Reports that Backscatter Machines Are Being Removed from Airports False

backscatterAnd even worse scanners may be coming.
As we reported earlier this year, the full-body x-ray scanners used in airports are so dangerous that the European Union has banned them. The backscatter machines being used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) emit “low” levels of ionizing radiation with an impact that is 10 to 20 times higher than the manufacturer’s calculations. They are a cancer risk.
There have been press reports about these dangerous machines being removed. But you have to read the fine print. The backscatter machines are being taken out of the busier airports not because of documented safety concerns, but because they are slowing down the line! Many people opt out of a scan from the backscatter machines because of privacy concerns (the scanners display a nude image of each person scanned to TSA officers in a nearby room), choosing instead to undergo the physical screening instead. And this is causing long waits at some airports.
The machines aren’t going away, however: they’re merely being moved to smaller, less-busy airports. So the health risks (not to mention the invasion of privacy) will be just as great as before—but perhaps harder to avoid.
Note that there are two types of airport scanning machines that use radiation (here are pictures so you can tell them apart at a glance). The dangerous backscatter machines use a “low”-intensity x-ray beam that is directed over the surface of the body. Millimeter wave scan machines use radiation waves that are not dissimilar to microwaves. Experts are generally much more concerned with x-ray radiation then with millimeter waves, although we don’t know enough about the latter.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) is suing the Department of Human Services over cancer clusters possibly linked to radiation exposure among TSA employees. EPIC is alleging that the agency failed to issue employees dosimeters—safety devices that could assess the level of radiation exposure—and mischaracterized the findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, stating that NIST “affirmed the safety” of full body scanners when in fact a Johns Hopkins University study revealed that radiation zones around body scanners could exceed the General Public Dose Limit.
The TSA’s administrator, John Pistole, was invited to testify at a hearing of the Subcommittee on Aviation on “How Best to Improve Our Nation’s Airport Passenger Security System through Commonsense Solutions.” Pistole refused to appear, saying that the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has no jurisdiction” over the TSA, so no representative would be present at the meeting. Subcommittee on Aviation chair Rep. Tom Petri (R-WI) said the agency’s “absence today demonstrates why the public is so frustrated with the TSA.”
In response to both the health and the privacy issues posed by the backscatter machines, two new scanners are also making an appearance. One, being implemented at Boston’s Logan Airport, is equipped with Automatic Target Recognition software that will display a cartoonish image of the passenger—a rougher outline of a passenger’s body that’s similar to the A-shaped silhouette of Gumby, the green clay cartoon character.
A second body scanner has been developed by In-Q-tel, a quasi-governmental security company founded in 1999 “by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of the CIA and the support of the US Congress.” It’s a laser-based molecular scanner that looks for trace elements of chemical compounds and radiation. The technology is portable, light, and quick, which means that it may appear in more places than just the airport—such as movie theaters, sports venues, etc.—anyplace large groups of people might congregate.
The laser scanner can be fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away, and is able to get a great deal of information from you—including traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes. According to security expert and attorney Mychal Wilson, “They can also detect drugs, alcohol, and your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Even your adrenaline level will be available for government analysis. Everything about your body will be available to the government and logged into a database.”
The health risks of the technology are still unknown. But Xichen Zhang, professor of lasers and optics at the University of Rochester, states that the system uses waveforms that can pass through clothes, luggage, etc., causing a minor reaction in whatever they hit. This is scary stuff indeed.


  1. Life is becoming scarier and scarier. Luckly I’m old – I feel for my children and grandchildren and everybody elses. What life will they have and what world have they inherited?

  2. The richest country in the world and we do not have enough common sense to do things with the least amounts of danger.

  3. So if the new scanners can be activated from 164 feet away, then you may get scanned without your choice or permission? Lovely.
    Is it time to wear aluminum or lead suits, so that their indiscriminate scanning will not be available at a whim.

  4. This is 1984 ! let’s get these things out of the air ports.the health care syatem is not prepared to
    to hand this issue. This is killing those who travel for a living.

  5. I have an implanted cardio pace-maker/defibrilator which my cardiologist has instructed to NEVER go through ANY scanner of any kind! I do not allow TSA personnel to use a wand anywhere on my body either. So far, i have had no problems anywhere with simply insisting on a physical pat-down, but get very nervous when i am tod that they have turned a scanner off and want me to walk through it to get to the pat-down side.
    Your mention of this new waveform laser scanner gun being fired from 50 meters away scares the HE** out of me! I am currently out of the continental US and will be traveling in central and south america until next May. I therefore need to know when and where any such scanners are put in service in US international airports!
    Please advise.

  6. Again, Shame and shame again on our government officials and others who make the laws to use harmful devices to use on us; the unprotected billions of people living in our America! Don’t these people have to go through these exercises before boarding planes too? What do they think about their families getting ill or infirm from “rays”, Lasers, and Radiation? Maybe they are able to bypass this procedure, since they are “known”? What a cheap way to cheat the 7 billion people in America, so that they and theirs can live here without all the rest of us. Where do our Leaders come from, that they are willing to turn their backs on the well being of all of their constituents and citizens. Do they believe that the only ones to sicken or die will be the ones that dont vote for them? Shame hangs on them, and on the corners of our tattered red white and blue flags. Do “they” still believe that they are humans as good as all of us, or better? still me, the mad and muttering, georgia

    1. This is all a ploy to cover up the sheer incompetence underlying the failure of government to prevent 9/11 despite compelling evidence presented to them that foreshadowed the attack. Since it is entirely ego-driven, it has nothing to do with security per se, and the desire to avoid public ridicule outweighs any feelings of familial fealty these goons might have.

    2. When I travel I ask to be frisked. I tell them I do not want any more Radiation, they tell me there is none. I do not take scans. You are right, Europe has no scanners, I was just there, they are protecting their people.

    3. The anger directed at government officials is in some way misdirected. There are societies of people who work together to further their own agendas. They may appear to be taking an oath to serve a government but their allegiance is to their own society. By getting members into key positions in government and business they can effectively push their agenda without undue attention being attributed to them. E.g. people get upset over Republicans, Democrats, lobbyists, etc but don’t see the broader picture that they’re all working for the same goal.

    4. America does not have 7 billion people,.. not even close!
      That’s not the point obviously, but just thot I’d point it out. I think the count is around 300 million+? Too many, it’s overpopulated here and everywhere. 🙁

  7. So maybe I’m being stupid, but a) why no concern over the microwave exposure? and b) if back scatter machines emit the amount of radiation equivilant to 2-3 minutes of flying, and you get on a plane for 2 hrs., that’s far far more radiation from flying than from the machine. So why aren’t we more concerned about the flying exposure. Did I misunderstand the article? Is there something about the concentration that is important (that is, getting 2-3 minutes worth all at once)? I’m confused.

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