Journalism in the Public Interest

TSA Puts Off Safety Study of X-ray Body Scanners

After promising an independent evaluation of X-ray body scanners, the head of the TSA now says he’ll put it off pending an inspector general report on the machines.

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Nov. 16, 2011, 8:43 p.m.

To Ibesteve2u:

The shoe and undie bombers are the poster children for profiling.
It was determined that the TSA employees were just way too
stupid to be taught profiling measures based on the Israeli security model.

All muslim males between the ages of 20 and 50 should be exclusively
singled out for examination.  Not all muslims are terrorists but all terrorists have turned out to be muslims.  FACT.

Barry Schmittou

Nov. 16, 2011, 9 p.m.

TSA is now inspecting trucks at weigh stations on Tennessee’s interstates.

The following TV news story is titled :

“Tennessee Becomes First State To Fight Terrorism Statewide”

Please paste :

Truckers said they had to wait two to three hours, I would imagine there were terrible traffic back ups on the interstate near the weigh stations.

TSA had multiple inspection sites and all they found in the trucks was one loose barrel that needed to be secured.

A TSA Big Shot said :

“Somebody sees something somewhere and we want them to be responsible citizens, report that and let us work it through our processes”

To see how the governments protection of corporate crimes, including Wachovia laundering $378 billion for Mexican Drug cartels and no one was prosecuted, please paste :

Thomas Lecoq

Nov. 16, 2011, 9:18 p.m.

I am a throat cancer survivor and have received my lifetime maximum dose of XRay radiation.  I am not supposed to have dental XRays and for Chest XRays, wear a lead shield around my throat and jaw.  It makes me very nervous to receive any kind of radiation.  The kinds of radiation we get from devices is all part of the electromagnetic spectrum, as is visible light.  It is not just the low risk of radiation damage to an otherwise healthy person to me.  It is the large number of people who have had radiation therapy and are not supposed to have more that really concerns me.


Nov. 16, 2011, 10:58 p.m.


I think we’ve all been snookered.

Yesterday we were told the EU was going to ban the scanners.

But today, a new article stated this:

“The EU has now told member states not to install them until a scientific assessment of the risks has been carried out.”

Repeat:  until a scientific study can be done

The EU may very well rely on TSA’s study and say the scanners are safe and begin installing them again.

Also, the EU is going to take out the metal detectors, if I understand it correctly.  This means it’s either a scanner or a pat down and no more metal detector?

Again, it sounds like the flying public is being snookered yet again.


Nov. 16, 2011, 11:04 p.m.

Dear Propublica:

With regard to this paragraph in your article:

“In recent years, the TSA has commissioned tests of the X-ray scanners by the Food and Drug Administration and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. In addition, survey teams from the Army Public Health Command visit airports to check the machines.”

Please refer to the article written by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Schneider in December 2010 called “No Proof Scanners Are Safe” where I believe what you state was disproven?  (Unless more recent tests have been done?)

Thank you.


Nov. 17, 2011, 12:48 a.m.

I don’t think they should be the authority on whether or not a study is done on these scanners. Insufficient studies, if any, were done in the beginning and this would be a ideal situation for lawsuits. Since when do we expose people to these scanners without a thorough study anyway? Since when do we use Americans as human guena pigs for what is obviously a very dangerous experiment on a massive scale? Oh yea, its because they are trying to keep Americans “safe” from terrorists. The only terrorists I have seen of late have been these TSA agents with their misplaced authority, and total lack of training. Europe finally realized these scanners are doing harm. When do we catch up with the Europeans? Perhaps 7 years from now? DISGUSTING!


Nov. 17, 2011, 1:13 a.m.

[[the Health Physics Society estimates a dose of 0.005 mrems from a backscatter x-ray. ]]

Anyone who makes an estimate such as that does so for a machine that is in proper working order.  When any x-ray generating machine breaks down (or is incorrectly configured - if it is user-configurable) or experiences calibration drift, it can emit more radiation than intended.  And that’s what hasn’t been studied with these machines - do they emit more radiation than their manufacturers state they do when they’re working properly.

The problem is the first sign that an x-ray generating device is malfunctioning (or is configured wrong) has in the medical field many times been a fatal radiation burn suffered by the patient, which tends to become noticeable half a day after the incident and takes about a month to finish its job.  If any machine were capable of this failure mode, they would run ten thousand people through one that so failed before the first dead man or woman even felt a tingle.  (Then another twenty thousand would probably march through befor the TSA admitted they might have a problem.  Then another five thousand while they wondered which machine it might be, then etc..)

