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I'll take the full-body scan

James Carafano's "booty bomb" quote in Post writer Phil Rucker's story about full-body scanners gave me a good chuckle today. Credit my giggle to the third grader in me. Or to my odd habit of finding humor in awful situations. After all, it's because someone tried to set off a bomb in his underwear that we're now contemplating weapons concealed in uncomfortable places.

The full-body scanner controversy is much ado about nothing, if you ask me. And I’ll take an electronic scan over a hands-on pat-down any day.

A quick synopsis: There are two types of full-body scanners. The backscatter emits low-level x-rays at you to determine whether you're trying to get through security with more than God gave you. It takes all of 20 seconds from beginning to end. The millimeter-wave machine takes up to 40 seconds to do the same thing with radio waves. There are 150 backscatters on order and there are 40 millimeter-wave scanners in operation at 19 airports. My take: We need more.

But privacy rights groups are up in arms because the equipment produces what looks like negatives of nudie pictures (millimeter wave) or like the chalky outlines of victims at Pompeii (backscatter). The rights groups leave the impression that your business will be bared for inspection right there in front of everyone. Not true. The images are viewed in a secure room away from the security checkpoint and they are destroyed once each passenger is cleared.

I’d agree with Jon Adler, of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, who told The Post: "I think a bomb detonating on a plane is the biggest invasion of privacy a person can experience," Or as Quentin Hines wrote on my Facebook wall after I posted the booty-bomb citation: "Have these ‘flyers rights’ [folks] forgotten that flyers reserve the right to take whatever measures neccesary [sic] to escape being blown to bits in midair? I fly constantly and would gladly submit to a strip search, colonoscopy or the infamous 'please turn your head and cough' for even the slightest increase in MY safety." How vivid. But I have no doubt his sentiment is widely shared.

By Jonathan Capehart  | January 4, 2010; 4:43 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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I travel internationally and have had the full body scan once but cannot remember which airport it was. It is no big deal. The problem I have with Homeland Security is that most of the stuff they do is just cosmetic and doesn't make any of us one iota safer. Washington, DC, has become an armed camp and I have yet to be convinced that, for example, restrictions on public access to tours of the White House make us any safer. It is all show. Then Homeland Security makes statements such as "We are doing a good job. We haven't been attacked." Again, it is all show without substance.

If the full body scanner really will make us safer, then I am all for it. I have some questions to ask: Would the scanner actually have discovered the explosives on the underwear bomber? And, would the technician doing the scan have followed up on what he saw? We are only as good as the guy running the machine. I have my doubts.

What I do know is that we will continue to be mightily inconvenienced at airports (Are they going to ask us to come in 3 days ahead of time eventually?) but we won't be any safer.

Posted by: yenta1 | January 4, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

The scanner issue has next to nothing to do with privacy. It has everything to do with radiation and safety.

Sure, these machines may be generally safe when they are working properly. But (A) we know that they will sometimes be calibrated improperly (this happened recently with a whole series of hospital scanners), and (B) God only knows what kind of refurbished knock off scanners will be deployed in other parts of the world. (Have you ever put your film through an Eastern European x-ray machine?)

Then there's the fact that you might have to go through the things six or eight times on a R/T international flight with one connection (much less two).

I wish the Post would stop harping on safety so that all the sophomores out there can snicker about baring their private parts. This so has nothing to do with privacy.

Posted by: Itzajob | January 4, 2010 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Oops. That would be, "I wish the Post would stop harping on *privacy* so that all the sophomores out there can snicker about baring their private parts. This so has nothing to do with privacy."

Posted by: Itzajob | January 4, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I would be for the scanners if they could identify individuals with bombs in body cavities because that is something a pat down can't do. Why spend a lot of money on something so high tech when we have a low tech option?

The body scanners sound a lot like the puffers. The puffers have been too expensive to maintain and in the end it was a total waste of taxpayer money.

