Apparently the Terrorists Can’t Learn How Much Radiation They’ll Get from Going through TSA Security

When I first read tweets pointing to this article, reporting that the Administration won’t let independent scientists evaluate the radiation exposure from RapeAScan machines, I joked that it was because we can’t let terrorists know how dangerous these machines are.

Unfortunately, that is precisely the reason the Administration gave a scientist who wrote an article poo-pooing the risk of the machines.

After her article was published, [UCSF radiologist Rebecca] Smith-Bindman was contacted by a TSA public affairs officer. During the conversation, she suggested that she or other outside scientists be allowed to test the machine. The official was shocked by the suggestion and said such access could tip off people who want to avoid detection, Smith-Bindman said.

“It was not appreciating that there’s legitimate scientific questions that have to be balanced against the security questions,” she said.

Science is one of those luxuries we’re going to have to do without now, I guess, in the interest of protecting ourselves from terrorists.

Which has the added advantage for the fearmongers, I guess, that we never have a means to rationally evaluate the efficacy of their policy choices.

  1. DWBartoo says:

    First things tossed out: Reason … understanding …

    Can’t be safe and secure if there are any stray, little, lingering doubts running around, EW.

    In Gawd, the Executive, and technology we must trust.

    Our country, right or wrong, and it is NEVER wrong, we entrust to the complete and total care of our betters – for they know how to run it like a business, as usual.

    EW, you are just too insightful for their own bad.


  2. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Releasing that information might allow would be terrorists to harden the wares they carry through airports or into the United States. The idea that using official customs entry points is the only way to bring in contraband would elicit howls of derision from quite a few people along the Mexican and Canadian borders, not to mention our largest ports.

    Releasing it would allow Americans to question the process – if any – used to determine that these machines were safe, effective and the least damaging way to achieve the agreed upon security purpose. It would allow them to challenge that priority and the cost – both in the hundreds of millions of dollars or more needed to buy, install and service them, and the cost to TSA workers and the public in accumulated radiation – more in the public eye after Fukushima. It would also invite the public to demand monitoring of such things over time, to ensure that staff are using the machines properly and that the machines perform as promised and do not deteriorate or throw off more radiation that promised.

    It might endanger the profits to be derived from selling those machines to the government. More generally, it would invite oversight of the DHS’s practices, priorities and budget, of which there has been less than the number of prosecutions of Bush-era felonies. If there is one thing in which the Obama administration exceeds the Cheney administration in doing, it is keeping the public’s eye out of its dirty rotten business.

  3. rugger9 says:

    Doubtful that the terrorists could “harden” their wares. There aren’t a lot of options for the type of radiation, and it would be more of a material selection issue. Add to that the already apparent [and circulating] details on the internet regarding Rape-O-Scan pix, as well as the admitted flaws in coverage and detection, and one arrives at the true conclusion: Mukasey needed a job.

    The contracting cesspool is long overdue for a cleaning, and every whistleblower throughout the Bush years until now has been crushed in direct violation of the law, frequently invoking the “state secrets” canard.

    On a related topic, Boeing [the parent co.] and Jeppesen executives need to be named on human rights warrants when they travel. It’s the only way left to get attention to what they did.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Agreed. I was speaking ironically, since that’s one of the rationales the government will use, just as it made a similar argument when trying to avoid disclosing its torture practices.

  4. pdaly says:

    From the article emptywheel links to:

    “For Rez, the real danger occurs if the machine stops in the middle of a scan, allowing the beam to focus on a tiny area for several seconds. Given that the backscatter works with a wheel rotating at a high speed, and that the agency plans to use the scanners continuously 365 days a year, mechanical failures are likely, he said.”

    This seems like an important point about radiation risk.

    And I seem to recall in an artical last year about this topic that there was an unanswered question whether operators of the machine would also have manual override of the scanning wheel to focus in on a specific body part for several seconds at a time; delivering concentrated radiation to that body part, with the traveller unaware of the unmeasured radiation received.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The idea that terrorists are the principals from whom government would most like to hide this information is quaint and an entirely self-serving distraction.