A Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives is now urging Congress to freeze funding for the controversial nude-image scanners being installed in airports around the nation by the Transportation Security Administration.
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., a Ph.D. physicist and current chair of the House Select Oversight Panel, also has written to ask for a meeting with TSA Administrator John Pistole to discuss his concerns regarding TSA’s implementation of X-ray backscatter full-body scanning machines at airports throughout the nation.
On his website, Holt said, “Like many of you, I have serious questions about the Transportation Security Administration’s new body imaging technology and pat-down procedures. I have written to the TSA administrator and called for congressional hearings about the need to look more closely at the privacy issues and effectiveness of the screenings, and especially the potential long-term health effects of the new technology.”
He said, “We shouldn’t be using, much less expanding the use of, technology unless we are sure of the health impact. The GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is conducting an examination of backscatter technology. As I’ve urged, Congress should freeze funding for any further full-body scanning devices employing this technology until GAO completes its study and the government establishes a more rational and selective use of these procedures and technology based on sound science.”
His letter to the TSA included a long list of other issues with which he was concerned, including the machines’ capabilities of storing images and transmitting them.
The statements indicate a clear break by Holt from the Obama policy line that the backscatter machines and invasive pat-downs are necessary for airline security.
Zach Goldberg, spokesman for Holt, confirmed to WND that the congressman wants to make sure the TSA has reviewed the science and studied thoroughly the new screening procedures before expanding those X-ray scanning procedures into airports throughout the nation.
The TSA did not immediately return a WND phone call inquiring whether Pistole had received Holt’s letter and if a meeting with Holt had been scheduled.
Join tens of thousands of Americans in a petition demanding action against the intrusive airport screening procedures implemented by Janet Napolitano and send a letter to Congress, President Obama and others telling them exactly what you think about the issue.
But the letter, dated Nov. 19, supports a request Holt made in August urging congressional leaders to freeze funding for the TSA advanced imaging scanners until questions regarding the X-ray machines had been answered.
“As a scientist and chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, I appreciate the challenges we face in trying to prevent terrorists from boarding American airliners,” Holt wrote Pistole. “That same background also gives me an understanding of why TSA’s current obsession with fielding body imaging technology is misguided, counterproductive, and potentially dangerous.”
Holt mentioned that at a March meeting of the Congressional Biomedical Caucus, of which he is the co-chair, Dr. David Brenner of Columbia University’s Center for Radiological Research gave a presentation on the potential health effects of the TSA backscatter X-ray devices and he stressed:
- The TSA advanced imaging devices in use deliver to the scalp 20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry;
- The majority of the radiation from X-ray backscatter machines strikes the top of the head, which is where 85 percent of basal cell carcinoma diagnosed each year in the United States, develops;
- Excessive X-ray exposure can act as a cancer rate multiplier.
WND previously reported Brenner’s concerns that it is quite “likely” that radiation from screening machines being installed nationwide by the TSA to use on airline passengers will cause cancer. Especially at risk, Brenner stressed, are frequent fliers and children.
Brenner also told WND that TSA is relying on “bought and paid for” industry studies and manufacturers’ specifications, not scientific research examining the TSA X-ray machines independently, with results being published in peer-reviewed journals.
Holt’s letter to Pistole also referenced a Government Accountability Study, published on March 17, 2010, in which the GAO concluded, “it remains unclear whether the AIT [Advanced Imaging Technology] would have been able to detect the weapon Mr. Abdulmutallab [also known as the ‘Christmas bomber’] used in his attempted attack based on the preliminary TSA information we have reviewed.”
“A headlong rush to embrace fallible technology will only give the public the illusion of increased security at the expense of their privacy and dignity, with no assurance that the use of these machines will actually deter or detect terrorists before they act,” Holt said in his letter to Pistole.
WND previously reported that an advanced copy of a peer-reviewed scientific paper accepted for publication and authored by University of California scientists Leon Kaufman and Joseph Carlson demonstrates packages of explosives contoured to the body or worn along the sides likely would not be detected by TSA X-ray units built to “see” hard edges and anatomical features, and used primarily to image the front and back of the body.
Holt also expressed concern that the TSA had not yet implemented directives prohibiting TSA personnel who are operating AIT units from transmitting or saving the images of individual passengers, or from having video-recording devices such as smart-phones on their persons while operating the machines.
“Absent such a prohibition and independent confirmation that the AIT’s ability to store and transmit images are disabled, I fail to see how the Congress and the flying public can have confidence that the very legitimate civil concerns of passengers have been addressed,” Holt wrote.
Holt reserved some of the strongest language in his letter to a discussion of a little girl who was frisked by TSA airport employees.
“What behavioral indicator led the screener in question to believe that the little girl needed such an invasive pat-down? If no valid behavioral or other threat indicator was present, why did the screener conduct the aggressive frisking? If the girl’s mother or father were deemed a threat, why were they not segregated for further questioning, in private?” Holt asked Pistole.
“The entire episode has served as a symbol of an invasive, technology-driven passenger screening process that is not making us safer, even as it humiliates, degrades, and engages a public that deserves far better from those ostensibly seeking to protect them.”
In pointing to how Israel protects airline passengers with a “layered, common sense-based system,” Holt demanded to know, “How can Americans be treated this way?”
In requesting an in-person meeting with Pistole, Holt posed six pointed items for discussion:
- Any reports from independent entities that have validated the effectiveness of the AIT systems currently being fielded to detect the full range of explosive threats known or anticipated to be employed by potential terrorists;
- Whether any independent entity has verified that the AIT machines have been modified so as to ensure that no permanent record of a passenger scan is retained, retransmitted, or otherwise copied either directly from the AIT machine itself or by TSA or other personnel utilizing any form of video recording technology;
- The measures TSA has taken to address GAO’s concerns and recommendations regarding the employment, cost-benefit analysis, and expected overall costs of fielding these AIT systems;
- The measures TSA has taken to improve and validate its Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) program, as discussed in GAO’s May 2010 report on the program;
- Why TSA does not systematically use watch list-derived intelligence information to screen passengers more selectively via AIT systems and the SPOT program; and
- Whether or not TSA has sought or received recommendations from the government of Israel about how TSA could improve its screening programs without invading the privacy of passengers.
Officials already have admitted that the system wouldn’t do what they want – stop a terrorist like the Christmas bomber:
And they’ve already conceded the plan’s constitutionality is doubtful at best.
Even Mo McGowan, a former director of TSA security operations, was uncertain.
“We’re not dictating these events that are occurring. Events are happening across the world … driving us as a society to have to go to these measures,” he said.
“I mean, nobody likes having their 4th Amendment violated going through a security line,” he said. “But the truth of the matter is we’re going to have to do it.”