Did you know that in 2008 TSA claimed that the images generated by their wiener screeners were "G-rated" and appropriate for "posting in pre-schools"?
So what's all the fuss about?
There are two types of whole body imagers or WBI:
All you'll need to know below the fold.
This diary is rather long, so I will summarize what I discuss in detail below:
- The S-1000 machine produces radition which is said to be at a safe level, but there have been no extensive tests; children and persons with certain medical conditions will be more vulnerable.
- No significant health risks have been shown to be associated with the millimeter wave devices
- A version of the L-3 ProVision shows only an image in stylized cartoon-like fashion; it is in use at one of the largest airports in the world and can be retrofitted to the U.S. machines.
- The current version of both machines in current use in the U.S. can store and transmit images; previous statements by the government that the machines lacked this capability have been shown to be false.
- Images on the machines could also be obtained by analog attack, that is, by photographing the on-screen image with a cell phone or other imaging device; TSA forbids its agents who are observing the images from carrying cell phone and similar devices into the image viewing room.
- These machines are marketed for use in prisons, and some have been so installed. They have been tested on at least one subway system and there is good reason to believe that they will be extended to trains.
Millimeter wave scanners work by reflecting extremely high frequency radio waves off of the body. Backscatter X-ray machines use a form of ionizing radiation, which penetrates the clothing, but which is supposed to bounce back off the skin to the detector unit, which captures the bounced back photons and assembles them into an image. Ars Technica has an excellent summary of the technical aspects of these machines.
According to CNN, on 10/31/10, TSA had 189 back scatter machines and 152 millimeter wave machines in operation. Eventually TSA plans to completely replace all metal detection devices and use the image scanners as the primary screening tool.
For its backscatter machines, TSA uses the S-1000 device manufactured by Rapiscan Systems, a multinational company which in turn is owned by OSI Systems. The S-1000 machine looks like two large blue refrigerators, with a walk way on a rubber mat passing between them. Some images of the machines are here and here.
The millimeter wave scanners are called the L-3 ProVision, and manufactured by L-3 Communications, which is one of the ten largest government contractors.
A diagram from Scientific American.com showing sample use and components is here. Another image is here.. An article in the Deseret News from March 2009 shows and describes the testing of the millimeter wave scanner at the Salt Lake City airport. L-3 Communications has a website with explanations and demonstrations of its millimeter wave operation of the machine.
Almost all of the health issues relate to the S-1000 backscatter radiation scanner. The government claims that the radiation dose from the machine is too low to be of any realistic concern. Highly qualified experts outside the government have disagreed however, and it appears that no clear consensus has emerged. Wikipedia has a good summary of the controversy here. CNN also published a fine short article covering the issue on 11/12/10:
David Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University and a professor of radiation biophysics ... is concerned about how widely the scanners will be used. "If you think of the entire population of, shall we say a billion people per year going through these scanners, it's very likely that some number of those will develop cancer from the radiation from these scanners," Brenner said. Skin cancer would likely be the primary concern, he said. Each time the same person receives a backscatter scan, the small risk associated with the low dose of radiation is multiplied by the number of exposures. Brenner said the risk to an individual is "very small indeed" for a single scan. He said he is most concerned about frequent fliers, pilots and young people, because children are more sensitive to radiation.
The bottom line is that the government has determined that whatever the danger maybe to the individual (which it claims is negligible), it is overridden by the need for security on the aircraft. According to the Food and Drug Administration's website
Since general-use x-ray systems emit ionizing radiation, the societal benefit of reliably detecting threats must be sufficient to outweigh the potential radiation risk, if any, to the individual screened.
Let's assume the S-1000 machines are safe if properly used. What if they aren't?
Rez estimates 50 to 100 doses of backscatter radiation would be equivalent to a chest X-ray. But he said the dose is not his main concern with backscatter machines.
"The thing that worries me the most, is not what happens if the machine works as advertised, but what happens if it doesn't," Rez said. A potential malfunction could increase the radiation dose, he said.
Indeed. TSA's record for technical training and attention to detail does not exactly one give comfort. For example, it appears that Inspector Closeau now works for TSA.
Of course, TSA won't tell us what the procedures are for operating the S-1000, so there's really no way of knowing whether its being properly done unless TSA should again happen to idiotically place the entire manual on a public website.
