Over the last ten years the global security market has grown nearly tenfold from some €10 billion to a market size of some €100 billion in 2011, with an annual turnover of around €30 billion in the EU. However, as recent market evolutions indicate, the global market shares of European companies could drop significantly over the next years if no action is taken to enhance their competitiveness.
Confusion and contradiction – This is the only possible way to describe the current global situation regarding full-body scanners. In spite of claims by the US Department of Homeland Security and the European Commission to be striving for a “harmonized approach” to security, the global position could not be more disjointed. The US, for example, has body scanners at all of its international airports and offers passengers a possibility to opt out, while the UK, with its so-called “special relationship” with the US has body scanners now at only seven of its international airports and no possibility to opt out. Australia also has a ‘no scan / no fly’ policy but excludes children from patdowns and scans, while the US and UK make a special point of fully screening child passengers. “Harmonised”?
Then there is the on-going saga of Millimetre Wave scanners: After German and Italian authorities had trialled this technology and found it to be “slow, ineffective” and in the case of Hamburg airport trials, “useless”, the UK and Australia began installing the scanners referring to them as “essential”.
The last few months have seen a string of news events around the body scanner debacle that suggest all is not right with the Orwellian strip-searcher:
Backscatter gets the red card
Finally, it seems that the dangers of using backscatter X-ray scanners have been heeded by the politicians on a global scale, a reason for some of us to celebrate, perhaps. The excuse given in the US was that they (the TSA) wanted to replace the backscatter scanners with more “privacy friendly” scanners. Rapiscan, the main producer of the backscatter scanners, is currently being investigated following being accused of falsifying information regarding their attempts at so-called “privacy friendly” software. All this only a year after they were discovered hiding information on the levels of radiation emitted by the Secure 1000 scanner.
All the while the so-called “useless” Millimetre Wave scanners, the ones that failed to detect the Underwear Bomber in 2009, are being spread at a breathtaking rate to all US and UK airports.
Although the UK and US feel the need to protect their airspace from suicide bombers with these so-called “essential body scanners” for flights leaving their shores, there remains no such scanning procedures on most incoming flights, including such important source airports as Hamburg, Paris, Brussels, Madrid or Milan. Considering that this latest push to install scanners was based on the apparent threat posed by terrorists with explosives in their underwear on incoming flights, I am left asking just how ‘essential’ these intrusive scanners really are.
And let’s not forget perimeter security at the same airports with scanners. While airports may be investing millions in keeping potential terrorists from jumping the fence, their technology has been proven again to be useless as demonstrated recently by a New York man found strolling accross the runway at JFK!
The Manchester Airport Case
After Heathrow decided to discontinue their use of Rapiscan’s backscatter X-ray scannersdue to “pressure” from their customers and the fear of negative health effects, Manchester airport, with its 19 £180,000 ionising radiation scanners, was left as the only place in Europe still with these scanners. They had already tried to justify their choice of scanner by claiming that the alternative Millimetre Wave scanners did not meet their needs. But now we find a situation in which the European Commission has forced MAN to deinstall their radiation scanners and the airport’s management, as a result, has now opted for exactly the type of scanner they had originally claimed were no good.
Then, there is the European Commission (EC). As previously mentioned on this blog, the ever inept Siim Kallas, Commissioner of Transport at the EC, banned the backscatter X-ray scanners in 2011 and only then called on SCENHIR, the scientific committee to test if his accusation against this technology had any validity. The committee came back with its usual ditheringly vague response that could have been interpreted either way. But Siim said nothing. Manchester celebrated the results of the SCENHIR studies as a victory for the “Radiation? – No Pasa Nada” camp, and the Commissioner made no move whatsoever.
Further Roll-Outs in the UK …. 3 Years Late
“Essential”? That is the adjective most frequently used to justify the latest deployment of body scanners at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Birmingham airports, the first deployments in more than 2 years. The reasoning is still the same – the Underwear Bomber incident of December 2009. But is it really that essential that only 7 UK airports are using scanners three years later? And that is without mentioning the incoming flights without any body scanning processes.
The BBC has just announced the latest scanner installation at London’s Stansted Airport – an L3 Millimetre Wave scanner with Automatic Threat Detection (ATD) software that enables the airport to scan passengers without having to show the naked images. The technology is exactly the same that was trialled at Paris CDG and discontinued after 6 months, exactly the same as was trialled at Milan’s Malpensa airport and claimed to be “slow and ineffective” by the Italian Aviation Authority and exactly the same trialled at Hamburg airport and dubbed “useless” by the German police after it gave an 80% false positive rate. The only difference is that at Stansted, the scans will be compulsory.
The Illegality of the UK No Scan/No Fly policy.
“It’s not us, it’s the government”. That is and always has been the defence of UK airports operating body scanners and the ‘no scan/no fly’ policy. Their PR departments work overtime to overstate that it’s not theirs but the government’s fault that there must be a no sympathy politic against those who attempt to defend their basic rights. But if “the government” insist that an airport must rabbit punch every other passenger before they board their flight, should they still do it?
