Journalism in the Public Interest

TSA Airport Scanners Wouldn’t Catch an Implant Bomber

Intelligence reports suggest terrorists may try to avoid airport security scanners by implanting explosive devices, and the Transportation Security Administration said that passengers flying to the United States may notice additional security measures.


TSA Tests New Body Scanning Technology At Vegas Airport (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

A number of news outlets are reporting today on the bizarre-sounding story of terrorist groups considering how to implant explosive devices into humans to blow up a passenger jet.

A U.S. security official confirmed the story for ProPublica, and the Transportation Security Administration released a statement that it had recently briefed domestic and foreign airlines. The agency said that passengers flying to the United States may notice additional security measures, such as more interaction from TSA officers, pat-downs and the use of “enhanced tools and technologies.”

But it was recent advances in airport security, including the use of body scanners that can see underneath clothing, that have prompted terrorist groups to find new ways to conceal explosives, the TSA said.

We wrote about the body scanners in May after a group of scientists questioned the tests that the TSA has made public to assure travelers the machines are safe. So we decided to provide some context to today’s news.

The body scanners—which use backscatter X-ray and millimeter wave technology—most likely wouldn’t detect an implanted explosive because they’re designed to find objects on the body—not inside it.

Steven W. Smith, who invented the X-ray body scanner used at checkpoints, has said that the images do penetrate slightly beneath the skin, allowing the operator to see shin bones. But they can’t see ribs or internal organs.

And while airport metal detectors frequently alarm on hip and knee implants, they would be incapable of detecting a device made of plastic.

None of the machines the TSA uses can see inside body cavities or underneath skin like a medical X-ray can. Several critics, including members of Congress, have cited this inability to challenge TSA’s plans to deploy the scanners at nearly every security lane by 2014. As an example, they point to the 2009 attack at a Saudi palace by a suicide bomber who detonated explosives secreted in his rectum.

Similar versions of the implanted-explosive threat have arisen periodically in the last few years. The British tabloid The Sun reported in March 2010 that al-Qaida discussed concealing explosives in breast implants. A report by its competitor, The Daily Mail, in December 2010 said that defense analysts had discovered terrorists debating the implant method in an online forum.

The security industry does sell X-ray machines, called transmission scanners, that can see inside body cavities and underneath skin. The Cook County sheriff in Illinois introduced such a machine, known as the RadPRO SecurPASS, at its jail in February.

Since then, guards have made some interesting finds, sheriff’s spokesman Steve Patterson said in an interview before today’s report. In one case, an inmate was found to have swallowed 10 pouches of heroin. Another was found to have kidney stones and was transported to a hospital.

There’s no indication that the TSA has considered such machines, and an agency spokesman declined to answer whether it has. But it would be extremely difficult for the TSA to gain public acceptance of such technology, given the controversy over the privacy and safety of its current body scanners.

A 2006 study by German physicists found that transmission scanners deliver a radiation dose that is 20 to 85 times higher than the backscatter scanners.

The TSA has released several assessments showing that its backscatter machines emit a low dose equivalent to two minutes of a flight at high altitude, but they have not dowsed safety concerns. Last month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil liberties group that has sued the TSA to suspend the scanner program, released documents showing concerns about cancer diagnoses among airport screeners in Boston.

The agency responded that the “cancer clusters” are a myth, noting that Boston didn’t have body scanners at the time. It also pointed to an evaluation by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health that concluded that the variety of cases and years of exposure made it unlikely that the cancers were caused by any TSA machine.

Although the intelligence about the implanted explosives is new, the security official told ProPublica there is nothing to indicate an imminent threat.


TSA donated money to Obama’s campaign and now the US public is paying for it by these insidious privacy violations done in the name of “security”. It’s all BULLSH*T!

Tell Obama and your Congressmen/women to dismantle TSA NOW!

George Rowbottom

July 6, 2011, 5:57 p.m.

There are so many ways to get a weapon or a bomb through security it is ludicrous.  Passengers are harassed.  Airport personel, or anyone with a badge, can walk out on the field, up to a plane, and put whatever they want on it.

If we need security we need more than the appearance of security.

Shove it where?

What a piece of CRAP!  They are laughing through their forked tongues!

The whole reasons why the TERRORISTS are talking about this is so the TSA SCUM .......can VIOLATE more 95 year old dying women, MORE under aged children, and MORE BABIES!

The TSA should have been declared defunct along with the ANTI CONSTITUTIONAL Homeland Security!

The way to STOP THIS?  Defeat the TERRORIST LOVER -N- CHIEF Obama and his fellow COMMIE THUGS in 2012!



Pigs and Dogs can easily smell such reservoir chemicals through the skin.

Guess what?  NO radiation!

TSA workers are now getting cancer from their own backscatter radiaiton devices meant only to kill passengers.  Just stop this nonsense.

