“We knew the full-body scanners didn’t work before they were even installed,” is the claim from former TSA agent Jason Harrington, alleging that not only were airport security staff aware that the X-ray scans were flawed, but that the instructors guiding them on them admitted it too. The flaws in each of the $150,000 Rapiscan Systems scanners – which the TSA switched from in early 2013 – were well known and lied about, Harrington writes at Politico, who also details the ways he and his former colleagues would look at what amounted to nude images of travelers.
The problems with the scanners were clear from the outset, Harrington alleges, but the government pushed ahead with their use nonetheless. For instance, he writes, the instructor tasked with guiding TSA agents on their use flagged up the fact that they would not differentiate body fat from plastic explosives.
“Officers discovered that the machines were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns” Harrington says. “The only thing more absurd than how poorly the full-body scanners performed was the incredible amount of time the machines wasted for everyone.”
Guns, meanwhile, could be hidden if turned sideways, effectively presenting a slim profile to the TSA agents surveilling the images in a nearby room.
Meanwhile, the agents themselves were increasingly concerned about the health risks of the huge machines, even though official policy was to describe them both 100-percent effective and 100-percent safe. “Several told me they submitted formal requests for dosimeters, to measure their exposure to radiation” Harrington reveals. “The agency’s stance was that dosimeters were not necessary – the radiation doses from the machines were perfectly acceptable, they told us.”
Everything changed when video showing just how easy it was to circumnavigate the scanners was made public, though it took several months for the TSA to switch away from the contentious machines. Their replacements use millimeter-wave scanning and produce a far less detailed image than before, as well as avoiding exposure to X-rays.