The ‘No Scan/No Flight’ policy is blatantly illegal. Currently, a woman who works with the Islamic Human Rights Council is suing the UK government over her being denied the right to fly when she refused to be scanned at Manchester airport. At Stansted, where the ATD software is in use, the flight ban on potential abstainers is coercive and against recently introduced European rules.
Legal definition of “coercion” - noun [mass noun]
- the use of express or implied threats of violence or reprisal (as discharge from employment) or other intimidating behavior that puts a person in immediate fear of the consequences in order to compel that person to act against his or her will
the defense that one acted under coercion
see also defense duress
compare undue influence
If the use of these scanners is so “essential”, then why has it taken almost 3 years since the Underwear Bomber incident to introduce these scanners in Australia and at UK international airports Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham and Stansted? Even during the heightened security procedures of the Olympic games when ground to air missiles were deployed on residential tower blocks, body scanners were not seen as a necessary method of screening passengers.
So, we have a ‘harmonised approach to airport security’ with each country doing something different with body scanners, we have the Underwear Bomber still being used as reasoning for installing apparently “essential” scanners 3 years after the event without any significant investigation into the real failings of security on that day, and we have lawmakers in the UK blatantly breaking the law while lawmakers in the European Union who write the legislation do nothing to uphold it.
Confused? So you should be!
(Scrap the Scanners)
Something is amiss in the Body-Scan plan. Governments appear to be backing out of scanner deployment. Do they know something we don’t?
Directly following the Underwear Bomber farce in December 2009, the UK jumped up like a yapping dog after a bone to the US’s call for body scanner implementation. Heathrow and Manchester airports had already begun trials with the scanners and the UK Department for Transport immediately announced plans to install more scanners at Gatwick and Birmingham airports. There was a slight amount of opposition at the time from the likes of the Equality and Human Rights Commission as well as the Islamic Human Rights Council, but generally speaking, all the usual Rights Campaigners kept quiet. After all, who had the balls to dare question the US-led War on Terror?
The US made no bones about their “need” to embark on a mass-scanning programme and ploughed ahead installing body scanners at all their international airports, all at the behest of Scanner lobbyist Michael Chertof, of course. Initially they all scrambled to buy Rapiscan’s Backscatter Xray machine just like Heathrow and Manchester airports in the UK for its superior imaging abilities.
Europe was blackmailed into toeing the line to the minimum requirements of Janet Napolitano, head of the US Department of Homeland Security. The then Spanish Development Secretary had already stated that scanners would not be installed in Spain, and then a few weeks later after meeting with Napolitano, he back-peddled and said that scanners were going to be “inevitable”. France, Germany and Italy all followed suit and pledged to run trials, while Holland and the UK promised to add even more scanners to their arsenal.
However, in spite of the Brown Government in the UK expressing a drooling eagerness to spread the Scan-Plan all over the UK, reticence rapidly set in. Gatwick quietly and tentatively installed Millimeter scanners in June of 2010, but Birmingham airport was eventually left untouched. Why? And why is it that no other UK airports have been forced to buy scanners since then?
A curious side note: I happened to be travelling through London Luton airport days before the Underwear Bomber incident took place in December 2009. In the arrivals hall, just after Passport Control and before Baggage Reclaim, I noticed a large, wardrobe-sized blue box placed against a wall. Even though this was before I had taken an interest in the body scanners and this campaign, I instantly and inexplicably knew what it was. Two weeks later I was able to put a name to it: The Rapiscan Secure 1000 Backscatter body scanner. What was it doing there? Why has Luton airport never used scanners since then? Was it in transit from one airport to another?
So, what happened to the Scan-Plan UK? The US was still salivating over scanners and buying hundreds of them, but. the UK stopped dead in its tracks and appeared to be waiting, but waiting for what? None of it made any sense.
Eventually, the European Union felt compelled to get involved and the European Commission took what seemed an eternity to bring out a new bill on scanners. Meanwhile, France, Germany and Italy had already run trials at their airports so to keep their deal with the US government and had all finally concluded that the scanners were slow, inefficient and “useless”.
All the while, the UK made no move whatsoever in either direction. Although they had run no efficiency tests on the scanners, or at least they had not made the results of any testing public, they neither made good on their pledge to install scanners at all UK airports. But on the other hand, nor did they retire any existing scanners. Whatever it is that is holding the UK government back is also deterring other EU states from scanner installation.
The UK was the only country in the EU permitted to use Backscatter scanners in that it was one of the few European states that does not have constitutional rules banning the use of ionising radiation for anything other than medical purposes. The Backscatter scanner was clearly the better product in terms of under-clothing image quality, but there was now more trepidation over using it as more than half of US airports were, by late 2011, tending to opt for the lesser effective Millimetre wave scanners.