Posted by: kimk1 | January 4, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Republican Jim DeMint: Backs Down on Criticism Of President Obama's Administration

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), one of the earliest and most outspoken critics of President Obama after the failed Christmas terror attack, backed off his previous statements in an interview on MSNBC this morning, according to The Hill.

Said DeMint: "Instead of focusing on the blame right now, the president seems to be on the right approach."

This comes a day after he said on CNN that Obama was too "distracted by other things" to properly handle national security matters.

Posted by: omaarsblade | January 4, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

Just before loading up I'd like a vote on who passengers would like to see (among the other passengers) left behind.

Why leave the grounding decisions all to TSA ~ unless they are free to "profile" we're still not safe.

Posted by: muawiyah | January 4, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

I'll take the pat-down. Enough is enough. I am sick of American paranoia and its total ignorance of common sense in favor of wasted billions for fancy gadgets that fail to live up to their promises, so the government rewards their designers with contracts for more expensive models.

Posted by: fudador | January 4, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Ad-hoc terrorists are killing 41 Americans EVERY DAY and Homeland Security does NOTHING about it. Their weapon of choice is a mixture of ethanol and gasoline. That’s right, Sherlock, it's DUI, and 15000 people die every year - kids going to school, dads and moms going to work, families on vacation. If you put all the resources and money being spent to maybe catch a handful of jihadis, into drunk-driving prevention, deterrence and prosecution, we would ALL be many, many times actually safer. How about it, purveyors of hysteria in Washington? Start interviewing and profiling airline passengers, and put the technology out on the roads where you really will save a life with every DUI stop.

Posted by: Fred217 | January 4, 2010 8:25 PM | Report abuse

I swear to God, the terrorists have won.

Any of you who would offer up your daughter or son to be ogled by some leering letch in some filthy backroom in trade for the illusion of security has got to have their freaking head examined.

"Oh, their faces are obscured." Oh, well, OK then, you mean we can all just have a look as long as you put a bag over her head first? Are you nuts?

Or: "they can't capture the images." Would you please give me a freaking break? These photos will be on the internet in short order, trust me. They put cameras even in pocket pens, eyeglasses, and jewelery nowadays, you idiots.

Or "they obscure the private parts." Oh, well, in that case, let's revise the terrorist training manual to make sure that's where they keep the stuff, I mean, now that we all know no one can see anything there.

Please. Stop.

We have lost our collective freaking minds if we tolerate this intrusion of government: an unconstitutional impediment of US citizens to free and unrestrained interstate travel to the extent this critical travel modality, flying, requires we subject ourselves to utterly unconstitutional, totally intrusive, and yet-again warrantless searches.

This insult on top of Obama's continuation of the Bush warrantless Total Information Awareness domestic spying program we were assured would be dismantled as soon as we caught a glimpse of that creepy all-seeing eye logo. Oh, surrr-rr-r-re it was dismantled. Shh-u-u-u-rrrr-r--rr-e.

Well folks, Happy New Year, 1984.

Posted by: trippin | January 4, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

"The images are viewed in a secure room away from the security checkpoint and they are destroyed once each passenger is cleared."

So... the TSA creeps I see at the airport get to stare at nude images of people in their own little room? Where they can use their cell phone cameras whenever they want, or do whatever else in there? THIS is supposed to make us feel better? These idiots can't be trusted with stopping someone from going through an exit-only checkpoint, and I'm supposed to 'trust' them?

""I think a bomb detonating on a plane is the biggest invasion of privacy a person can experience,"

By that logic we should outlaw planes.

Move to China. Get out of my country, you 1984 cowards. You have more chance of getting hit by lightening than a terrorist bomb... no thanks to the TSA.

Posted by: ihatelogins | January 4, 2010 9:46 PM | Report abuse

thank you trippin and ihatelogins, also fred217. this drum-beating for full body scanners reminds me a lot of the noise right before we went to war with Iraq.

