Airport X-Ray Scanner Radiation No Big Deal, Say Scientists

The topic of overexposure to radiation via airport X-ray scanners comes up from time to time, mostly by frequent fliers concerned for their health. But in a new study out this week, scientists say travelers absorb less radiation from an airport security scan than just standing around waiting for it.

Using two scanners at the Los Angeles International airport (LAX), a traveler would have to take more than 22,500 scans in a year to be in trouble, concluded a recent test.

“We think the most important single take-away point for concerned passengers is to keep an appropriate perspective,” said Christopher Cagnon, PhD, DABR, the chief of radiology physics at UCLA Medical Center in a Travel Daily News report, adding “the effective radiation dose received by a passenger during screening is comparable to what that same passenger will receive in 12 seconds during the flight itself or from two minutes of natural radiation exposure.”The report came from a study commissioned by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), using Rapiscan Secure 1000 SP backscatter X-ray scanners, once common in major airports but removed mostly over concerns for privacy, replaced by machines that emit even less radiation.

TSA ‘Behavioral Officers’ look for the obvious

Our pals over at AOL Travel are reporting that the TSA has “behavioral indicator officers” who attempt to observe people in security lines to determine if anyone is a security risk. So, if you still think that it’s funny to make bomb jokes while waiting to pass through the x-ray machine, you might want to start working on some new material. The TSA, meanwhile, might want to consider that travel, in general, and airport security, in particular, tend to make even the most docile people uncomfortable. Are the Behavior Detection Officers (that’s the TSA’s official term) keeping us safer or just adding another layer of nuisance to the airport security process?According to the TSA website,

TSA’s BDO-trained security officers are screening travelers for involuntary physical and physiological reactions that people exhibit in response to a fear of being discovered. TSA recognizes that an individual exhibiting some of these behaviors does not automatically mean a person has terrorist or criminal intent. BDOs do, however, help our security officers focus appropriate resources on determining if an individual presents a higher risk or if his/her behavior has a non-threatening origin. Individuals exhibiting specific observable behaviors may be referred for additional screening at the checkpoint to include a handwanding, limited pat down and physical inspection of one’s carry-on baggage. Referrals are based on specific observed behaviors only, not on one’s appearance, race, ethnicity or religion.

You know who exhibits involuntary physical and physiological reactions in response to TSA screenings? A very large segment of the population. Between patting down children, radiating travelers and blatant xenophobia, the TSA hasn’t exactly installed confidence in the general public. So, it’s only natural that completely innocent travelers might exhibit signs of fear while waiting to be screened by poorly trained security agents.

At present, all travelers are presumed guilty until scanned innocent. That makes many people outraged, nervous and downright scared. Will these TSA Behavior Detection Officers be able to differentiate an anxious terrorist and a nervous flier? Seeing as how how the TSA has a history of overstepping its bounds, it’s hard for us to be confident in their profiling skills.

Oh, and there’s that word: profiling. Sure, the TSA statement specifically says that these officers are not looking at anyone’s “appearance, race, ethnicity or religion,” but this still opens the door to sweeping generalizations or assumptions about anyone who simply looks nervous. Some people are so terrified of flying that they start sweating and acting nervously the moment they enter an airport. What happens if you happen to be a dark-skinned, bearded aerophobic? Seems to me that you’ll be singled out and forced to explain to a TSA officer who has singled you out as a risk that you are scared to fly.

What the TSA’s website fails to explain is what types of training these Behavior Detection Officers have received. There are pyschologists who spend their entire careers studying human behaviors and responses to fear. What have these TSA officers been taught? Who taught them?

Terrorists, one would imagine, are psychopaths. People who are detached from reality are more likely to be at peace with their dangerous decisions. A terrorist can act calmly going through security. A nervous flier or a traveler who is offended by be treated like a criminal will exhibit fear. At the end of the day, it seems that the presence of these Behavior Detection Officers will just make more innocent people nervous.

What will these Behavior Detection Officers find? Most likely, a lot of people who are scared to fly, hate the TSA or who just simply have overactive sweat glands.

Echo chainsaw commercial shows TSA at their worst

Echo power tools has a new television ad for their chainsaws that takes some liberties – though some would say not many – with the intimacy of TSA pat downs. The comical commercial features a man passing through airport security being subjected to a fairly aggressive, yet thorough, pat down of his crotch. Meanwhile, inattentive agents allow his chainsaw to pass through the X-ray machine undetected. He comments that, while he’s willing to put up with a lot of things, he requires that his chainsaw be reliable.

Is the commercial an exaggeration of how handsy TSA agents get during pat downs? Some would argue that they’ve seen way more ridiculous things happen at airport security checkpoints. All in all, it’s a pretty funny and topical ad.

What do you think? Is this a parody of what really happens during TSA pat downs or is it close to accurate? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Researchers show how airport backscatter scanners can be fooled

Two researchers from the University of California have published a report on airport security backscatter x-ray machines, and show that despite the millions invested in the technology, its effectiveness may be overrated.

In the report, Leon Kaufman and Joseph W. Carlson provide a very technical analysisof the technology, and how hidden items can be kept from being detected when they are placed outside the side of the body or items with hard edges. Even when the x-ray exposure power is increased beyond normal levels, these items remain undetected.

Of course, some may argue that releasing this information only helps terrorists – but getting stuff like this out in the open also shows that the massive investment in backscatter technology is not going to be the holy grail in airport security products.

Combine these findings with the privacy concerns and untested safety aspects, and they are suddenly not looking as great as the did when they first arrived at the airport.

If you don’t mind some light technical reading on this lazy Sunday, check out the report for yourself (PDF file).

The Miss TSA Pinup Calendar – *UPDATED*

Check out Miss March! Email lists across the world are tittering at the Miss TSA Pinup Calendar. We aren’t sure where these came from, but they do appear to be real x-rays (says a medical expert friend of mine), and were probably done by a radiologist — that’s why they’d be hitting the medical community first. My medical expert friend (who wishes to remain anonymous) is the one who forwarded me the images.

After some quick research online, the earliest posting of the images I can find is on, but the site was apparently hacked shortly afterward and has since been taken down (here’s the cached page). Still, there’s nothing on the page which indicates that they created or own these images, either. Nobody knows where they came from!***

With that in mind, if you are the owner of these images and would like them taken down or would like to receive credit, please contact me at ask-at-gadling-dot-com immediately! And also: WELL DONE. This is a hilarious parody of the TSA x-ray capabilities, and plays on our fears about the invasiveness of TSA’s latest “security” procedure (substantiated by reports such as Body scanners used as porn by airport security and 100 controversial whole body imaging photos revealed) in a lighthearted, laugh-out-loud-at-the-grinning-skulls coup.

If this were a real calendar, we’d be first in line to buy a ton to send out as holiday gifts for travelers.

Thanks to our resourceful readers, we have learned that these images were created by a German agency for a Japanese computer display company called EIZO, that they are actually just really good CGI and have nothing to do with the TSA.
The calendars are available for purchase on eBay for £69.69 (about $108.32). A special thanks goes out to whoever took this old story and started emailing it around as “TSA Pinups.” You definitely gave us all a good laugh!

Here are the rest. Enjoy!

Miss January

Miss February

Miss March

Miss April

Miss May

Miss June

Miss July

Miss August

Miss September

Miss October

Miss November

Miss December

Photo source unknown.