It is this level of study - how can the machines fail, what controls do the machines have, how are they calibrated (by whom, with what equipment, on what schedule, and using what procedure both to do it right and to ensure that it actually gets done) that nobody ever did.  (This is something of a problem in the medical world, as well.)

Everyone just says “they’re safe (when they’re working correctly, which they all *seem* to be, and anyway they’re only about 2 years old…), so head on through”.  And so far, no major problems.  Probably.


Nov. 17, 2011, 2:07 a.m.

Has anyone else experienced flashing in their field of vision after going through these? I went through one (not sure which) last month and there was very distracting flashing in my right field of vision for the next 10-15 minutes.

Is this something to worry about?

Don Winterland

Nov. 17, 2011, 2:32 a.m.

To blazes with the TSA, and the simpering, craven ‘Americans’ that bleat, ‘You can do anything to us, as long as you keep us safe’...

Orwell is spinning in his grave. Ben Franklin would spit.



Nov. 17, 2011, 6:38 a.m.

Just refuse to be scanned by the dangerous one.  Ask to be “groped”.

And take the )**&^^%% time to complain to all entities involved, including



SENATOR COLLINS (who is trying to help us)



What?  You don’t know who they are?  Then you deserve what you’re getting.  But we don’t deserve what you’re putting us through, by not even bothering to know who are your representatives.

Get active!  Participate!  Don’t complain to this forum but not do anything productive!


Nov. 17, 2011, 10:28 a.m.

To the various “how much is too much?” quibblers, let’s please note that the entire point of these machines’ introduction was the assertion that any uninspected person and any liberty was too much of a risk to the flight.  We have zero tolerance on water, but unregulated, unmaintained radiation and groping is cool.

Meanwhile, the loss of freedom and all this untested equipment has led to…how many arrests of terrorists, exactly?

I’d also consider these machines to be prime terrorist targets, since, untested as they are and with the potential to release far more radiation than necessary, it shouldn’t be difficult to poison thousands of people without much effort and with little chance of discovery.


Nov. 17, 2011, 10:34 a.m.

Sure, the risk of cancer is low, but so is the chance of being a victim of a terrorist attack. Also, the events that spurred the implementation of these devices were attempts that would have been stopped earlier if security procedures already in place were followed.

So, we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to stop a threat they could have caught without them, endangering a small percentage to possible long, horrible sickness and death which might be more than the small percentage that these things, if they worked, would save in a terrorist attack.

Meanwhile, the greater threat to airline safety is the treatment of pilots who are double-booked, lack proper sleeping arrangements, and some are paid so poorly they have to get second jobs which interfere with their sleep schedule.


Nov. 17, 2011, 11:03 a.m.

@Loretta:  Tim McVeigh, for one, wasn’t Islamic.  And can anybody rule out the existence of right-wing Christian whackjobs who hate Islam so much that they’d take down a plane that had one or two Islamic passengers - believing that everybody would blame the Islamic passengers and they’d thus start a “holy” war against Islam?

If such a situation happened - an aircraft with one or two Islamic passengers was blown out of the sky - who would you instinctively blame, Loretta?


Nov. 17, 2011, 11:22 a.m.

The truth is we have idiots in America who would load their spouse up with life and flight insurance and then kiss them good-bye at the gate - knowing full well that everybody on the aircraft…every man, woman, and child…was a goner when that “coke” their spouse thought they were smuggling blew up.

Between greed and religion, America provides plenty of reasons for high security on our aircraft - and we have external threats to worry about, too.


Nov. 17, 2011, 11:40 a.m.

After thinking about it, I realized somebody would dismiss my conjectures with “Oh, he’s crazy.”  So for your reading enjoyment, the results for a quick web search for “bomb luggage flight life insurance caught” gave me:

And those took place before the world was such that all you have to do is ensure that there are some Islamic passengers to take advantage of the fact that people love to jump to conclusions that favor their biases.

(Dunno why I included “caught” in my search; a natural preference for believing that all such socio/psychopaths have been caught?  An unsupportable hypothesis.)


Nov. 17, 2011, Noon

lollll…and I didn’t even touch the suspicion that some governments find mysterious air crashes that take out individuals who have become an…irritant…to be…convenient.  That type of…accident…is generally restricted to helos and smaller prop and turboprop aircraft.

Fortunately.  Unless you happen to have hitched a ride or be on the ground and have the extraordinary luck required to become coincident with the debris, of course.


Nov. 17, 2011, 12:39 p.m.