This most recent incident has nothing to do with a lack of a full body scan. They should have picked that guy out long before a body scan would have been necessary.

Posted by: martymar123 | January 4, 2010 9:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm happy that Mr. Capehart doesn't mind being electronically strip-searched for the privilege of flying. As for me, I think I'll draw the line here.

The super-expensive "I can see you naked" machine does nothing to stop a determined terrorist (it can't see inside body cavities), while imposing a huge cost on the government and making strip-searches the "new normal" that we will all become used to, and that will become the new baseline from which the NEXT indignity will be measured (pre-flight body-cavity exams, of course).

I won't consent to letting the government take away more of my privacy rights for no good reason, other than to make it look like they're "doing something."

Posted by: web_user | January 4, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

The only people who are against full body scanners are people nobody would like to see naked anyway, so why do they care? Frankly, I think the next step should be to prohibit underwear.

Posted by: georges2 | January 4, 2010 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Once we announce all the airports that will employ devices for detecting explosives hidden on a person's body, why would the terrorists choose to use those airports for their entry to the U.S.? If the Transportation Security Administration can't cover all places where passengers to the U.S. can board an airliner, then at least they should find some way to move them around from airport to airport in some unpredictable manner.

The scanner technology seems capable of detecting anything hidden in or under clothing. However, its effectiveness depends also on the alertness and attitude of the people examining the images, and how diligent they will be in pulling people out of line for a follow-on strip search.

With respect to health and safety, in 2005 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences issued BEIR VII, “Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation,” an update of its report on “comprehensive risk estimates for cancer and other health effects from exposure to low-level ionizing radiation. ... In general, BEIR VII supports previously reported risk estimates for cancer and leukemia, but the availability of new and more extensive data have strengthened confidence in these estimates. A comprehensive review of available biological and biophysical data supports a ‘linear-no-threshold’ (LNT) risk model—that the risk of cancer proceeds in a linear fashion at lower doses without a threshold and that the smallest dose has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans.” []

The technology of the kinds of body scanning devices being talked about use some sort of electromagnetic radiation. Perhaps at the low level of the radiation those risks are acceptable. After all, people are exposed to more low level ionizing radiation just flying at 30000 feet altitude compared to staying at ground level.

Posted by: BTMPost | January 4, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Where is it written that flyers have the, "...right to take whatever measures neccesary [sic] to escape being blown to bits in midair?" It is, however, written that I should be secure in my person unless a warrant is produced.

I know this is such a tough concept but freedom isn't free. We all pay a price, even though many seem to think only the military should pay that price.

The price is that you will never be free from terror (or terrorism) and you risk your lives sometimes to uphold the freedoms guaranteed on our Constitution. You change of being blown up on a plane are minimal compared to your chances of being killed by a drunk driver. How many of you would submit to a full body scan before you got in your car?

I am fascinated that conseravtives don't trust the government to ensure US citizens have health insurance but you trust them to invade your privacy and you think they can protect you 24/7.

Let me assure you that you will see your pics on some Facebook page. And let me assure you observers will be making cracks about attributes instead of looking for explosives. But, hey, it's all in the name of some nebulous "security" against a threat that could have been stopped through proper documentation.

No matter how many Americans whose privacy we invade, we cannot control what other countries do.

Posted by: arancia12 | January 4, 2010 11:39 PM | Report abuse

Better hope the scans aren't recognizable or lascivious .. look who does airport security: Pakistanis and Indians, mostly.

I knew a guy who worked at a photo developing shop; he and all his coworkers had vast collections of prints of customers' sex and nude photos.

How'd you like to run into a scan of your wife on a web page?

That said, I've no problem with the millimeter wave devices. Xrays cause leukemia. But I would want a better reason for the invasion of privacy and the expense than some loser frying his nuts on a plane.

