There was a furor when the TSA introduced its infamous body scanners at airports. Quickly dubbed the ‘porno scanners’, it was alleged that these devices could be used to see people naked. The TSA vigorously denied it, saying that it was used in such a way that only it would only be used to find weapons.
Now Jason Edward Harrington, a former TSA employee confirms what was alleged, that TSA employees used it mainly for entertainment, to ogle and laugh at people, part of a job that he detested.
I hated it from the beginning. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretense that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots—the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying.
In private, most TSA officers I talked to told me they felt the agency’s day-to-day operations represented an abuse of public trust and funds.
He said that the secret list of 12 nations whose passengers got automatic full-body examination (Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, North Korea) was purely political since it did not contain Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, the former home to 16 of the 9/11 hijackers, the latter currently home to members of al Qaeda.
Not only that, he said that the machines could not always detect weapons either. He says that it was mainly security theater.
[The training instructor] said we wouldn’t be able to distinguish plastic explosives from body fat and that guns were practically invisible if they were turned sideways in a pocket.
We quickly found out the trainer was not kidding: Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns. The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.
The scanners were useless. The TSA was compelling toddlers, pregnant women, cancer survivors—everyone—to stand inside radiation-emitting machines that didn’t work.
What the machines did do very well was picking the pockets of taxpayers and make a ton of money for Michael Chertoff, former head of the Department of Homeland Security, whose company Rapiscan sold those expensive machines (about $150,000 each) to the TSA.
Harrington’s account is a fascinating insider’s look at the farce, the very expensive and exasperating farce, that the so-called war on terror has become at home.