Let me get this straight, AbsurdLife, a government agency donated money to Obama’s campaign?  Are you insane?

You’ve been listening to Limbaugh and Palin too long; can you not tell that they’re full of it?

But I suspect that you know better but think that the rest of us are stupid enough to swallow your bs.

And surprise, surprise, surprise!  angrymom seems to believe you!

You Americans continue to surprise me.

Just have a couple of pigs at each checkpoint; those who pet the pig go through, those that don’t don’t.  And a mascot pig on every flight.  Cheaper, more sanitary, and better looking than TSA.

At this rate, the TSA will “protect” air travel by refusing to let anyone on the plane.

The Israelis use officers that TALK to passengers and who are trained to look for clues in manner and body language. They don’t rely on invasive procedures and hordes of multi-million dollar scanners.

Time to rethink our approach.

What next- TSA agents cutting travelers open to see if the passenger to be has a bomb inside- would not put it past them

Why don’t they use dogs?

I am about to take my first flight sense all of this groping crap started. I hope I make it to my destination. What is the penalty for slapping a groper?

tsa are dummies anyway.  gotta think the herd some how

TSA needs to be abolished.  Let the airlines provide their own security.

Inserting plastic explosive into a uterus is the easy part but you need batteries, wiring which are detectable.  We need Isreal to train out TSA mall cops.

Our liberty is gone. The “terrorists” have won.

Did the corporation that makes the scanners donate to the Obama campaign Hilbig? It was the Obama administration that put scanners in use at most american airports as a part of their ENHANCED security check points. And how much did the corporation make off of these scanners knowing full well that it could not detect explosives inside of the human body?

Carol Davidek-Waller

July 6, 2011, 7:08 p.m.

One comment says the TSA gave money to the Obama campaign. The TSA is a government agency and cannot make donations using taxpayers dollars?!
These backscatter machines deliver 10 times the radiation that they were alleged to. The high profile revolving door person raking the bucks is the Bush’s administration’s. chief creep, Michael Chertoff. However Obama did appoint a woman whose mind leans toward facism as director of the TSA. Never mind public opinion, indignity and revolting intrusiveness of TSA employees and contractors, Janet knows best.
I inadvertently flew across country with a pocket knife in my purse not that long ago.
Airport security is a joke, an unConstitutional joke. We don’t have to accept it.

Airport scanners sole purpose is to enrich defense/security contractors.

Tony Mannucci

July 6, 2011, 7:12 p.m.

Until this issue is resolved and the “war” on terror is over, I suggest all good American citizens stop flying for the duration.  That way, there will be no need for the TSA, air traffic controllers will get their needed rest as there will be no need for evening flights.  Business people can utilize video chats for meetings and use their time more productively instead of being subjected to virtual cavity searches.  Enough is enough.

I keep getting notices that someone has responded to my post but when I come back here I cannot see it.

The next thing TSA pervs doing internals on hot girls, grand ma gets a free pass.

These systems are so easy to by-pass.  They are only there assure the sheep that they are safe.  If a terrorist really wants to take a plane down—they can do it very easily.  For Marot who said that the batteries/wiring are detectable—you have no idea what you are talking about. The through the clothes scanner cannot detect wires and batteries inside the body.

TSA provides no real security—however, it does train people to accept the a police state—all in the name of a false since of security.

Reach out and touch someone.

Carol Davidek-Waller; you do realize that the majority of the TSA scanners were ordered by the Obama administration right ? And that the “enhanced” pat down procedured were strictly Obama administration policy?

It is irresponsible to publish rumor and conjecture as news. An “anonymous” source says that “there is no specific threat or plot” and can’t offer any details but, a “secret document” suggests that terrorists may be planning to use implanted weapon in a terrorist attack.

The report then goes on to say that this would not be enough explosive to bring down an airliner but these would be used to carry out ground based assassinations. Yet TSA says that they are stepping up airline security for a threat that is not suitable for airlines. Stepping up to what and why when there is is no indication of a planned airline attacked. Will they now search body cavities and perform exploratory surgery at the checkpoint? This agency has gone from absurd to outrageous and must be collared before more passenger abuses occur.

This is a ludicrous scare story being used by TSA to justify the insane level of security spending on imaginary threats They have a track record of reporting “identifying” new goblins to deflect criticism for their most recent abuses and failures.

These “professionals” are the same lot that grope 6 year old girls, remove diapers from elderly women and steal passenger property. How many crimes, abuses and transgressions by this agency are acceptable before the public demands that this nonsense stop?

I don’t think “secreted” is the word the author is looking for in the following sentence: “As an example, they point to the 2009 attack at a Saudi palace by a suicide bomber who detonated explosives secreted in his rectum.”

It simply makes no sense physiologically.