@ibsteve2u: let’s see: two incidents since 1955 (1955 and 1960). Hmmm, 2 incidents in about half a billion departures since then. If those odds are intimidating to you please (1) do not shower (2) do not drive (3) do not pick up a telephone during a thunderstorm (4) do not eat fresh produce ... in fact, maybe you should just stay in bed. Life seems to be too risky for you.

Didi Paano

Nov. 17, 2011, 2:17 p.m.

DaveB:  This is NOT one of President Obama’s agencies….the TSA was around and put into place by ex-President Bush.  Good try tho’


Nov. 17, 2011, 2:43 p.m.

@1amWendy:  I wonder if any of the Federal agencies get as suspicious as I do when people shield a desire to weaken the security of the United States of America and jeopardize the safety of hundreds (or more) other Americans behind the explanation of their own personal convenience/safety?

lollll…I am amused, though, that someone who insists that a one-in-a-million (or less) chance of getting a carcinoma from a security device is sufficient reason to risk everybody else who flies and unknown numbers of individuals upon the ground would accuse me of finding life to be “too risky”.


Nov. 17, 2011, 2:56 p.m.

The core of this argument is essentially the “libertarian” perspective of “Nobody matters except me; nobody’s desires matter except mine; the only person’s safety the government should be concerned about is mine.”

Over and over the same argument is being advanced:  Because there is an extremely long shot of getting cancer from a security screening, everybody else in the United States of America should be placed at risk.


Nov. 17, 2011, 3 p.m.

(Cue those individuals who will insist that the right to privacy and freedom from religious persecution should instead be sacrificed in order to shield a handful of individuals from the remote possibility that they may get a carcinoma from a screening device enroute to a week’s vacation of spending 12 hours a day exposed to near-equatorial sun.)


Nov. 17, 2011, 3:23 p.m.

@ibsteve2u: be amused as you will. I happen to fall into the category of those that are unusually sensitive to radiation, as are those on my father’s side. You see, even though the government said that the 53 days he spent in Hiroshima in the “hottest spot” was not enough to damage him, it did.  Melanoma.  And even though they said it was safe, radiation causes birth defects. And I have them.  BTW, the chances of birth defects in those of us unusually susceptible is 1 in 638,000, not one in a million. Did you ever stop to consider the following: (1) the GAO says there are many international airports that are seriously noncompliant, even now. (2) the TSA had a 70% detection failure rate in 2005-2006. (3) During 2005-2006 there were 21.9 million departures of US-owned airlines carrying over 1.5 billon passengers. Not counting flights out of all of those “seriously noncompliant” airports. There were no air-related terrorist incidents during that time, even with all the test failures and not-hardened international airports. So I believe that your assessment of both the potential damage to people and the risk we are supposedly guarding against are significantly skewed.


Nov. 17, 2011, 3:34 p.m.

@1amWendy:  First, I will take it on faith that you actually fly and so this issue is of personal interest. 

Second, knowing your condition as you do, why on God’s temporarily green earth would you ever go through such devices - that is, voluntarily expose yourself to the risks that you insist are real (although hypersensitivity to anything other than solar radiation is a new one on me) - when you can simply request a pat-down?

Third, ever stop to wonder if any of these comments originate from the millimeter-wavelength side of the industry?  That is fairly routine, anymore; if you want to help your industry by defending it or harming the competition, jump on ProPublica et al as an anonymous “concerned citizen”.

Me, I’m all for eliminating all airport security and putting a placard up in the airports that say the security was eliminated at the behest of “[Enter your name here]” (for the benefit of survivors and their attorneys, ya know).  I don’t like the tedium of the security, either - but I’m not personally willing to jeopardize the lives of so many others for my convenience or my safety.

Not when I know that I have alternatives - when I know that I can request a pat-down, fly NetJets, call a buddy with a private aircraft, take a train, bus, ship, even drive - or video/teleconference, if it’s “bidness”.

When I fly I am doing so for the convenience of flying; who am I to insist that others should risk their lives for my convenience???


Nov. 17, 2011, 3:45 p.m.

@1bsteve2u: you are correct, I do not go through those devices. You are correct about me flying - until I gave up commercial flight. I made a very good living a a management consultant for one of the Big 4 consulting houses. I gave up that job because of the TSA. My birth defects caused the removal of my right leg at the knee when I was 4 years old, and so I wear an artificial leg. I have been subjected to so many incredibly “patdowns” - including but not limited to being made to remove my trousers behind some flimsy Steelcase temporary dividers in the middle of a concourse and having my breasts checked instead of that oh-so-dangerous artificial leg because apparently certain screeners are so unclear about anatomy that they believe breasts are the name for thighs.  I’m sorry, but I do not believe that I should go through that personal debasement and infringement upon my personal right to decide who sees me naked and who touches me where - routinely - just so you can feel safer that your risk from flying is reduced from next to nothing to next to nothing ^2. I cannot agree with you. The cost-benefit does not exist. Last time I checked there still exists a 4th Amendment and there still exist laws against voyeurism and unwanted/inappropriate touching in all 50 states.