The European Commission took almost two years until they finally sneaked in their new legislation banning the use of the Backscatter scanners installed at Heathrow and Manchester airports. In spite of this and in spite of a public consultation which gave a reported 80%+ opposition to the scanner use in the UK, the Secretary of State for Transport remained as hard-headed as ever and pledged to continue expanding the compulsory Scan Plan and therefore blatantly breaking EU law. But almost one year on, no more UK airports have received delivery of scanners. Do you get the feeling yet that we are missing some vital information here?
Last September, The European Commission called upon its scientific committee SCENIHR to examine the risk of backscatter scanners to public health. This incompetent and arrogant committee couldn’t be bothered to even run tests on real scanners and only used existing data based on medical Xrays. Even though their report appeared to suggest that the scanners were “safe”, even for pregnant women and children, the UK government, who had been waiting for the report’s publication before progressing with their scanners plan, failed to react in any way to the report. Nor did the EC or the European Parliament.
The EC’s new rules had also given the green light to all EU airports to use Millimetre wave scanners, but none have taken the opportunity to use them.
Simply said, the UK government has not furthered its scanners plan in more than 2 years in spite of publicly and politically favourable terms while other EU countries, including Finland, France, Italy and Germany have all since rejected the scanners due to their enormous inefficiency.
Backscatter scanners? Is there something we should know?
Under pressure from (“ahem”) their customers on their website, Heathrow decided to stop using backscatter scanners in favour of the less dangerous and less effective Millimetre Wave scanners, even though the EC’s science committee had declared the Xray scanners safe.
For the last six months, the TSA in the US have been phasing out Backscatter scanners in favour of Millimetre Wave scanners with Automatic Threat Detection (ATD), a computer algorithm for automatically detecting possible “threats” hidden below passengers’ clothing. The TSA is well aware of the fact that the Italian air authorities have declared this technology “ineffective” and that the German Transport Police have called it “useless” and they are very well aware that blogger Jonathan Corbett very publicly demonstrated that the technology is far less effective than traditional and cheaper metal detector arches, but they still continue replacing Backscatter scanners with this “useless” and expensive equipment.
Considering that each of the Backscatter scanner unit costs between 120 and 180 thousand pounds a pop (well over $200,000), why has the UK’s faith in this technology waned? And why are the TSA trying to phase it out less than 2 years after they began deploying them all over the States? What’s wrong with this technology? And the fact that they are trying to replace the Backscatter scanners with the obviously pointless ATD scanners that are less effective than metal detectors, must tell us something about the real agenda and the real threat level.
I smell a damage limitation exercise in use here. Millions of men, women and children have been scanned in the backscatter scanner with cancer-causing ionising radiation. On top of that, no one has expressed any interest in the latest slimmed-down version by the original scanner inventor Steven Smith. So what’s all the reticence now?
Considering that the ATD Mmw scanners are uselessly ineffective, could we be witnessing the death of the body scanners at our airports?
I think its time to add up the cost of these scanners and decide whose heads must roll.
Scrap the Scanners
Who really benefits from body scanners?
Do we, the passengers benefit from the peace of mind that a terrorist might be impeded by scanners? Do the airlines benefit from scanners, or the airports? Our governments and media may like pushing the idea that everyone is happy with idea electronic strip searches, but who is really calling for scanners to be deployed at all transport hubs?
The idea is that passengers are both protected from potential terrorist attacks and/or at least are reassured that their safety is being considered. In 2010, the BBC lauded the results of a survey that found that the majority of the flying public was in favour of the measure. But can we trust the results? What the BBC failed to mention was that the consulting company which carried out the survey, Unisys, had financial interests in the body scanner industry.
The UK Secretary for Transport, Justine Greening also claimed that most passengers were in favour of the scanners. Her claim was based on a survey carried out at Manchester airport by the airport’s own management. Anyone in Market Research will tell you that this would be an invalid study as the many of the same passengers questioned in the study would have already had to convince themselves that the scanners were OK in order to buy their ticket in the first place.
So, are passengers really reassured that the scanners have been put in place for their protection? The only ‘official’ UK survey into public opinion was the Department for Transport’s 2010/11 public consultation on the code of practice for body scanner use. That one came back with a startlingly different opinion – an estimated 80% against scanners. Greening, however, chose to ignore what the public wanted on this occasion and simply reiterated Manchester airport’s survey results.
And are passengers any safer with the scanners? Health issues aside, as the risk to health has never been adequately evaluated, there is always a risk to our fundamental rights when any new security measure is introduced, especially the right to privacy. But, as everyone knows, there must be a pros-and-cons balance between the risk to our rights and the risk of not having the security measure. The UK has continually exploited a loophole in European law which allows for “more stringent measures” to be adopted due to the government’s claim that their terrorist attack risk assessments come back as being a “high”. However, they have never published, or so much as hinted at what this risk may be or how they came to their conclusions, always citing “National Security” as the reason for their secrecy. Nonetheless, others put the risk of death through an international terrorist attack as being “hardly existential.”
