Video: The obligatory "TSA's scanners can't really be this bad, can they?" clip

In case you missed it at Drudge, Wired, the Daily Mail, the Daily News, or any of the thousand other sites where it’s been posted today. The good news: TSA has seen the clip, so if this guy is telling the truth, they’re aware of the problem and — presumably — working to fix it. The bad news: Follow the last link and read their blog post closely and you’ll see that they never quite challenge the veracity of the video. They call it a “crude attempt” to beat the machine but at no point do they deny that a crude attempt might succeed. On the contrary, in noting that the machine is just one of multiple layers of airport security, they write, “We’ve never claimed it’s the end all be all.” When Wired phoned the TSA for further comment, the most reassurance they could get from a spokesman was, “These machines are safe.” Dude?

The experts’ verdict via the Guardian: Unlikely, but possible.

The only place such scanners are in use this side of the Atlantic is Manchester airport, where any passenger who alarms the metal detector is put through the body scanner. The airport says it is quicker and cheaper than the alternative of frisking. Of Corbett’s experiment, spokesman Russell Craig said: “He’s taken a small metal tin through. And the guards are looking for a threat object. That’s not one. It’s not a valid test. To say this shows it undermines airport security technology is totally wrong.”

Aviation security expert Philip Baum, of Green Light, says: “Pretty much every system, you can fool.” He says that scanners use avatars – not the kind of images Corbett has put up on his blog – so talk of “nude” scanners is unnecessarily sensational. But he has some sympathy with the idea that scanners are a colossal waste of money.

“Using advanced imaging technology has its benefit,” he says, “providing you know what you’re looking for. You need 67 machines to do the job of 20 metal detectors. So it’s certainly not cost-effective – and it’s questionable if it’s effective in any case. You can’t pick up internal carry – which is what drug smugglers do every day. And there is no technology currently screening people for explosives.”

Right, he’s not carrying a gun, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s allegedly possible to smuggle a weapon aboard inside a metal container provided it’s placed just so on the body. The money question is how big the container could be before it’s spotted by a screener; that’ll be answered in the inevitable sequel, I take it. Worth noting: This guy is reportedly suing the TSA for, er, $1 billion for violating his Fourth Amendment rights via the scanner so clearly he’s motivated to embarrass them. On the other hand, this isn’t the first time someone’s claimed that the machines don’t work. Revisit this Wired piece from last year citing a transportation-security study that identified flaws in the machine. Quote: “The report found that ‘a wire or a box-cutter blade taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible.'” Hmmmmm.

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