Nov. 17, 2011, 3:50 p.m.

@1amWendy:  Would you blame anyone reading this thread for concluding that it is your belief that all of the flying public and indeed everyone on the ground in the United States of America - whether man, woman, or child - is irrelevant in the face of your desires and the sanctity of your “personal space”?


Nov. 17, 2011, 4:09 p.m.

you miss the point entirely, @ibsteve2u. The point is the risk is nearly non-existent. There is more risk, as the saying goes, in getting to the airport in the first place. So it’s not just my sanctity, it’s everybody’s, given the risk we are trying to protect against. There is exceptionally little benefit - and THAT is the point -  from exceptionally egregious harassment of the flying public - the entire flying public. I happen to have gotten the brunt of it, but that merely allows me to see more clearly what is happening. I have seen paralympic competitors in wheelchairs wearing diaphanous 3/4-sleeve blouses getting brusquely assaulted where anyone with half a brain could see bare skin. I have seen elderly women being extremely embarrassed at being assaulted. I have seen screaming children. So it’d not just for me, it’s for all of us.  It may be different if there were a significant risk, but history and the numbers prove that the risk is negligible. nearly non-existent—and any viable threat that has presented in the last ten years has been dispatched by non-TSA personnel, despite all the man-handling of the American populace at the hands of that laughing stock of the world… our vaunted TSA screeners. Just last year I was laughing with a Spanish screener in Barcelona about our “crazy” procedures (BTW, I will fly from international airports - except in the UK).  You keep trying to paint me and others that complain about what’s happening as being self-centered, all the while totally ignoring the facts that speak to actual risk - or obvious lack thereof.  The risk is not as presented by the DHS. The risk is less than most anything else on this earth. Maybe with the exception of being obliterated by an asteroid.


Nov. 17, 2011, 4:25 p.m.

Many of you are under the impression that the TSA has something to do with security and keeps terrorist from doing their evil deads on a plane. That is far from the truth. The TSA does not and can not stop any dedicated terrorist. There are so many ways to get around the “security” that it is obvious that it is useless. So why do we continue with this stupidity. In addition, the chance of a terrorist doing something to you is greater than being hit by lightning, twice or winning the lottery. Finally, if we allow any abuse of our rights, then we set a precident for future activity.


Nov. 17, 2011, 4:47 p.m.

@1amWendy - re:  “So it’d not just for me, it’s for all of us.”

I don’t recall being polled as to my opinion; now that I think about it, I also don’t recall any news coverage on the nation’s media sources of a nationwide questionnaire soliciting the opinions of the American people.

And it is bogus to say that this is a matter of individual rights.  When you are screened by a security device or a human being, you are a blip on the entirely unreliable memory of one or two human beings - a blip among tens or hundreds of thousands - even millions. Here for an instant, and then gone and forgotten.

But if we were to go to the alternative that so many here seem to want - “profiling” - then that would require the entering of every single American and everything there is to know about that American into a government database.  Such data is not only permanent, it has a way…lollll…of replicating.  The concept of “privacy” would be null and void.

The truth of the matter is that you’re not trying to eliminate back-scatter radiation devices alone…you’re trying to eliminate all security on America’s flights, whether with scanning devices or via physical inspection.

Is that not correct?


Nov. 17, 2011, 4:59 p.m.

The argument of relative risk annoys me; it is the argument that Corporate America uses to justify their demand for the destruction of the EPA.

After all, most of you won’t die if the amount of toxin chemicals and - yes - radioactives dumped into our water and air is increased.


Nov. 17, 2011, 5:08 p.m.

By the way, 1amWendy…is ‘laughing with a Spanish screener in Barcelona about our ‘crazy’ procedures” necessarily a a good argument?

I do not believe that your attempt to make our efforts at security look foolish by way of announcing that the Spanish empathize with your perspective is very effective given the Madrid bombings in 2004.


Nov. 17, 2011, 5:33 p.m.

LOL @ibsteve2u: may I use your argument against you?  “After all, most of you won’t die if the amount of toxin chemicals and - yes - radioactives dumped into our water and air is increased.” 

“After all, most of you won’t get cancer and die if we make you go through backscatter machines and - yes - your cumulative amount of radiation exposure is increased.”