We must also consider the practicalities of these security measures. From removing our shoes and belts, throwing away the expensive perfume and bottle of water, opening our laptops, tasting the baby food to demonstrate it is not a bomb, passing through a body scanner, having our phones swabbed for traces of explosives etc, etc., we are forming ever longer queues at airport security points. Heathrow has been advising passengers to arrive three hours before their flight ever since they introduced scanners due to the extra time it now takes to be screened before we enter the departure area. Passengers at Domodedovo airport in Moscow learned that all these time consuming checks can be fatal when 15 months ago a suicide terrorist with explosives strapped to his body killed himself and some 35 innocent airline passengers waiting to pass through security. That airport also has scanners.
So, if passengers are not benefitting from the scanners, what about the airlines?
Since the introduction of mass scanning at US airports began in 2010, followed by the new “enhanced pat-down” for those who opt out of the scanning process, the US airline industry has seen a massive drop in sales as travellers have taken President Obama’s advice and seek less intrusive means of transport.
Ryanair’s chief executive also has spoken out against the scanners claiming that the scanners do not improve security, but pander to the fears generated by politicians.
So, perhaps airport operators are seeing the benefit from scanning millions of their customers each year?
It is impossible to ignore that fact that Heathrow’s retail revenue has soared since the introduction of these “more stringent” security measures. Not only are sales of already overpriced liquid products such as drinks, perfumes, toiletries and alcohol undoubtedly rising due to not being permitted items at security points, but also during those three hours of waiting before a passenger’s flight, the constant marketing of food, souvenirs and luxury goods has seen a notable increase at the London airport as at all other airports.
But sales of Toblerones and ‘I love London’ t-shirts are not going to cut it for an operation as gargantuan as Heathrow.
Mike Fazackerley, the ex-head of security at Manchester airport, stated there would be great savings for airport operators that adopt scanners. He claimed that the scanners were neither more efficient than conventional pat downs, nor quicker, but he did allude to a saving through a reduction in staffing. Mr Fazackerley was, however, wrong. We estimate that each new scanner deployed at an airport would need between 3 and 6 extra members of staff per scanner. Added to that the fact that each scanner only has a limited useful lifespan of about five years before it needs to be replaced, and we are talking about a serious additional cost.
So far, no one is really benefitting from these scanners, are they?
There can be no doubt that 9/11 made a lot of millionaires into billionaires. Fear sells security systems like nothing else, and according to the press and governments, the threat level never drops. There is always another looming threat around the corner and another medicine show of security solutions is thrust into the faces of leaders in every hotel lobby of every capital city.
The London CounterTerror Expo, for example has grown disproportionately to the apparent threat level in the 3 years since its first appearance in 2010, the number of exhibitors has grown from 250 to more than 800, all peddling the latest in scanning technology, detection and hidden recording equipment. From body scanners to iris scanners, facial recognition, puffer machines, etc., all proven to be flawed, all what the politicians refer to as a “layered approach to security”, and all what the American Association of Pilots refers to as nothing more than a “patchwork of band aids“.
So, the next time one of these inept loons boards a plane with something vaguely resembling a bomb in his underwear and all your rights are suddenly rescinded as yet another new gadget is introduced to strip you naked, ask yourself who really benefits. And ask yourself who could have had the resources, connections, motives to fund, train and put that idiot on the plane in the first place.
The European Commission has finally released its long overdue report on the health risks of using body scanners at airports. They did so in typical fashion late last Friday so to avoid any debate in the press. As expected, the report concluded that there was no threat to health. ‘Expected’ because the Commission’s science committee (SCENIHR) recently admitted to Scrap the Scanners that they had never actually run any physical tests. Their studies were purely theoretical and based on existing information regarding xrays, even though their mandate is to find ‘new and emerging health risks’.
The report was a stitch-up from the outset. The Commission has been seeking to legislate scanner use for 4 years and all their efforts to date have been, at best, underhanded and clumsy.
But what will this mean for the travelling public? Let’s take a look at the current trends and try to read between some of those lines.
The dubious success of OSI Systems
Following buying the patent for the Secure 1000 backscatter (xray) body scanner from its inventor, Steven Smith, the California-based OSI Systems formed its security branch Rapiscan Systems and used the name to market the first full-body scanner which would eventually become its best-selling product. Sales were slow at first as the military and prison services (original target market) showed little interest. So, with the help of the Chertoff group headed by the then US Secretary of State for Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, they began marketing their product as an airport screening method.
Airports and governments alike were apprehensive of the scanner at first, not least because it emitted ionising radiation which is known to cause cancer. The European Commission, however, was all for the idea of scanners and sung their praises in their 2008 report on airport passenger screening. They attempted to push through a new bill on scanner use, but MEPs hated the idea and rejected it. As a direct result, OSI System’s share value plummetted to its lowest value since the creation Rapiscan (see red X) – practically zero! OSI/Rapiscan needed a miracle.