Lobbying and contracts
L-3 communications spent large amounts of money on lobbying and campaign contributions to members of Congress in both parties. Former U.S. senator Al D'Amato from New York is a lobbyist for L-3. Rapiscan was able to CEO Deepak Chopra on Air Force 1 with President Obama on his recent India trip. By way, this is not THAT Deepak Chopra, but the OTHER Deepak Chopra. And, as is well known, the chief pimp for Rapiscan is former Homeland Security Maximum Leader Michael Chertoff.
L-3 Communications markets its current millimeter wave scanner as follows:
L-3’s ProVision uses harmless active millimeter wave technology. To help ensure privacy, the product generates an image that resembles a fuzzy photo negative with options to blur facial and private areas. Images cannot be stored and can be viewed in a remote location separate from the checkpoint. The ProVision reduces the need for pat-down searches, increases the speed of checkpoint security and makes correctional facility visits safer and more secure.
Rapiscan markets its S-1000 machine as follows:
The the two sided Rapiscan Secure 1000 Single Pose system eliminates the need for repositioning between front and back scans thereby increasing throughput.
In other words, Rapiscan is claiming that more people can be processing through the S-1000 than the L-3 ProVision because in the S-1000, the subject only needs to pose once.
Use and proposed use outside of airports
In March 2009, Cook County awarded L-3 communications a contract to install ten L-3 ProVision millimeter wave scanners at checkpoints within the Cook County Department of Corrections for the purpose of monitoring prisoner movements. In 2006 the New Jersey PATH authority conducted a two week trial of the full body imaging machines at the Jersey City subway station usiing millimeter wave devices. Officials reported that "the body's private areas were blurred". If so, the machines tested in 2006 would appear to be different from those in use now at TSA.
Samuel Plumeri Jr., the Port Authority Police superintendent, said the agency is "exploring innovative ways to protect passengers" at its facilities and is a willing partner in such ventures with DHS. Richard Canas, director of the state's Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, praised yesterday's announcement for putting increased emphasis on rail security. "I think we can deal with (rail security) the same way we deal with airports," said Canas, referring to the extensive manpower and money given to aviation security in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "But we need to focus on it.
Above, I noted that a nude 3D image is produced by the current generation of millimeter wave scanners. In April 2008, TSA claimed on its official propablog that for the millimeter wave scanners :
Multiple comments noted the following contradiction:
From the TSA webpage discussing Whole Body Imaging.........
The image will not be visible to the public, and the viewing TSO will not be permitted to bring any camera into the viewing area.
Why would TSA make the above statement if the image was not capable of showing considerable detail? Lack of Credibility and Integrity at TSA is a much larger questions. The Public does not trust you!
On it's L-3 Communications claims that privacy issues can be resolved by new "automated threat detection image-free technology", abbreviated ATD
Automatic Threat Detection feature addresses privacy concerns by eliminating the generation and review of images. Scan data is processed by software without human intervention to determine if any threats are present. Potential threat areas are then presented to the operator using a generic mannequin that resembles a human outline.
The "mannikin" actually shows up on the outside of the scan and looks like a rather creepy cartoon figure, but certainly it cannot be described as explicit in any way. Millimeter wave machines using ATD are in operation at Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam, which is the largest airport in the Netherlands and is the 3rd largest airport by passenger volume in the world. L-3 Communications says that its ATD mannikin technology can be retrofitted to existing L-3 ProVision machines.
Rapiscan apparently doesn't have any technical solution comparable to the L-3 mannikin. Instead, they will rely people preferring the scan over the grope. Their marketing materials are quite frank:
Rapiscan Systems has also developed techniques to protect the privacy of the person being screened while enabling effective detection of threat items. In a recent study, 19 out of 20 people preferred a Secure 1000 scan to an invasive pat-down physical search.
For both machines, TSA prepared a privacy statement (dated 10/17/08) making the following privacy claims
While the equipment has the capability of collecting and storing an image, the image storage functions will be disabled by the manufacturer before the devices are placed in an airport and will not have the capability to be activated by operators. Images will be maintained on the screen only for as long as it takes to resolve any anomalies; if a TSO sees a suspicious area or prohibited item, the image will remain on the screen until the item is cleared either by the TSO recognizing the item on the screen, or by a physical screening by the TSO with the individual.