I said it before and I will say it again… we could end all this crap by having a explosive devise detonation booth instead of a scanner.  You walk thru, they push a button, you got a bomb on you KABOOM!  Hose the booth down and NEXT!!!!!  Have a warning sign in every language… Caution.. do not enter with an explosive devise on or near your body.  To do so will result in death.  Simple!

Let TSA do whatever they want. The full body xrays aren’t gonna cut it, I think people should be fully inspected. Allow TSA to (with plastic gloves on of course) give full body exams (not internal) and … I’m serious … strip searches as necessary. Personally, I don’t want to be worried about a woman with big boobs about to blow me up or some dude with a packed hiney about to kill us. That goes for diapers too. When you’re getting on a plane, going through security, change your damn diapers. If I were TSA and I felt a hard lump in your rump or crotch, my hairs would stand on end. I would want to know exactly what it was. SHOW ME. TSA, you’re a godsend. Please do your thing. Protect us and give us our lives back. Thank you.

What about artificial joints as in knees and hips? Are they going to drag us through an xray machine?

Seriously folks, this is wasteful babble to attack TSA, OBAMA, BUSH. There is a problem: 1: Some people want to blow up aircraft or take them over and use as missles. 2: 99.999 per cent of the passengers are innocent bystanders. 3: some of us innocents have pacemakers, defibrillators, metallic hip joints or pins, even plates in our heads. 4: none of us want more X-rays or cancer-inducing scans. 5: Body cavities are personal, protected by civil rights. 6: I like Laura’s idea, but think someone reading this has already figured out a way to circumvent any process. 7: Suicide bombers are culturally conditioned and the culture of origin must be changed.


1. TSA has collected millions of nail clippers, water bottles, shampoo bottles, and groped millions of American crotches.

2. Not ONCE has TSA discovered or prevented an attack. Not one. Ever.

3. TSA has actually ALLOWED two bomb laden passengers to board aircraft.

4. Both times their efforts were foiled by passengers.

Is it really worth surrendering our liberty for this?


They dont use dogs because that would actually cost effective. And POTUS would not be able to make and money like he did with the new scanners.

All we need is dogs and metal detectors. But the words GOVERNMENT and LOGIC dont really play well together. Like TSA and INTELLIGENCE

I believe they will be coming out with a device that will require passengers to fart into a funnel shaped device that captures and analyzes the gas to detect trace elements of explosive materials inserted into the rectum.

Until the devices are installed, TSA agents will be tasked with performing the procedure.

Colonoscopies and EGD’s for all travelers! Can’t wait for the next TSA reaction.

I hope that my memory is correct, Patrick Henry once said “give me liberty or give me death”. Every extra security measure comes with a price, and that price is an erosion of personal freedom/liberty.
Having worked in airline security in the past with the benefit of having a counter terrorism specialist as a close mentor, I quickly realized back in the 1980’s that the system was set-up as a deterrent.
If we were truly serious about airline security, we would be severely restricting all access to the aircraft, which after all is the target. I’m talking thoroughly scrutinizing the fuelers, baggage handlers, caterer’s. You can also take fuel samples to ensure no tampering. Double check to make sure that no check bag has boarded without the accompaning passenger. 
I by no means claim to have the magic solution(s). I just know that there is no perfect security.
The airline’s have to get passenger’s to and from on time, and security requires time and money. These two elements are often in conflict.
In conclusion, for all the thousands of flights, air travel has so few problems. There are alot of good dedicated people that work in the airline/security industry that unfortunately don’t get recognized enough.

Look, if it saves just one American life, it will still be worth the loss of billions in tourism dollars, personal humiliation, demoralization and the hundreds of billions of dollars it will cost to buy, mantain and man the perfectly safe, continuously-calibrated (for safety) security machines. No country on Earth cares more about protecting Joe and Jane Average Citizen. They really love us. They really, really do. Trouble is, just how much more of this “love” can we stand for?

It is really, really sad to say but I despise the TSA more than the terrorists in many ways. The terrorist don’t avow liberty, but the TSA avowing liberty strips us naked and feels up our crotch - plain sick!

@Joe Hilbig -  AbsurdLife got it wrong.  TSA did not contribute, the guy that is selling TSA all of the scanners did.

The TSA is a tool of the terrorist. The terrorists keep making these “threats” because they know the TSA will then make our lives even more miserable when trying to get on a plane.

I wear a brace that you can’t possibly hide anything in (would be visible to the naked eye), don’t set anything off, but get pulled out anyway and swabbed which left me with a bad burn that no one would address when I complained. So now I’m forced to go through without my brace and barely being able to walk, or wear my brace and get swabbed and ultimatly burned. However, if the same brace is in my carry on, they don’t check it or swab it. If I have it on, I have to take it off, have it and my leg swabbed, then put it back on. The difference is…....????????