After the conveniently-timed underwear bomber incident at the end of 2009, sales began picking up as the UK and US pledged to buy the Secure 1000 , egged on by Chertoff.
However, the Commission bided its time and sneakily presented its second scanners bill in 2011 by way of the Comitology process. The Comitology process has been frequently accused of being undemocratic and technocratic in that it can be used to introduce new legislation simply by it not being voted down by Parliament. The EC presented the bill and gave MEPs the possibility to reject the proposals at the beginning of the summer when most were already leaving for their holidays.
Nonetheless, OSI System’s investors showed uneasiness at the possibility of the body scanner being rejected by Parliament again and the share price took another hammering (purple X). OSI and their investors knew only too well that Europe was always key to the future of scanners in that if the European Union embraced them, then so would the rest of the world.
Only after the bill got through did the ever inept Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas call on SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks) to evaluate the health risks. At this point, you would think that the markets would have trembled at the thought of the science committee’s findings … but no. In fact since the study was commissioned, OSI’s share value has doubled! (green X) So, what were the investors privy to that we were not? It makes no sense, especially when you consider the recent rumours that the Transport Security Administration had been on the verge of abandoning the Rapiscan Secure 1000 due to health fears. Investors in OSI have shown particular confidence in the future of the scanner manufacturer in spite of the odds.
So, OSI/Rapiscan are celebrating the fact that their machine has been called “safe” by what they call “another independent study”, conveniently ignoring the fact that at least three other independent studies have concluded that it is not. One such report even claimed that 100 people per year in the US were likely to suffer cancer as a direct result of passing through a backscatter scanner, and that was not counting those who have to work alongside the machines on a daily basis.
The UK halted its plan to extend the scanners programme to all UK airports in 2010 and last year UK Secretary of Transport, Justine Greening, stated that she was waiting to see the SCENIHR report before taking any further decisions on backscatter scanners. Now the science committee has claimed that the scanners are safe, everyone seems convinced that the UK will continue to oblige airports to install scanners, in spite of the fact that most airport operators seem against the idea.
And then there are what look to be the worst Olympic games ever, with all attention being drawn away from the games and onto the ludicrous ‘security measures’ being put in place. London 2012 currently resembles a war zone more than what it should be – the greatest show on Earth. The UK government has already laid plans to install surface-to-air missiles on the roof of one residential block near the Olympic stadium, even though no one really knows what they will be targetting. We already know that there will be body scans for workers and artists at the events and we also know that Rapiscan has been awarded the contract to be the supplier of security technology. I’m betting on there being scans for visitors as well.
The rest of Europe will likely follow suit and accept the radiation scanners too. In spite of French laws that rule that ionising radiation can only be used in medicine, even the government there has been considering trials with backscatter scanners.
While the threat of transnational terrorist attacks remains ‘hardly existential‘, the scanners are still considered by legislators to be a balanced response. The question still remains after the SCENIHR report to how existential the real risk to public health is. Personally, I believe the real risk to air travel this year to be a tragic accident involving land-to-air missiles and the already overcrowded airspace over London – far greater a risk than any would be underwear bomber, especially when we consider that the latest underwear bomb plot was found to be a CIA hoax.
Duff technology? Who cares?
A recent report out of the US has highlighted the serious failings of the technology and its detection capabilities. This was demonstrated by blogger Johnathan Corbett when he recently managed to pass freely through two types of scanner with a simple metal box in his pocket – something the scanners should have detected with ease.
The report highlighted 8 areas for improvement of the system. However, these recommendations remain ‘classified’. But I do not want to be too negative about this and so I would like to offer the Department of Homeland Security my own 8 reommendations to improve airport security. Let me know what you think Ms. Napolitano:
1) Switch the scanners off and send them to be scrapped.
2) Hire professionals to run airport security instead of offering the job to absolutely anyone via pizza box ads.
3) Sack the current head of the CIA and get someone capable of the job.
4) Investigate previous security failings before taking kneejerk decisions on what should be done.
5) Leave airport security decisions to the experts rather than uninformed politicians.
6) Investigate scanner manufacturers and their lobbyists.
7) Make security inclusive of the public rather than the exclusive to Homeland Security
8) Never buy untested and unproven technology to do the job of professionals.
SCENIHR, the European Commission’s scientific committee on emerging and newly identified health risks is poised to present its report to the Commission on the possible health risks of using full-body scanners. The future of scanners in Europe as well as our fundamental human rights are in the balance and this report is likely to tip that balance one way or the other. With rumours rife of scanners being installed at the Olympics this year, the stakes are higher than ever.
But can we trust the politicians to get it right this time or will they follow the UK’s lead in whitewashing over the health risks with political loopholes and secretiveness?
In 2006 when the UK’s Heathrow airport first began trials with backscatter (xray) body scanners, the UK Department for Transport claimed that radiation from these devices was incapable of penetrating human skin. They maintained this claim until early 2010 when the country became the first in the world to introduce a no scan-no fly policy. By then the scanners were featured continuously as part of the fervor caused by the underwear bomber and images of body scans donned the pages of every newspaper.
