is detected, digitized and displayed on a monitor. Each full body scan produces less than 10 microrem of emission, the equivalent to the exposure each person receives in about 2 minutes of airplane flight at altitude.

Source: Transportation Security Administration, Official Blog

“One full body scan” means one front and back scan, as the Rapiscan systems in use at the checkpoints did both the front and back of your body simultaneously, and the TSA assures us that “1 scan” will dose us with no more than 10 microrem of radiation.

Yet when these independent scientists from University of California at San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins, who were not commissioned or endorsed by the government, ran the same tests, here’s what they found:

The average DDE per scan for all the dosimeters was calculated to be 73.8 nSv. The average SDE per scan was 70.6 nSv, and the average eye-lens dose per scan was 77.9 nSv.

Source: August 2014 Study, p. 16

Units are tricky with radiation because they are really small and change between “rem” and “sievert” (1 rem = 0.01 sievert), but the scientists are saying that 1 scan = 73.8 nanosievert = 0.0738 microsievert = 7.38 microrem. The TSA promised less than 10 microrem, so it sounds like the TSA was right… right?

Of course not. The scientists, unlike the TSA, did not measure front and back at the same time:

To irradiate them sufficiently, we performed 4033 consecutive single scans in the machine’s normal operating mode. (Each screening consists of at least two such scans: one front and one rear.)

Source: August 2014 Study, p. 16

This means that in order to get front and back, just like in a real TSA screening, we need to approximately double that number and get 14.76 microrem per screening, or about 50% more radiation than the TSA admitted to back in 2010 (or has admitted to ever). While these scientists still conclude that this is a low dose of radiation, it shows that, if correct, we were lied to, again, and anyone who walked through those scanners was given nearly 50% more radiation than they signed up for.

I asked the scientists from the study for comment before publication, and I received a reply from Keaton Mowery at University of California, San Diego, that noted that these kind of measurements have a large margin of error. Well, since these backscatter x-rays are decommissioned and sitting in a warehouse, perhaps it’s time that the government open them up to full scientific study so that we can all know what we were dosed with as a result of the government’s rush to deploy horrendously expensive security theatre that, as study has shown, actually make it easier to sneak weapons through than with an old-fashioned metal detector.

Mainstream Media Questions TSA Security

Jonathan Corbett appearing on Fox News

Fox News, fair and balanced jokes aside, is very much mainstream, and it’s a rare thing that we see questioning of the TSA by big media. And, despite the piece coming from an “Are you afraid that the TSA isn’t keeping us safe?” frame rather than an, “Are you afraid that your civil liberties are being flushed down the toilet in exchange for security theatre?” frame, it’s important that the message that TSA security simply doesn’t work reaches those who don’t seek out news beyond what they find on their television.

This morning, a 10 minute segment entitled Is the TSA capable of keeping America’s airports safe? aired featuring myself, security guru Bruce Schneier, and the researches whose study last week confirmed, for anyone with a doubt left in their mind, that the scanners can be beaten with only trivial planning. They also interviewed TSA Führer John Pistole (but asked no hard questions, such as, “You read that research study last week? Do you disagree?”). For those of you here who keep up with TSA news, you won’t find anything new, but hopefully the piece reached hundreds of thousands who otherwise had no idea.

Scientists: Body Scanners Don’t Work, Corbett Was Right

From Wired:

Two years ago, a blogger named Jonathan Corbett published a YouTube video that seemed to show a facepalm-worthy vulnerability in the TSA’s Rapiscan full-body X-ray scanners: Because metal detected by the scanners appeared black in the images they created, he claimed that any passenger could hide a weapon on the side of his or her body to render it invisible against the scans’ black background. The TSA dismissed Corbett’s findings, and even called reporters to caution them not to cover his video.

Now a team of security researchers from the University of California at San Diego, the University of Michigan, and Johns Hopkins plans to reveal their own results from months of testing that same model of scanner. And not only did they find that Corbett’s weapon-hiding tactic worked; they also found that they could pull off a disturbing list of other possible tricks…

The study itself, published today, notes that, “In an incident widely reported in the press, Jonathan Corbett suggested that firearms hanging off the body might be invisible against the dark background [8], an attack we confirm and refine in Section 3.1.”

Well, isn’t that nice. :) Off to send a copy to the courts… [Edit: Done!]

Two Years Later: Scanners Still Broken

Two years ago marks the publication of my infamous video devastating the TSA’s arguments that the nude body scanners keep us safer. I demonstrated, on camera, one of many flaws in the technology that allowed me to take anything through the checkpoint undetected.

That flaw still exists today. So why are we still using these expensive, invasive scanners if any terrorist with half a brain could beat them? That’s a good question. Is it the questionable ties between the manufacturers and the government? Is it that the TSA likes shiny new toys and maxing out their budget? Is it that the government wants us to become accustomed to submitting to electronic body searches? Is it that the TSA is simply too embarrassed to admit that they wasted over a billion dollars?