The image is deleted in order to permit the next individual to be screened. The equipment does not retain the image. In addition, TSOs will be prohibited from bringing any device into the viewing area that has any photographic capability, including cell phone cameras. Rules governing the operating procedures of TSOs using this WBI equipment are documented in standard operating procedures (SOP), and compliance with these procedures is reviewed on a routine basis. Due the sensitivity of the technical and operational details, the SOP will not be publicized, however, TSOs receive extensive training prior to operating WBI technology.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center obtained, via the Freedom of Information Act, TSA's contractor specifications for both the L-3 and the Rapiscan "whole body imaging" (WBI) machines, and released a report which refuted or at least called into serious question substantial portions of the government's privacy claims:
Contrary to TSA’s claims about WBI machines, these documents make clear that the WBI machines are designed to allow for the production of images with no privacy filters and to allow for the storage and transfer of those images. The capability to create unfiltered images and to store and transmit those images was expressly required by TSA in its Operational Requirements and Procurement Specifications.
These documents reveal that there are numerous security threats inherent in the WBI machines’ design. The WBI machines are subject to outside security threats because they employ Windows XP operating system and the Ethernet network. More disturbingly, they are subject to inside security threats due to the existence of Level Z clearance, which allows an unspecified number of TSA employees, outside contractors, and generic
“superusers” to disable privacy functions while at the same time storing and/or transferring data.
In their spectacular collection of lies and fairy tales maintained by Blogdad Bob, TSA claims:
Myth: TSA Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) images can be stored on the AIT machines located in our airports.
Fact: Completely false – TSA’s machines should not be confused with the recent stories about the U.S. Marshals Service. The machines used by TSA at our airports cannot store, print or transmit images. They simply don’t have that ability.
Several commentators on the blog pointed out the contradiction with the RFP, best of which was this:
Bob, either you are misrepresenting the facts, or the TSA has misrepresented its specifications for AIT scanning devices in its RFP. The RFP clearly states that any Whole Body Imaging device purchased by the Transportation Security Administration shall have the ability to store and transmit mode when the system is set to 'test' mode.
DId the TSA lie to your vendors (and the Congress, the GAO and the taxpayers) in its RFP, or are you and Administrator Pistole now engaged in a campaign to lie to members of the public and the news media?
Just for the record: * Black ≠ White * Up ≠ Down * Left ≠ Right * Physically can't store/transmit images ≠ “126.96.36.199.1.2
When in Test Mode, the WBI: - shall allow exporting of image data in real-time; - shall prohibit projection of an image to the IO station; - shall provide a secure means for high speed transfer of image data; - shall allow exporting of image data (raw and reconstructed.”
Clearly TSA was lying about the machines not being able to store images. But does that mean that it actually is occurring? We do know that the U.S. marshall's service stored 35,000 images taken from a whole body image scanner in a Florida courthouse. This was from a millimeter wave scanner, apparently of a less advanced variety, produced by a different manufacturer.
But what about TSA? The latest from Blogdad Bob
TSA has not, will not and the machines cannot store images of passengers at airports. The equipment sent by the manufacturer to airports cannot store, transmit or print images and operators at airports do not have the capability to activate any such function.
This is a lie masquerading as a truth. In fact, the machines are capable of transmitting all images taken to remote locations where they can be stored, as the repeated use of "at the airport" shows. According to the procurement specifications, the machines are also specified to have USB and ethernet ports. One of many comments on the TSA Blog pointed out other problems:
I don't believe you or the TSA. Period. The technology is closed source and not open to independent review (not even for health concerns). Unless and until it is there is no reason to believe this is not possible.
And besides, there's always the "analog loophole". That is to say an agent snapping a pic with a phone or camera.
People were reassured in this particular case that images weren't stored either. So why should we believe the TSA when they say the same thing? Please answer that.
So, if the images are suitable for preschool and G-rated, why are they, as TSA not stored? Seems like if you actually had a terrorist sneaking a bomb onto a plane, you'd want one of those G-rated images to prosecute him or her. TSA can't have it both ways.