Nov. 17, 2011, 7:06 p.m.

@1amWendy: I am somewhat saddened that I must again point out that going through those back-scatter machines is voluntary.  What you breath, however, is beyond your control.

Your gloating is misplaced.

John Henry Bicycle Lucas

Nov. 17, 2011, 9:06 p.m.

My knowlege of radiation is limited, I will admit. That being made clear, I do question that the statements made as to the scan being equivalant to a certain amount of time flying. I do know that certain radation cannot pass through metal and other materials, being as you are in a pressurized cabin surrounded by several layers of insulation and a final wrap of very substantial aluminum, how is this true?

Someone that knows, and there seems to be several that have posted here, explain it to us.

Or, should I just go ahead and believe my government, yeah, the one that brought us agent orange, the Tuskegee Experiment, the Tomkin Gulf, Watergate, Iran Contra, etc. etc. etc.

By the way, I used to consider myself a Patriot, now I find that my government has labeled me, and people like me, possible “terrorists threats.” I really perfer the title Rebel. The reason for this is, if mainstram media wants to spin things a certain way, you are a “Rebel.” If they want to spin it the other direction, you are an “insurgent.”

Remember, the 2nd amendment guards all the other amendments.


Nov. 17, 2011, 11:07 p.m.

@ibsteve2u, I must admit you are skillful at obfuscation. The only way your argument makes sense - the risking everybody else’s lives for personal sanctity part - is to back it up with demonstrable risk, which you do not do. The part about not needing to fly to avoid backscatter is as valid as telling those people living near toxins that living where they live is voluntary - they don’t have to live there. The impracticality of moving is as valid as the impracticality of changing jobs. However, it is apparent that you will adamantly resist any fact-based discussion of air flight risk - you know, the cost-benefit analysis that the DHS never did? The one that all departments are supposed to complete so as not to allocate limited resources unwisely? But it is clear that a risk-based approach is not a concept that you wish to discuss when it comes to air travel. Not to worry: Congress and the GAO will eventually take care of that for you.


Nov. 17, 2011, 11:15 p.m.

@ibsteve2u: Telling people that need to fly for their jobs that they do not have to fly is similar to telling those people that live near the toxins to which you refer that they don’t need to live there.  Same dif.  Don’t like TSA/toxins? Change jobs/move… equal arguments.

This is my last response to you, since it is apparent that I will never get off my fact-supported point that the risk against which we are spending billions of wasted dollars (while harassing citizens without cause and exposing them to potentially harmful gratuitous radiation) is minuscule. You will never get off your refusal to back your statements with equally attributed facts. Since “facts are my friend” I will leave you to your unsubstantiated comments.


Nov. 18, 2011, 1:14 p.m.

@1amWendy:  I believe that I will leave it to the reader to decide whether your position is overwhelmingly correct; hopefully the reader will read the article, peruse all of the comments in this thread, and do a little follow-up research on their own before making their decision.

But - since you brought up obfuscation - I would point out your contradictions.

You have variously claimed “I gave up commercial flight.” and then claimed “Just last year I was laughing with a Spanish screener in Barcelona about our “crazy” procedures (BTW, I will fly from international airports - except in the UK)”.

You have claimed your interest lies in the subject of this article - “I happen to fall into the category of those that are unusually sensitive to radiation”, but contradicted that with incredible rants about the ready alternative of physical search “because apparently certain screeners are so unclear about anatomy that they believe breasts are the name for thighs”.

You have claimed that your interest is humanitarian - “So it’d not just for me, it’s for all of us.” and then put the lie to that with “I do not believe that I should go through that personal debasement and infringement upon my personal right to decide who sees me naked and who touches me where - routinely - just so you can feel safer”.

What is patently obvious is that your interest lies in eliminating all additional security measures that were enacted to prevent another 9/11 in all of America’s airports.  The one question that you have successfully obfuscated is:  Why?  What benefit do you seek to gain through eliminating all security in all of America’s airports, when you yourself can only be in one place at a time?

A most…interesting…question, that.

Peter Baker

Nov. 19, 2011, 5:57 p.m.

The fun question will be: who is accepting liability for this?  It’s all good and well to hold off until some other study eventually emerges, but in the meantime the irradiating of innocent people continues.

I want to know who accepts the financial consequences for when it is proven to be unsafe.  If nobody is willing to stick their hand up it suggests those scanners should be turned off, right now.

As always, the best discovery route is following the money.


Nov. 22, 2011, 7:42 p.m.

The readers here have decided that “1amWendy” clearly won the debate.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.
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?

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