I fly because I can’t drive for hours at a time without my ankle getting into lots of pain. But I’m seriously thinking of just stocking up on pain medications and driving. I think I’d rather face discomfort than humiliation by tools who seem to relish playing right into terrorists hands.

USE DOGS!!!!!!!!!

Let the airlines provide their own security. (this would give passengers a choice – they could choose to fly on airlines with or without invasive, dangerous procedures. The airlines with would have to charge more for tickets to pay for the expensive security)

have you ever wondered how the super rich and their families (who invest some of their bail-out windfalls into bribing politicians to pass unconstitutional laws and then profit hugely from the sale of security screening machines) fly around without going through the TSA humiliation and the dangerous machines? they either have private planes or use small airports and charter flights and never have to suffer like us. why do we allow them to get off scott-free? can’t we demand they fly like the rest of us and get the tv cameras there every time to prove that this is a real democracy and not an oligarchy or fascism?

Well, the OBVIOUS next step will be a barium enema and x-ray added to the screening line, now, bend over please.

OOOoooh! Let’s scare Americans more so that we can take even MORE freedoms and liberties away from them!  C’mon, this is total crap. It’s the invented boogy man, and we’re not buying it.

Actually, we are buying it. All this BS technology that cant detect anything. Like I said before… all we need is…


Not true.  There is currently one scanner that will detect a cavity or implant bomb. It is a new ultra-low radiation scanner from a small American company, Valley Forge Composite Technologies. It actually works for what a scanner is for and obsoletes all the other scanners. Of course the TSA isn’t using it. Maybe because it isn’t made by GE?

BTW, the real hole in homeland security is cargo containers. They are basically brought in on “good faith” of the sender and could contain 60,000 pounds of PETN or a nuke.  Something to think about next time you see one being trucked by.

You know they hire TSA agents from help wanted ads on PIZZA boxes!
You can see them at

I must say… I am really comforted by ALL OF THOSE who disagree to vehemently with the TSA’s (Totally Sexual Assault) actions. Anyone, and I mean a few of your moron’s in here, who actually thinks ANY of this is acceptable or “for our safety” ought to spend a few more minutes in the TSA “microwave” next time your at an airport. You people honestly believe there is a “radical Islamic” threat who is out to bomb us out of the sky and that said threat is not one and the same with the US government!? Remember the Christmas day bomber… well if some of you had two brain cells to rub together you would have known that the US Statement Department spokesman came out a few weeks after the “event” and admitted that an “unnamed federal agency” order the State Department and the airline to let the guy on the plane (WITHOUT A PASSPORT OR ANY IDENTIFICATION!!) That’s right boys and girls… go ahead and do a little research!! It’s all BS!! It’s all setup for your viewing pleasure!! Yes!!! I know it sounds nuts but it’s true!! Do the research before any more of you decide to GIVE MY RIGHTS AWAY!! YOU WANT TO HAVE YOUR WIFE AND CHILDREN MOLESTED?!? GO AHEAD!!! BUT MAKE GOOD AND GOD DAMN SURE THEY’RE YOURS… NOT MINE!


July 7, 2011, 1:12 a.m.

Have you ever considered that the government/corporations are getting exactly what they want from this? One of you people said that the government and logic do not mix. TSA and intelligence is an oxymoron. Really? Are you F-ing serious? Mary and Wynn are OBVIOUSLY federal provocateurs, people. A lot of you came close to getting it right when you said “police state” and “oligarchy” and “fascism”.

The TSA is what Germany would call “Nazi SS”. Obama is what they’d call “Hitler”. But guess what? During WW2, both sides of the war, Allies and Axis, were financed by the same global banks. So do you really think the boogy-man in a beard is the problem? Do you really think the government is SOOOO stupid they didnt think about internal bombs?

I think if you guys realized how big this was, you’d crap yourself…and then the TSA would have to check inside your diaper to make sure you didn’t “drop a bomb”.

You can find the truth if you want it. Just dont look for it in the media or government. They have NEVER told the truth.

Aaron/Rebel Knight

You are giving them more credit then they deserve.
And yes… they are this stupid.

BREAKING NEWS: Janet Napoleon has authorized TSA to search passengers by cutting them open with box cutters.  According to her:  “killing a few innocent Americans by the TSA is acceptable to make sure she keeps her job”.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Body Scanners

Body Scanners: Risking Health to Secure Airports

In an effort to detect explosives hidden under clothing, is the TSA jeopardizing passenger safety?

The Story So Far

The Transportation Security Administration is planning to roll out body scanners at nearly every airport security lane in the country by 2014. Right now, it has deployed more than 500, split about evenly between two technologies—one using X-rays and another using radio frequency waves.

Several prominent radiation safety experts have raised concerns about exposing millions of airline passengers to X-rays.

More »

Get Updates

Our Hottest Stories