The issue stems from the TSA’s introduction of full body scanners, which display the nude image of passengers for all in line to see. In Los Angeles, where celebrities such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and Kim Kardashian have been going through security lines just for fun, the problem has received little attention. However, in the South and Midwest, the complaints from passengers and the bystanders forced to watch the parade of obese Americans have reached unprecedented levels. The situation becomes especially problematic where children are involved.
“R. Kelly gets busted for child pornography, but Baltimore International’s got five showings of my kids naked — with no admission charged,” complained one parent. However, failure to submit to a full body scan will result in “enhanced” screening processes carried out in person by TSA officers, including the touching of genitals. It was after refusing to enter the scanners that John Tyner was subjected to TSA groping. In the video of the incident, Tyner threatened to have TSA personnel arrested for touching his “junk.” The Airline Pilots Association also supports Tyner’s claims, calling the TSA pat downs “sexual molestation.”
While officials from the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) remind Americans of the heightened safety risks that have led to these spartan tactics, researchers from the Government Accountability Office say the processes are ineffective.
On March 17, 2010, the GAO issued its own report on the scanners. In the report, the GAO stated that the body scanners, also known as Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT), might not have the capability to detect the type of explosive that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly had sewn in his underpants.
Steve Lord, Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, Government Accountability Office, explained:
“While officials said AITs (Advanced Imaging Technology devices) performed as well as physical pat downs in operational tests, it remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident based on the preliminary information the GAO has received.”
The GAO has now joined the growing ranks of organizations, people, and countries questioning the reliability and validity of the devices. While the TSA continues to use economic stimulus funds to purchase scanners for US airports, the question remains if the scanners will keep passengers safe.
“This isn’t the first TSA failure, and it won’t be the last,” said security expert Norton Pinkerton. “We should remember that all potential terrorist incidents that were interrupted were done so by mindful citizens — not government agents. Abdulmutallab made it past a ticketing agent even though he raised all the red flags. He purchased a one-way ticket out of the country, he paid in cash, he had no baggage, he was already on a watch list, he had an invalid passport, and his pants were bulging as though he were wearing three sets of adult diapers. By the time he got to the TSA, it didn’t matter.”
Pinkerton further illustrates the shortcomings of the agency with its embattled behavioral assessment program. The TSA began initial testing in October 2003 of its Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program. Behavior Detection Officers (BDO) carry out SPOT’s mission to identify persons who pose a risk to aviation security by focusing on behavioral and appearance indicators.
“But the TSA is staffed by undereducated, minimum wage employees,” Pinkerton continued. “They live in neighborhoods populated by gangs and crack houses and immigrants. How the hell would they be able to spot a suspicious passenger? A Wall Street banker looks more dubious to them than a man with a bomb strapped to his chest.”
Despite the backlash from consumers, TSA procurement officials claim that since the groping procedures were enacted, the number of job applicants has tripled. Barnes Hamroid, the TSA’s vice president of Human Resources, said, “I think people in America are smarter than the media portrays. They understand the need for these safety protocols, and the mountain of resumes on my desk supports that. And these candidates are not just the typical rabble of drop outs and homeless people we usually see.”
“Well that’s true,” Pinkerton responded to reporters when provided with Hamroid’s statement. “I’ve seen the list too. Excommunicated priests, pedophiles, registered sex offenders, former Republican congressmen. The pay might suck and the hours might be awful, but for people like that, legal permission to fondle passengers is a pretty big perk in their already robust benefits package.”
When reached for comment, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told the press, “I honestly don’t know what the big deal is. People in Vegas pay good money for this kind of treatment.”