Viewing the images, people began to ask “if the radiation does not penetrate the skin, then why can we see areas of the skeleton on the scan?” The DfT quickly deleted their claim from their FAQs page. Later on, Steven Smith, the inventor if this type if scanner said that radiation absorption in fact played a fundamental role in the image making process.
However, the DfT were not ready to give up on their investment and promoted the idea that the scanners emitted so little radiation that they could not be any kind of threat.
But can we really take their word for it? Is the risk balance between the radiation dose and that of exploding terrorists really that justified?
Let’s take a look at the validity of the claim that body scanners are safe.
Do you trust the UK government?
The DfT’s claim was based on studies apparently undertaken by the Health Protection Agency in which a comparitive analisis concluded that the dose from backscatter scanners is equivalent to that received from cosmic radiation received from one minute of a flight. However, some in the scientific community disagree with the comparison in that the two types of radiation (backscatter and cosmic) act differently on the human body.
It has also recently come to light that the HPA has never actually done any testing on any scanner and their claim that the scanners were safe was based purely on information from a third party. This group has spent the last two years continuously trying to obtain information from the HPA, the DfT and the Health and Safety Executive on who did these apparent tests and what parametres and methodology was employed, but to no avail. The UK blankly refuse to reveal the source of their claim and therefore its validity and the impartiality of the third party is impossible to verify. Simply said, the DfT’s claim remains unproven.
The European Commission Debacle.
The Euro scanners debate has been raging since 2008 when the European Commission presented a bill to parliament which would create common rules on scanner use. The members of parliament were horrified at the thought of this technology violating the fundamental rights of air passengers and refused to play ball.
When the young fool Abdulmutallab tried to blow up his underpants on a flight to Detroit in 2009, the debate reopened and the EC revamped their pro-scanners legislation plan. It took until summer of 2011 for the EC to present their new scanners bill to parliament which they did through a comitology process. MPs had the chance to vote against the bill, but of course many were absent due to holidays. The bill was not so much as passed, but got through by not being refused.
On the surface, the EC’s rules appear to be an improvement on the previous situation in that they ban the use of backscatter technology (due to health fears) and demand an opt-out option for passengers, but the European Commissioner of Transport, Siim Kallas, showed enormous ineptitude and granted Manchester airport an exception just two days before the new laws came into effect, leaving Manchester to continue using their 19 £150,000 radiation machines.
On top of this, the EC Vice President did not commission SCENIHR (the EC’s science committee) to investigate the health risks of scanner use until after backscatter scanners had been banned. The results of their studies are due to be published this month (April 2012). However, we are no more confident about the objectivity of the SCENIHR results than we are of the UK’s HPA studies. According to recent correspondance between SCENIHR and this group, the science committee, like the HPA, has not done any real testing themselves and have also relied on information from third parties which they refuse to divulge the name of. Nor do they know the parametres of any testing or whether or not those third parties have any stake in the results of testing. Any claim that SCENIHR will therefore remain baseless.
The SCENIHR opinion is expected around end of April. For this work, the SCENIHR did not conduct any experimental studies but relied on data from third parties and modelling work.
Laurent Bontoux, PhD
Principal Administrator – SCENIHR Management Officer
Dear Mr Bontoux
Many thanks for your reply. Would it be possible to obtain a list of names of third parties used in SCENIHR studies on body scanners?
No, this is confidential.
Almost an exact mirror of what the HPA had done.
It was always essential to carry out tests on actual body scanners especially after it was discovered in the US last year that backscatter scanners were emitting 10 times the expected amount of radiation. I find it inconceivable that SCENIHR scientists made no attempt to run tests with a real scanner when only one kilometre from their offices in Brussels, the European Parliament building has 6 Rapiscan backscatter devices abandoned in a basement, paid for by taxpayers and never used.
So, we are back to square one and still do not know if the scanners are really safe.
Prepare to be irradiated at the Olympics this year.
Let’s just review the body scanning technology you will need to look out for with a quick look at the main scanning technologies being sold to airports and entertainment venues this year. As NONE of these machines have been tested by SCENHIR, they look unlikely to tell you as much as we will about them. If SCENIHR’s report to the EC turns out to be in favour of scanner use, we can expect a far greater deployment of all scanner types within the EU in the near future. It recently emerged that the UK government plans to deploy scanners at the Olympic games this year to screen workers entering the event zones. Also, Rapiscan, the main manufacturer of the EU banned backscatter scanners has just been awarded the contract for supplying security screening equipment to the games.
Backscatter scanner (Rapiscan)
This scanner, the most successful on the market, projects a beam of ionising radiation over the body from head to toe. The low-power radiation progressively loses penetrative power as it travels towards its subject. In theory, this gives it enough power to penetrate clothing, but not the whole body. Scientists at the University of California are concerned that this radiation not only penetrates clothing, but also skin and then is “deposited” inside the body and therefore doing untold damage.