Posted by: GoldAndTanzanite | January 5, 2010 1:03 AM | Report abuse

Back in August, I inadvertently went through TSA security in Austin with an 8" kitchen knife in my carry-on bag (been put there for a party we were catering, slid to the bottom and was forgotten). Nobody at TSA noticed. As many have observed, technical screenings are only as good as the screener. Not to mention that the full-body scanners would require an increase in personnel, one to watch the bag x-ray machine, one to watch the full-body scanner.

My friend had it right. We should all be forced to strip naked, be issued disposable Tivek coveralls for the flight and get our clothes back when we disembark. Or perhaps we should actually follow the Israeli model and profile each passenger. They seem to be able to create a secure traveling environment without all these technical means.

Posted by: warren5 | January 5, 2010 6:35 AM | Report abuse

Yet the FACT remains that TSA, and all the prior security guards etc., have NEVER even ONCE, EVER, found a real bomb that anyone was intending to use to blow up a plane in the United States. Nor have they EVER, even ONCE, EVER found weapons that someone was intending to use to hijack an aircraft.

Posted by: orange3 | January 5, 2010 6:36 AM | Report abuse

I would prefer full body scanning to having to remove my belt and and especially shoes even though I would never willingly appear in public nude. My pants almost fell off going through the metal detector without a belt at one airport, and I tripped on a shoelace trying to get out of the way with my shoes slipped on at another airport.

Someone needs to volunteer to spend a year being full body scanned continuously to convince me this technology is not going to increase the risk of skin cancer or other health hazards before I would be a frequent flier though. According to Wikipedia the Defense Department has allegedly developed an Active Denial System that emits high power 3 mm waves to cause intense nerve pain to disable the enemy or crowds, so that automatically raises the question of whether daily exposure to lower levels of millimeter radiation for years can cause nerve injury, let alone increase the more obvious risk of skin cancer. I don't know the answer.

My only other objection is the cost of the machines and the time required per passenger may add a lot to air fare including longer delays because of the cost per machine. Further delays mean in-state flights are not even competitive with driving thus eliminating the short flight industry.

When radium was first discovered to produce x-rays this toxic substance was widely used and even distributed in the health food products of bygone days, such as radium water, and x-ray tech was used to assess proper shoe fit for my own shoes as a child until the hazards were recognized after years of use.

I don't fly enough to worry about the risk of exposure, but many people fly so frequently as part of their jobs that cumulative exposure to full body scans needs to be absolutely proven for their safety, and proven on a person with cumulative exposure, not just animals. At least that is my opinion.

Posted by: SeniorMoment | January 5, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

Whether it is politically correct or not the fact remains since the horrors of 911 happened in America Islamic terrorists have murdered thousands of innocent men, women, and children in Israel, India, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Tunesia, Morocco, Spain, England, The Philippines, Bali, Saudia Arabia, Somalia, Turkey, and Russia. Despite what our President wants to call these terrorists they are at war with America and they are not common criminals or petty thieves who robbed a convenience store or stole someone's purse. They want to destroy America and if they ever got their hands on a weapon of mass destruction they would not hesitate to use it against us. They murdered three thousand innocent people on 911 but would have been delighted if they could have murdered three hundred thousand or three million.

Our current administration believes it is fine to Mirandize those who are at war with us. Instead of our military and FBI being able to learn what other plots might be in the works or more about the training the terrorist from Nigeria received his lawyer has advised him to remain silent. We seem to be more worried about the rights of foreigners who want to destroy us rather than the innocent Americans they want to kill. After all, we have a President in Washington who refuses to acknowledge that Islamic terror exists and a Homeland Security director who refers to these "incidents" as "man made disasters" rather than terrorism and who believes the system worked fine in preventing almost three hundred people from being killed. It did work fine as long as we can rely on citizens from Denmark being on our planes, jumping over three rows of seats and disarming the terrorists before their bomb explodes!

