I can hear the masses beginning to beat the drum of whole-body scanners. TSA and other law enforcement groups surely must be pleased to see this yearning to be scanned spread by the uninformed knee-jerk media, liability-averse airport operators and pliant politicians. I have three words for American citizens — don’t believe them.
This technology will not save you.
I have had the opportunity to see the millimeter-wave technology scanner in operation at Washington-Reagan Airport. I was scanned and I had an opportunity to step into the small video viewing room manned by a single TSA officer.
Imagine a room about 5-feet by 5-feet, a big telephone booth really. Then line one wall with a table with a monitor, keyboard and communications equipment and a government-issue desk chair. The monitor being used had about a 17-inch screen and the images spinning were black and white. This is the work environment of the human part of the TSA whole-body scanners.
For me a half-hour shift in this cell would be 30 minutes alone in hell.
I had to ask the operator of the scanner monitor to stop the spin on the image and to enlarge the image to get a good look at what I was examining — the back of a woman’s bra. Only with careful observation can one see the details of the hooks, stitching and stretch fabric, not to mention the wrinkles on the woman’s back.
These whole-body-scanning machines reveal an amazing amount of detail, but only something that looks very out of place would ever be expected to set off an alarm in the TSA viewer’s mind. To really get a look at something, the operator would have to enlarge small areas and scrutinize them. This all takes time and slows down the airport operations.
While we may have time to use these machines on every person passing through security, we do not have the time to scrutinize each of these images in the few seconds allotted for analysis. Humans simply cannot work that way.
Imagine the pressure of analyzing bodies on this small 17-inch video screen — tiny image after tiny image, every 15 seconds — only for 15 minutes. I am sure you can believe that this solitary sentry’s eyes will glaze over. Mine would.
Worse, the repetition of human bodies with different weights and shapes — fanciful clothing and varying exotic undergarments, senior citizens wearing Depends mingled with women with sanitary napkins and babies in diapers … you get the idea — make it impossible for anyone to sit in a 5×5-foot booth with the best technology in the world and make sense of the images spinning in front of him or her.
The human being viewing each of these millimeter scans is expected to view and carefully analyze (let’s take a guess) four or five images a minute. We humans are not wired that way. We need time to process what we are seeing.
For heavens sake, highly-trained radiologists spend far more time examining x-rays and cat-scans, without the time pressure under which TSA-trained operatives are expected to make instant decisions.
We are fools to believe that this technology will help our security in any way. It is simply one more indignation to be endured, saddled on society by senseless bureaucrats trying to cover their collective asses by exposing ours.
We are wasting our money and our time. We are shedding our clothing and our dignity in the name of an unreasonable and unreachable goal of total safety through technology. We are destroying our sense of liberty, privacy and individualism on the stage of security theater.
Terrorists carry guns and bombs made of metal, so we install metal detectors. Then they decide to load shoes with explosives, now we take off our shoes. Next, the underwear bomber lines his drawers with powdered explosives, so we now search for a machine that strips us naked. Soon, a bomber will walk through security with a grenade wedged up his butt, invisible to whole-body scanners. I hate to imagine the next stage of violation we will face when trying to board an airplane.
It is time to start our security process with a search for the bad guys before they get to the airport, before they pack plastic explosives into their backpack and head to the train station, before they cock their weapons outside of gasoline stations.
By focusing on the theater of airport security and rationalizing away the need for better intelligence, we as a nation will not be able to make headway in our battle against terrorism.
Fighting these barbarians at the gates of our airports is too late.