Transmission Scanner (Conpass)
The radiation from this scanner is said to be 8 times the strength of the backscatter model and therefore capable of exposing internal organs. Until last year, it was only possible to find this product at high-security prisons and diamond mines. This year, Australia intends to transmission scan selected passengers arriving at Sydney airport for contraband.
Active Millimetre Wave Scanner (L3, Smiths Detection)
Millimetre waves are radio waves which can be found in the range between microwaves and those emitted by your mobile phone. in this device, a scanner rapidly rotates around the subject, gathering below-clothes information and forming a 3-D naked image. While it is generally believed that this type of radiation does not cause cancer, some believe it may agitate existing tumors as well as cause significant problems for pregnant women and those with pacemakers. Chicago O’Hare airport, for example, reportedly has signs warning passengers with pacemakers not to pass through the scanners, and recently a woman with a pacemaker died after she had to pass through a MMw machine between Gaza and Egypt.
The efficiency of this technology has constantly been called into question. The German police called it “useless” and decided to get rid of it. So did the Italian authorities and the British Transport police.
After more than 3 years of to and fro in Brussels, we finally have common rules on body scanners. In 2008 the parliament voted against European Commission proposals to legislate scanner use within the EU. MEPs were horrified at the thought of such contempt for fundamental rights and refused to back the EC. Barroso’s boys were not to be undermined this time round and chose to circumvent regular parliamentary process and push through their law via a new Comitology process so not to let Democratically elected members in on the plan. MEPs could have voted down the EC’s bill, but as it was presented over the summer, most were on holiday.
On the surface the law, which comes into effect on the 1stof December, is not so bad as it bans
backscatter scanners (x ray) and gives a choice to passengers to opt for a frisk instead of a scan. The reason for the ban on x ray scans quoted by Siim Kallas, European Commissioner for Transport was health concerns. A recent study in the US concluded that up to 100 people per year could die from cancer as a result of these scanners in the US. A better kill rate by far than al Qaeda, I’m sure you will agree!
However, it seems that the British are not as prone to cancer as the rest of Europe because, dangerous or not, Manchester and Heathrow airports have been granted special permission by the EC to continue trials with this potentially carcinogenic technology.
Either the technology is dangerous or it is not. The EC decided to allow Manchester to extend their scanners trial yet again only 2 days before they published the new rules on scanners, enabling MAN to keep their 16 £180 machines. Manchester security providers, including OCS (office cleaning contractor doing airport security), seem pretty unhappy about the new rules and latest reports from MAN are that elderly passengers are being forced get up from their wheelchairs and stand in the scanners.
Speaking of Manchester airport security, where scan selections are said by the DfT to be ‘random’, I recently read an interesting interview with their head of security in which it was admitted that scanning is no faster than frisking passengers and no more effective, and that the airport operators look to make huge financial savings from using scanners rather than trained security professionals. Another curio of this interview was his explanation of the ‘beep’ of the metal detector. It seems that the metal detector arches at MAN are set to beep automatically every few passengers whether the person is carrying a metallic item or not. That person is then led over to the body scanner. Now, if for example, the metal detector automatically ‘beeps’ every fourth passenger and then that person is scanned as part of their so-called ‘random’ screening process, the system can only ever reach a maximum of ¼ efficient. If it’s every second passenger, then it will only be 50% efficient, and that is before we have even taken into account the effectiveness of the technology or if the viewer of the image.
Airport security has become a joke in the UK:
- We no longer have trained professionals evaluating risk, we have cleaning companies.
- We have nonsensical security procedures that actually reduce real security rather than increase it.
- We are killing more people through cancer by using the scanners than we are saving from terrorists.
- The UK government is allowing anyone to enter the country and deliberately switching off terrorist watch-list procedures.
I’m putting money on backscatter scanners being widely deployed around all Olympic events next year. I’m also betting that the EC’s health risk evaluation, which they have only just initiated, will come back next March with favourable results for the scanner industry.
Scrap the Scanners
What are they looking for through the scanners?
What is it that they are looking for? It’s time to lift the veil of what they are telling us to fear.
Is it rude to mention “liquid explosives” in public? The entire debate around the need for airport body scanners revolves around the subject, but hardly any media source makes mention of them. In security circles, is it the equivalent of farting at a wedding? Our beloved governments dare not mention liquid explosives when discussing the imperative need for scanning millions of innocent people with radiation emitting devices, and neither does the EU. They only dare refer to ‘Prohibited Items’. A more ambiguous objective for a multi-billion dollar scanner roll-out, I cannot imagine. Only the UK government admits that their scanner roll-out is in direct response to the underpants bomber debacle on the 25th December 2009. Still, they daren’t mention the weapon he was carrying – that’s taboo!