There really is no good explanation as to why the TSA continues to use this technology. After having read through ten thousand pages of their documents and third party documents, it seems to simply be stubbornness absent a good reason at this point.

One Year Later, State of the TSA

One year ago, I published my video exposing the TSA’s nude body scanners as vulnerable to an extraordinarily simple attack: any metal objects placed on the side of the body are invisible. The TSA mocked, then threatened, then downplayed, but never denied that the $1B of our tax dollars spent on the most invasive search ever directed at the general public in the history of our nation is great at finding TSA screeners with small genitalia but utterly useless against fighting serious threats to aviation security.

Before I published my video, I said to my friends, “This is it — this is the end of the body scanners!” I believed that if the vulnerability I published was publicly exposed, the TSA would be forced to remove the machines. Anyone can use the technique to bring even a firearm through security completely undetected so the TSA would have to get rid of them, I thought. Yet one year later, the scanners are still here (and yes, I tested the exploit on one of the new millimeter wave scanners with ATD, the kind that swirl around your body and “create a [fake] 3-D image”). The TSA is too proud to return to metal detectors and admit that it wasted your money and invaded your privacy for nothing… even if that pride means we are significantly less safe when we fly.

We’ve seen some changes over the last year. We’ve seen one of the two types of scanners removed — the Rapiscan backscatter x-ray devices — and the other upgraded to include “automated threat detection” so that live people (supposedly) never see your nude body. This is a huge win, not only for privacy advocates but for those concerned about being dosed with ionizing radiation by their government. We’ve seen the TSA shrink back from threats of fines and jail for those who don’t want to allow the TSA to “touch their junk” (new non-public policy is simply to ask you to leave). We’re also seeing that court battles, after being tossed over questionable technicalities that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to address, are finally moving towards being heard.

We still have more work to do. The privacy violation, in the form of having every square inch of our bodies analyzed without cause (resulting in countless drug charges but zero terrorism charges), still exists. TSA assholery, from strip searching grannies, to stealing iPads, to traumatizing rape survivors, to making kids cry just for fun, to collaborating with airports to lie in Freedom of Information Act responses, still exists. But we’re getting somewhere, slow as it may be. If you’ve donated, shared links with your friends, or simply opted-out, thank you for your help.

I Made It Into The TSA Dictionary!

A “rogue TSA screener” put up a new blog called Taking Sense Away (TSA ;)) that goes through much of the absurdity at the TSA, and includes a lot of feedback from other screeners and passengers. One post on his blog is The Insider’s TSA Dictionary, a guide to the unofficial lexicon of the TSA. One of his entries:

Corbetted (to Corbett): A term connoting a David like figure single-handedly exposing ridiculous vulnerabilities of a Goliath-like billion dollar technology. Ex: “The TSA announced they were going to start random house screenings after the house bomber plot last month. But some guy proved that all you had to do to foil the screening is close your curtains. Totally Corbetted their ass.”

Love it! :)

Hat tip: Ava Wilde

Update: TSA Security Camera in HD

Just so there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s a metal object in my pocket as I travel through the scanners, here’s an HD video of the relevant checkpoint video:

Welcome /.!

The new video below has been picked up by dozens of sites, but the discussion at Slashdot is worthy of note:

http://yro.slashdot.org/story/12/06/20/2243228/the-ineffectiveness-of-tsa-body-scanners—now-with-surveillance-camera-footage

It is extraordinarily heartening to see a bunch of intellignet people almost unanimously agree (approx. 90% of comments) that TSA tactics are 1) abusive, and 2) worthless. Thank you for your support, and please continue to share the message!

Watch TSA Nude Body Scanners Get Defeated

My latest video, now complete with checkpoint security video showing me wandering past a nude body scanner with undetected objects.

Jonathan Corbett to Present Nude Body Scanner Failures to Congress, File US Supreme Court Petition, on May 22nd

I’m excited to announce that I will be presenting my findings as seen in my How To Get Anything Through TSA Nude Body Scanners viral YouTube video to Congress on May 22nd, 2012, in conjunction with Freedom to Travel USA, a traveler’s rights advocacy group. Additionally, I will be filing my petition to the US Supreme Court on the same day, asking the court to review whether we have the right to a full trial in US District Court when we as private citizens challenge the constitutionality of government action.

Please help us by calling and e-mailing your representatives (please do both — e-mails are easily ignored!) and asking them to send staffers or come in person to our presentation. The event will be held in the Cannon House Office Building, Room 402, at 10:00 AM. FTTUSA has created a formal invite, and members of the general public may also attend, space permitting (RSVP at the e-mail on the invite).

We’re getting somewhere, guys!

–Jon

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