Study Shows TSA Nude Scanners Were Pretty Much Worthless…but we Knew That Already

They should have done these studies a long time ago, before the TSA decided that the porno scans would prevent large-scale terrorist attacks. Perhaps there were studies done, but they certainly weren’t publicized when they needed to be. If people knew how useless they were, public pressure wouldn’t allow the TSA to spend over a billion dollars on the worthless machines.

Now that they don’t use these scanners in U.S. airports anymore, studies on their weaknesses can be publicized. A team of computer researchers recently released the results from their experiments on a Rapiscan 1000 they bought off eBay. Writing for PC World, Jeremy Kirk reported:

The Rapiscan Secure 1000 full body scanner provides only “weak protection against adaptive adversaries,” according to their paper, which will be presented on Thursday at the Usenix Security Symposium in San Diego. The researchers also set up a website with their findings.

“It is possible to conceal knives, guns and explosives from detection by exploiting properties of the device’s backscatter X-ray technology,” the paper said.

[…]

TSA procedures for the Rapiscan called for passengers to be screened from the front and the back, which in some instances didn’t catch carefully placed weapons, they wrote.

Two methods hid a .380 pistol from front and back scans: carefully affixing the gun to the outside of someone’s leg with tape or sewing it inside the leg of the pants.

“In each case, the pistol is invisible against the dark background, and the attachment method leaves no other indication of the weapon’s presence,” according to the paper.

Another idiosyncrasy of the scanner is that items which scatter incoming X-rays with the same intensity of human flesh also appear invisible.

Covering an 18-inch knife with 1.5 cm of teflon tape—which scatters X-rays nearly the same as flesh—also obscured the weapon enough so that it appears to be part of a person’s spine, they found.

Simulated plastic explosives such as C-4, when shaped in a thin pancake, also almost perfectly replicated the X-ray backscatter from a subject’s stomach area. A metal detonator was placed in the person’s navel, which absorbed enough X-rays to appear normal in a scan.

A couple years ago, a blogger showed how anyone could get a metal object past the body scanners. Since the person’s image that comes up on the scanner is white, and since any metal objects come up as black, they’re easy to see, but only if they’re in front of your body or in the back. Since the background of the image is also black, all you’d have to do is place the metal object on your side, and the scanner won’t be able to differentiate between the metal object and the black background.

He even tested it with an empty metal case. He filmed himself going through security at the airport, and since he placed the metal case in a side pocket, the scanner didn’t pick up on it. He pointed out that the case could easily have contained razor blades or even explosives, and the TSA technology, in all its glory and expense, would not have been able to pick up on it.

TSA proponents love to point out how the U.S. hasn’t had to endure even one terrorist attack since 9/11, and they attribute this largely to TSA security. I would argue that we haven’t had one since 9/11 in spite of TSA theatrics.