I'm sorry, I just don't get the clamoring for full body scanners; they just seem way too ineffectual for the money:
- We're going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on machines that may break laws against the production of pornographic images of children and thereby prevent anyone under 18 from being scanned. Certainly makes sense since there aren't any 17 year old terrorists out there.
- Further, as The Lede reports, the machines are likely to blur out the places terrorists would hide bombs:
Stephen Phipson, the president of Smiths Detection, a British company that makes scanning machines, sought to reassure readers of Time that his company’s machines could be set up to avoid picturing genitals, since “our software can blur out parts of the body.”
Then again if the man who went through security in Amsterdam on Christmas day with explosives concealed in his underwear had encountered a full-body scanner that blurred out that part of his body, it seems fair to ask if he would have been caught or simply waved through to board his flight for Detroit.
- Finally, no one, their manufacturers included, claim these machines can see a bomb in a body cavity or even under folds of fat.
So they're fantastically expensive machines that give the appearance of high-tech security but would still allow the Christmas bomber to board that Detroit flight and motivate terrorists to recruit children and fat people. They certainly seem iron clad to me.
And while we're pouring all this money into these ineffectual machines, half of all the cargo on commercial flights are not inspected at all. That's right, we're considering spending all this money on these problematic, ineffectual machines while not inspecting half of all the cargo sitting in the bellies of the same planes we've been full body scanned to sit in.
This is so stupid it can get us killed!
Here's the The Lede:
While a lot of attention has been paid in recent days to the need to find better ways to screen passengers and their luggage, as aviation security officials try to keep terrorists — or Slovak security officials — from smuggling explosives onto passenger jets, it remains an uncomfortable fact that entirely unscreened packages are still routinely loaded into the cargo holds of those same airplanes.
According to the Transportation Security Administration, it currently screens “at least 50 percent” of the packages loaded into the cargo holds of passenger jets alongside travelers’ suitcases. Last February, the security administration announced that it had “issued security directives to all air carriers requiring that they screen 50 per cent of cargo placed on passenger aircraft,” and was working to meet an August, 2010 deadline set by Congress in 2007 to ensure the screening of every package that flies on these planes.
The following month a report by the Government Accountability Office explained that “TSA’s approach relies on the voluntary participation of shippers and freight forwarders,” in a program where most of the screening is to be done by private companies at the locations where goods are loaded into boxes.
Last month, though, a follow-up report by the GAO noted that “TSA and the industry face a number of challenges including the voluntary nature of the program, and ensuring that approved technologies are effective with air cargo.” The GAO also noted that “TSA also does not expect to meet the mandated 100 percent screening deadline as it applies to air cargo transported into the U.S., in part due to existing screening exemptions for this type of cargo and challenges in harmonizing security standards with other nations.”
On Tuesday, Lauren Gaches, a press officer for the Department of Homeland Security, confirmed to The Lede that passenger jets continue to fly with unscreened packages on board.
Ms. Gauches wrote in an e-mail message:
While much remains to be done to fulfill this requirement, TSA is confident that the industry is currently screening at least 50 percent of air cargo transported on passenger aircraft on flights originating in the United States and anticipates that the 100 percent screening requirement will be met by August 2010 for domestic cargo. [...]
However, the requirement in the 9/11 Act to also screen 100 percent of inbound air cargo continues to present significant challenges. Although it is unlikely that TSA can develop a system to meet the ambitious timetable set by Congress, work continues with international partners to address the many challenges. TSA expects to continue to see significant improvements in the level of security for inbound air cargo on passenger aircraft as these discussions continue.
After the GAO’s December report was released, Representative Edward J. Markey, the Massachusetts Democrat who wrote the 100 percent screening mandate into the 2007 law intended to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission, pressed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who has oversight on the security administration, to make sure the August deadline would be met. Mr. Markey wrote, “The potential threats borne of unscreened cargo are all too real.”
As a blogger for the Transportation Security Administration explained in 2008, when the government announced that it was deploying 85 sniffer dogs to help screen the cargo loaded onto passenger planes at American airports, cargo loaded onto passenger planes is an important part of the global economy:
[S]ome of you may not realize just how immense an operation it is to ship air cargo around the world. Commerce and customers have come to expect that millions of packages will fly around the world, arriving at their destination with amazing efficiency and accuracy. The volume is so large that, in addition to the cargo company’s trains, planes and automobiles, many packages often fly with your luggage in the belly of commercial passenger aircraft. Care packages sent to Billy in his dorm room or fruitcakes from your grandmother are sometimes stored below passenger’s feet, right next to suitcases. This is an important source of revenue for the airlines as well as a means for customers to get their packages on-time. Some less popular commercial flight routes survive solely as a result of the money brought in by transporting cargo.
In 2007, as Congress debated the mandatory screening of all packages flying beneath the feet of passengers, my colleague Eric Lipton reported that the size of the air cargo business made it very important to the airlines:
Twenty-two percent of domestic air cargo travels on passenger aircraft, or about 2.8 million tons a year, producing $4.7 billion a year in revenue for the airlines. And this steady stream of air cargo — most of it promised for delivery in one or two days — is often what makes the difference between a profitable route and one that loses money. Industry officials fear that tougher standards may force cargo off passenger planes and onto flights reserved just for cargo, or cause huge delays.