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

Help The Next Video Happen: Share This Blog With a TSA Screener!

I’ve been getting lots of e-mails from TSA screeners reporting even more failures of the TSA, including one today that says they were told to make the pat-downs rougher if a traveller was deemed to be rude (“resistence” would be “met” harder). I’d like to again encourage you all to share this with anyone who works for the TSA, whether it be over the Internet or by passing out information in airports: I WANT YOUR STORY!

Though I would love it if you would come on camera and do an interview, once again, I will do everything I can to keep you anonymous if that’s what it takes to get your story (even moreso than Jennifer, who was happy to have her voice broadcast, but wanted to avoid becoming famous for the leak at this time). Short of a subpoena, I won’t release your info, and if you want to protect yourself against that, simply e-mail me from Starbucks with a free e-mail account created just for this purpose (don’t forget to check for a reply!). My e-mail for TSA screeners is: jon [at] fourtentech.com

TSA Admits $1B Nude Body Scanner Fleet Worthless!

My last video demonstrated how easy it is to take a metal object through TSA nude body scanners undetected.

In this video, I interviewed an actual TSA screener to hear more about how these machines are an epic fail. “Jennifer,” who asked me not to use her real name or face, has been on the front lines of the TSA’s checkpoints for the last 4 years.

Please share this video with your family, friends, and most importantly, elected officials in federal government. Make sure they understand that your vote is contingent on them fixing the abuse that 200,000 passengers face from the TSA on a daily basis. If you are (or know) a TSA screener who has seen abuse in the TSA, please contact me (below)!

My legal battle against the TSA’s nude body scanner and pat-down molestation program continues in court, soon with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court. If you’d like to donate to this effort, send PayPal to: jon [at] fourtentech.com

I’d like to thank:

Travel Underground – http://www.travelunderground.org/

Freedom to Travel USA – http://fttusa.org/

Legislators who have stood up to the TSA – especially Dr. Ron Paul & Sen. Rand Paul

…and all those who have both publicly and privately stood up to the TSA.

Add me on Twitter: @tsaoutourpants (no “of”)

Transcript:

In the video I released last month, I showed the world that it’s trivial to beat the TSA’s nude body scanners; all it takes is simply strapping a metal object to your side. I referred to the program as a “giant fraud,” and I chose those words carefully: it was not an oversight, but rather the TSA knowingly imposed these virtual strip searches on us despite the fact that they don’t work.

Now how can I be so sure that the TSA knew that the scanners were broken? Well, in the first video I referred to other countries who take aviation security more seriously than we do had rejected the scanners years ago. Over the last year, we’ve also seen almost the entirety of Europe has backtracked on the body scanners. And there have been dozens of research studies that have shown vulnerabilities in the technology, of which the TSA must surely be aware.

But most importantly, I know because TSA employees have told me so. In the last year and a half since I filed my lawsuit against the scanners and the groping, I’ve received hundreds of e-mails and thousands of comments on my blog, and some from actual TSA employees who have seen the scanners fail first-hand. One of them was nice enough to sit down for an interview with me last week. “Jennifer” has been working with the Transportation Security Administration for the last 4 years as a screener, and had this to tell me:

[Video Interview Segment]
Jon: Were there specific times where this machine didn’t work, for either someone testing it, or a passenger went through and it was determined that they went through with…
Jennifer: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.
Jon: Metal objects?
Jennifer: Metal, non-metal.
Jon: Big, small?
Jennifer: Both.
Jon: Things like wallets I think you mentioned to me?
Jennifer: Wallets.
Jon: So you’d send someone through the scanner and you’d see a bulge in their pocket, but the scanner would show nothing?
Jennifer: Mmhmm.
Jon: Things during training?
Jennifer: Absolutely.
Jon: What would you test it with when you were testing the machines?
Jennifer: There were different props: guns, knives, bags of powder that were supposed to resemble explosive material.
Jon: Sometimes these would just go through completely undetected?
Jennifer: Absolutely.

