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Friday, November 19, 2010

Scan or Scam

"They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." — Benjamin Franklin

In today’s USA Today Janet Napolitano, the Director of Homeland Security, has an Op-Ed piece titled Scanners are safe, pat-downs discreet. In her column Ms. Napolitano states; “As part of our layered approach, we have expedited the deployment of new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units to help detect concealed metallic and non-metallic threats on passengers. These machines are now in use at airports nationwide, and the vast majority of travelers say they prefer this technology to alternative screening measures.”

“AIT machines are safe, efficient, and protect passenger privacy. They have been independently evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, who have all affirmed their safety. And the weapons and other dangerous and prohibited items we've found during AIT screenings have illustrated their security value time and again.”

“Rigorous privacy safeguards are also in place to protect the traveling public. All images generated by imaging technology are viewed in a walled-off location not visible to the public. The officer assisting the passenger never sees the image, and the officer viewing the image never interacts with the passenger. The imaging technology that we use cannot store, export, print or transmit images.”

Unfortunately, the good secretary failed to point out that "those who seek to do us harm" are almost exclusively young Muslim males, and, logically, they should be the first ones profiled for additional screening.

Instead, the TSA pretends that we're all potential threats and, therefore, we all get to enjoy either the mechanized body scans or the groping — or, as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) dismissively calls the latter, the "love pats." If you think the TSA scanners now being deployed around the nation — thanks to $73 million in Obama money — are not invasive, you might reconsider after viewing this virtual strip search, which is a low resolution reproduction of a typical high resolution TSA scan.

There are three primary manufacturers of body scanners purchased by the TSA: one made by L-3 Communications, one from American Science and Engineering and one from Rapiscan. The scanner manufacturers are all located in leftist congressional districts in Massachusetts and California, those represented by Democratic House Members; Ed Markey, Niki Tsongas and Jane Harman. Perhaps this is mere coincidence, but we doubt it.

So what about these AIT scanners? Who makes them and what profits are to be had? Let’s begin with Rapiscan the recipient of $173 million in Obama stimulus dollars. Rapiscan is located in California's 36th congressional district (Dem. Rep. Jane Harman — an outspoken advocate of the technology.).

Rapiscan’s parent company is OSI Systems, a vertically integrated designer and manufacturer of specialized electronic systems and components for critical applications. They sell their products in diversified markets, including homeland security, healthcare, defense and aerospace.

Former Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff touted the use of the full body scanners for everyone, not just selected flyers. In a Washington Post Op-Ed Chertoff stated; “Opposition to whole-body imagers essentially relies on three arguments. First, the American Civil Liberties Union and privacy advocates have complained that the machines subject passengers to a "virtual strip search." Second, they claim that the machines are unsafe because they expose passengers to dangerous amounts of radiation in screening. Third, some critics argue that the only correct approach to airline security lies in better intelligence.”

“All of these objections lack merit. The "safety" concern is particularly specious, because the technologies expose people to no more radiation than is experienced in daily life.”

It should be noted that Chertoff was the secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009 and is co-founder of the Chertoff Group, a security and risk-management firm whose clients include a Rapiscan — Jane Harman’s pet firm.

The CEO and Chairman is the well known feel good guru and supporter of the Democrat Party Deepak Chopra. If you have ever seen Chopra on Sean Hannity’s show promoting peace in the world the will know what I am talking about.

Another investor in OSI was George Soros, or as Glenn beck calls him. “spooky dude”. Soros had 11,300 shares of OSI up to November 17th when Beck brought his ownership to light. The next day he unloaded all of his shares at about a $14/share profit ($158,200 —a mere pittance for Soros.)

Now we can move on to Massachusetts where we have two firms receiving Obama stimulus dollars for their AIT scanners:

L-3 Communications ($165 million contract) is in Massachusetts congressional district 7 (Dem. Rep. Ed Markey) and American Science and Engineering (AS&E) is in Massachusetts congressional district 5 (Dem Rep. Niki Tsongas — the widow of U.S. Senator Paul Tsongas and failed Presidential candidate).

Is there a privacy issue here? Want your wives and daughters scanned or searched using the "enhanced pat down procedure" if a woman refuses to subject herself to the scan? Did you know that TSA employees have cached these images? Reuters reports that thousands of them have been posted on the Web. Further, there are also health related concerns about scanner radiation, especially for recovering cancer patients.

When it comes to airport security matters, we should put some stock into what the Israelis have to say. In April of this year, former chief security officer of the Israel Airport Authority, Rafi Sela, who has been an expert in security and defense technology for 30 years, said of the body scanners: "I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. That's why we haven't put them in [Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport]." (Obviously Sela's security decisions are not directed by politicians with stimulus money to burn.) See my blog post on November 16 to read about my experience in Ben Gurion Airport.

Sela believes a "trusted traveler" network would be better because pre-approved low-risk passengers would be subject only to expedited screening and higher risk individuals could then be subject to much more proven technology like automatic sniffers now used to detect explosive residue on airline baggage.

As for the "random search" procedures in effect at U.S. airports, Sela says, "Random searches are like Russian roulette." He is an advocate of behavioral profiling, but that would offend the sensibilities of travelers who actually fit the profile of a terrorist.

Obviously, airline security is an important issue, but there are better ways to achieve it without trampling the Fourth Amendment or encouraging uniformed personnel to commit what in any other circumstance would be prosecuted as felonious assault. The Israelis, for many years the prime targets of jihadi terrorism, have one of the best airline security records in the world, but they don't resort to wide-scale screening. Using intelligence analysis and common sense, they profile people, not things, allowing them to focus on the most probable threats with minimal disturbance of those who aren't likely to be terrorists. While that might offend the sensibilities of travelers who fit the terrorist profile, at least grandma and the grand kids would be free from abusive TSA gropers.

So what do we have when all of the dust clears? Do we have a more efficient technology for air travel security or a very expensive scam pushed on us by Democrat politicians and supporters? You be the judge, for me it’s a scam.

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