Jewish and Christian terrorists are not going around the world trying to murder as many people as they can - Islamic terrorists are, and in more than twenty countries since our own 911. The overwhelming majority of these people come from certain countries where these people are trained and indoctrinated with hatred against western civilization and the outrage should not be that we are targeting these countries for extra security scrutiny. The outrage should be that it took us more than eight years to do this. We have a choice in our country between being politically correct and risking the lives of our citizens or doing the right thing and preventing future 911's that may dwarf what happened before in the number of casualties that will occur. The number one responsibility of the President is not the economy, the enviroment, or health care, but is and always will be the security and safety of the American people and its time this adminstration put the people of this country first.

Posted by: mjkoch* | January 5, 2010 8:30 AM | Report abuse

"The super-expensive "I can see you naked" machine does nothing to stop a determined terrorist (it can't see inside body cavities), while imposing a huge cost on the government and making strip-searches the "new normal" that we will all become used to, and that will become the new baseline from which the NEXT indignity will be measured (pre-flight body-cavity exams, of course).

I won't consent to letting the government take away more of my privacy rights for no good reason, other than to make it look like they're "doing something." "

Excellent comment by web_user.

The conservative echo chamber has decided this is the new stick with which to bludgeon the obama administration, damned if they do(white elephant that solves nothing), damned if they don't(and there is a serious attack).

The government cannot keep you safe. Repeat: the government cannot keep you safe. You will lose your privacy and modesty and will NOT have safety to show for it. Only more encroachments on your physical person, as the bar is bumped up even more. The new scanners are just another way to line someone else's pockets at taxpayer expense. And the bar for doing that seems incredibly low these days.
Especially when you're using the case of someone who should never have made it as far as pre-boarding security. It's crazy.

Posted by: martymar123 | January 5, 2010 9:34 AM | Report abuse

I will take the scanner, I will take the pat-down search. And I want anyone else on the same plane with me to do the same, if the safety people think that is what is needed.

Will there be an incident that scanners and pat-down searches won't capture? Probably. But, those efforts will stop someone from carrying some sorts of bombs or lethal weapons, so I am all for it. In other words, those efforts will save lives.

The infinite creativity of the human mind will eventually find some way around anything the safety people do. In the mean time, we should thwart everything we can.

Foolish people. Many will die if we think we can wait for the perfect security solution. We try. We learn. Some freak gets by what we tried and kills people. We learn. We try again.

Posted by: amelia45 | January 5, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse


So you will be willing to take the full body scan.

Great, but let's not dare to suggest that we profile any twenty something, middle eastern looking man. That would be too judgmental and would only show our fear in the face of the ongoing spate of man-made disasters.

Sometimes the naivete of the main stream media and this administration is frighteningly scary to me.

And so it goes...

Posted by: pgould1 | January 5, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I guess the boot lickers come to the Washington Post. The underwear bomber was escorted past security without a passport. Taking snapshots of your testicles can't help if "terrorist" bypass security.These devices were scheduled to go in before their PR stunt. If we all had tracking implants wouldn't that make us safer? These arguments go back to the founders. To prevent tyranny, certain levels of privacy invasion must require a warrant, and I believe an electronic strip search qualifies. These naked body profiles are going to be stored for later when you wimps allow scanners to go in other places. This is just a test to see how stupid you are. I guess some people don't mind testicle scanners, because they don't have any. In my opinion the best protection against a terr'ist is to require everyone to carry a box knife. Then the bad guys will always be outnumbered.

Posted by: Fivel | January 5, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

You'd be scanned now would you? Do you suppose if this young woman knew the images would look this clear before they are blurred then released to a duped public she would have been scanned?

Oh by the way if you run into her tell her she buck naked on the Internet.

Posted by: daestradapalma | January 5, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

it's not enough to scan me...I want to be touched...oh yes, touch me!...ohhhhhh, touch me good.....uh huh, right there.....ohhhhh, don't stop, do it again!

Posted by: SofaKingCool2009 | January 6, 2010 4:37 AM | Report abuse

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