Now if it wasn’t scary enough that the TSA deployed these machines knowing they could take simulated bombs through them, Jennifer tells me that they were forcing screeners to run these radiation machines who hadn’t, according to the TSA’s own policies, been properly trained:

[Video Interview Segment]
Jon: They tried to send you to the machines, and you said, ‘Hold on, I’m not certified.’
Jennifer: Right.
Jon: And then in December I guess you tried the same thing and they said, ‘Too bad?’
Jennifer: We were forced to work on these machines. So basically, there were so few of us trained to work on the machines, they basically forced us.
Jon: So they didn’t care if you were certified or not?
Jennifer: No, I actually went to my supervisor — or a supervisor — the first day. I and another officer had this concern, that, you know, ‘Look, we’ve never worked on this particular machine, we don’t know what to do’ and his answer was, ‘Sorry, we don’t have enough staffing, you’re going to have to work on it.’
Jon: Certified or not, just get on the machine and make the best of it?
Jennifer: Yep, ‘just have your co-workers help you.’

After Jennifer was repeatedly ignored when she brought these serious issues up with management, she contacted her representatives in Congress for assistance… after which the TSA promptly began the process of firing her! A process, by the way, which took the TSA three months, during which Jennifer was forced to sit around on the taxpayer’s dime and do absolutely nothing. Fortunately, Jennifer turns in her uniform today.

[Video Interview Segment]
Jon: You wrote to Congress about the problems you saw in the TSA.
Jennifer: I did.
Jon: What happened?
Jennifer: I sent my letter on Jan. 1, and I came back from sick leave about a week later, and I was immediately removed from screening duties.
Jon: So you sent a letter to a Congressman — or to several — saying ‘Hey, there’s a problem with the TSA,’ and the TSA’s response was… retaliatory would you say?
Jennifer: Yes.
Jon: Was that the end of your screening duties… have you been back to screening since?
Jennifer: No.

This is why the TSA sucks. Because good employees who point out when the public is being put at risk aren’t listened to, they aren’t promoted – they’re fired! …and what’s left are the pizza-box employees that strip-search grannies, steal from your bags, throw hot coffee on pilots, and shoot up my neighborhood.

And every time another TSA employee is arrested – we’re up to at least 60 in the last 12 months – the TSA spouts off on their blog about the professionalism of their employees, just as when they’re caught on video molesting children at airports, they defend their employees’ fondlings as “by the book” – that book being the “Screening Checkpoint Standard Operating Procedures” or “SOP.” The SOP is the TSA’s secret guide as to how TSA employees are supposed to do screening as airports. The only problem is, TSA employees never actually read that book!

[Video Interview Segment]
Jennifer: Supposedly there is an SOP manual at every checkpoint. I’ve never seen it.
Jon: So you wouldn’t know where to go to find this book?
Jennifer: No, no.
Jon: *laughs*
Jennifer: I know, you can’t make this stuff up, you really can’t.
Jon: Did you read the SOP at any point, during training, or…
Jennifer: You mean initially…
Jon: Did you ever read the SOP from cover-to-cover?
Jennifer: Oh no, no… I’ve never read… no.

Absolutely stunning. I’d like to thank Jennifer for exposing this, and if you’re an attorney that would like to contact Jennifer, send me a message. I’d also like to encourage any of the few good TSA employees left who have seen abuse in the TSA to contact me – see the notes on this video for how to do so, anonymously if you’d prefer.

But there you have it. The TSA was aware of the fatal flaws in the nude body scanner program, yet knowingly defrauded the American taxpayer into buying these machines, as well as travellers from across the globe into posing naked “for their safety.” Well no more, guys — we’re done posing naked for the TSA. It’s time for the nude body scanner program to be immediately ended, for TSA Administrator John Pistole to be fired, and for the TSA to be dismantled as soon as possible. I encourage you to make this an election year issue and demand from your candidates a strong commitment to restoring our civil rights – and our sanity at airports. I also encourage anyone who’s asked to go through a body scanner to simply say, “I opt out,” and refuse to participate in this security theatre.

Until next time.

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