This was all born off the back of post-9/11 Terror Fever, so we know that it’s all about suicide terrorists. Who else would try to take a bomb aboard an aircraft? It’s unlikely to be an attack of the style we were told the Madrid bombers used, in which the apparent terrorists boarded overcrowded commuter trains, put their rucksack bombs down among the passengers and promptly got off again without their luggage and without so much as raise of an eyebrow from the soon-to-be victims (of course all of the scores of cctv cameras along the route and station platforms were switched off that morning). No, it would be impossible to perform that kind of attack at an airport, with or without the TSA. And it can’t be the style of attack that we were told Libya perpetrated against a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland. That bomb was placed in the hold and no passenger could possibly have had access. Nor are they trying to stop any airport workers slipping an explosive into the drinks trolley. No, no, no, the gin and tonics do not have to pass security scanners in 100ml bottles sealed inside transparent baggies.
So you see, we are definitely talking suicide bombers with bombs hidden beneath their clothes.
They are not looking for …
- Hand grenades – metal detector arches spot those.
- Dynamite sticks – sniffer dogs.
- Solid plastic explosives such as C2 – needs cables and batteries – metal detector arches again
They are primarily concerned with detecting LIQUID EXPLOSIVES. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
The underpants bomber carried liquid explosives because they do not require metallic parts that can easily be detected in traditional metal detector arches. He had TATP and PETN, which for those of you who have suffered seeing Die Hard 3, are the 2 magic liquids that, once mixed together, can explode with a simple shake of the wrist … apparently.
Richard Reid, the Shoe Bomber carried the same substances in the heels of his hollowed-out hiking boots, leading to the need to remove your shoes at airports over the last 10 years. Clearly (from this picture), he was not able to carry more than 100ml in each heel, so why do we have a ban only on bottles of liquids over 100ml? Either Reid was no real threat to his flight with his tiny amounts of explosives, or the airport liquids ban is a complete waste of time. Someone is not telling us the truth! In any account, the inept would-be shoe bomber had no idea of how to detonate the liquids and simply set fire to his foot.
And please ignore the likes of European Commissioner Siim Kallas who claimed in his report last year that the liquids ban should be lifted because most airports now have hand luggage scanners that can distiguish between PETN and shampoo. Less than 10% of EU airports have bought this technology and their screening processes cannot distinguish between different liquid substances. The airports are not buying it Mr Kallas. They don’t believe you. They still fear some other inept fool like Adulmutallab or Reid may still besmirch the name of their airport security staff. I’ll come back to Kallas and the real reason he
thinks the liquids ban should stop, later on.
Liquid explosives must be mixed on site. They cannot be practically mixed at home, dropped into several 100 ml bottles then put into a rucksack and casually tossed over ones shoulder to later be exploded at will. The final substance would be far too volatile, and could do just about anything while you are travelling to the airport. Everything from foaming up, letting off copious amounts of noxious fumes and/or even setting fire. Airport security might notice that one at a distance.
Once on board the aircraft, the terrorist would have to employ the following method … if destroying the aircraft were really his intention:
1. Very gradually, drop by drop, mix the two substances (PETN and TATP, for example) into a fireproof container. This process, it is said, would take around 5 hours considering the quantities necessary for the job.
2. Maintain the liquids and mixture at between 2 and 10 degrees centigrade. Any variation of this would render the liquids inert and inexplosive.
3. In the absence of adequate ventilation on board the aircraft, some sort of breathing apparatus would be needed as during the process as large amounts of noxious fumes would be produced.
So, if you happen to find yourself on a flight that lasts more than 5 hours and a passenger disappears into the WC for the duration of the flight with a couple of buckets of ice and a gas mask, and then the entire aircraft fills with chemical fumes, you should alert the cabin crew. If not, you have nothing to worry about.
That is what Mr Kallas at the European Commission must have realised just before he called for the lifting of the liquids ban.
That is why all the panic over liquid explosives is unwarranted.
That is why airport body scanners do nothing whatsoever to improve your safety.
And that is why unenlightened politicians exposed to the temptations of security industry lobbyists, or far too lazy to do a little bit of rational investigation into these so-called threats, should not be allowed to take human rights risking knee-jerk reactions after every inept would-be bomber sets fire to his clothes in public.
Currently, new legislation that gives the EU’s blessing to member states to use scanners, is moving slowly through the bureaucratic soup called Brussels. Not even the parliamentary members who have to approve the imminent new law know what they are voting on because the European Commission’s impact assessment which was finished in March 2011 has still not been published yet.
We have a copy though, even if the MEPs don’t.
I hope to post it on this site in a few days.
Scrap the Scanners
Liquid explosive list – http://www.aiexplosives.com/inspections_articles.asp?id=23
Liquid explosives impossible to mix on board a plane -http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=364×2011878
The improbability of liquid explosives - http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/faba743a-288c-11db-a2c1-0000779e2340,dwp_uuid=ac91a100-4fae-11da-8b72-0000779e2340.html#axzz1YuVTQtys
Schneier on the Implausibility of a Liquid Bomb Plot -http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/08/on_the_implausi.html