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Backscatter X-Ray Machines Easily Fooled 342

Posted by Soulskill
from the my-pants-pockets-are-not-bombs-stop-grabbing-my-@&# dept.
Pinckney writes "A paper by Leon Kaufman and Joseph W. Carlson in the Journal of Transportation Security asserts that x-ray backscatter machines are not very effective (PDF) even in their intended role. While carelessly placed contraband will be detected, the machines have glaring blind-spots and have difficulty distinguishing explosives from human tissue. As they write, 'It is very likely that a large (15–20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake [of PETN explosive] with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology. ... It is also easy to see that an object such as a wire or a boxcutter blade, taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible.'"
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Backscatter X-Ray Machines Easily Fooled

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:08PM (#34524596)
    This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent
    • by Lunoria (1496339) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:16PM (#34524660)

      This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent

      Bah, There's nothing for the female TSA Agents. I suggest only hot guys get scanned. I don't think slashdotters need apply.

    • This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent

      Even better, implement beer goggle technology into these full body scanners, so no matter how the passenger really looks, the TSA agent will never need eye bleach at the end of his or her shift.

    • by dougmc (70836)

      This obviously means that we are going to need better technology. We'll need technology that will be able to give us a full color representation of your completely nude body, but only if you're a hot chick. - Your Friendly local TSA Agent

      Couldn't we do this with a lot cheaper technology?

      Skip the X-ray machine entirely, and rather than a screen just tape a Playboy up.

  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:09PM (#34524606) Homepage

    ...will automatically detect suspicious areas of the image and rescan them slowly at high power.

    Or they'll just go to transmission x-ray scanners concealed in the metal detector frame.

    • And considering there are already questions of health and safety of the current machines, higher power, more complicated machines are clearly a great idea. It'll be interesting to see how the public reacts the first time someone gets a radiation burn from a broken or misconfigured machine.
      • by Sun (104778)

        Having had the dubious pleasure of going through radio-therapy, where the exposure levels are considerably higher than the worst you can imagine a misconfigured X-Ray machine to be, I can tell you that the burns:
        a. Take a LOT of radiation to happen (it took me about a week and a half of daily radiation before they did, and when they did, they were internal)
        b. Take time to manifest

        As such, I doubt your scenario will actually happen. A much more likely one is people dieing from cancer, which takes even longer

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 11, 2010 @08:37PM (#34526470)

          You might have gone through radiotherapy, but these machines work on different frequencies and different energy levels. Yes, the wave energies might not be as high as in radiotherapy, but that doesn't make it less dangerous, it actually means that the skin gets the dosage instead of the body.
          The dosage you have received over the course of your treatment was carefully measured and calibrated often. It was also administered by a person trained in radiography and the repercussions of radiation.
          Also, remember that the dose applied in the scan is done over a relatively short period. For the sake of an analogy, think of the difference in pressure between a stilletto heel and a boot heel on your foot. One will hurt, the other will go right through you.
          Compare the mass of your skin to that of your body, add in that you're getting a dose like that in a short time and then come back to me when you realise that it is actually a very serious health concern.
          Yes, IANaRP (nuclear and radiation physicist). Posted anon, because I'd like to keep my job.

    • by Haedrian (1676506)
      The next generation will hopefully be removing this piece of junk and choosing a better way of detecting terrorists which does not involve making normal travellers irritated.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The next generation...

        Is called 'last generation' detective work, and has so far been the only tech proven effective in stopping legitimate terrorists. It has the added bonus of not inconveniencing Mom with a touch of the gate-rape on her way to see the kids for the holidays.
      • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:37PM (#34524860) Journal

        Thing is, we don't even really need "a better way of detecting terrorists". The incidence of terrorism against airlines is practically a rounding error and as we've seen, the TSA has been unsuccessful in preventing the (very few) attempted bombings in the recent past yet the attacks still failed. If we removed the theatre and replaced it with nothing, maybe keeping a few basic and effective measures to discourage obvious attacks, we'd be better off, and the risk would still be negligible. If we replaced it with something actually effective then that'd theoretically be even better, but most effective methods are expensive, invasive or both and I'm unconvinced that they would be worthwhile considering how low the risk is.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:57PM (#34525016)

          Precisely. The shoe bomber got through, and his bomb didn't work. Ditto the underpants bomber. Airport security failed miserably. It didn't matter.

          As for the liquid bombers, it's still debatable whether their bomb would have worked, but who cares? They never even made it as far as the airport!

          I am still waiting for the TSA to present the American people with any evidence -- even the tiniest shred of evidence -- that they have ever once in their entire history caught an actual terrorist.

          • by JWSmythe (446288) <jwsmythe@jwsm[ ]e.com ['yth' in gap]> on Saturday December 11, 2010 @07:48PM (#34526256) Homepage Journal

                Shreds of evidence are abundant. They've caught people trying to carry guns, knives, screwdrivers, and baby bottles onto airplanes. I don't know what the numbers are, but since they've confiscated several screwdrivers and half-empty soda bottles from me, I'm sure the numbers are huge.

                What you're really looking for is solid evidence. Prove that any significant number of threats have been stopped because of any new technology or methodology. The publicized cases were:

                1) Shoe bomber. Defeated by his inability to work a book of matches, and stopped by other passengers and flight crew.

                2) Underwear bomber. Defeated by his inability to acquire functional explosives. Again, he was stopped by other passengers and flight crew.

                3) Binary explosive bomber. The explosives weren't binary (to be mixed for explosion), they were pre-mixed. They never made it anywhere near an aircraft, and were possibly yet another law enforcement operation to catch those who may consider doing something by guiding them far enough to prosecute.

                So no, what you see happening in airports is security theater. It creates the illusion of security, because the common citizens have to jump through the hoops, in the name of security.

               

        • by jfengel (409917) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:38PM (#34525246) Homepage Journal

          the TSA has been unsuccessful in preventing the (very few) attempted bombings in the recent past yet the attacks still failed.

          Arguably, the failures were caused by the fact that they had to go to such great lengths to conceal the explosives. If they had brought on a nice, simple stick of dynamite, they'd almost certainly have succeeded.

          You don't actually have to prevent 100% of attacks for security to be useful. A few foiled attacks are extremely handy in providing information and causing your opponents to waste time and energy. But when an attack is partially successful, you do need to increase security to some degree to foil a repetition.

          It may not perfectly foil repetitions, but forces your opponents to change tactics, and that doesn't happen instantaneously.

          It's not enough to posit that there's something both less intrusive and more effective. You have to actually show such a thing. I don't know if backscatter is optimal for the purpose, but I know it's more effective than taking no action.

          • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:58PM (#34525366) Journal

            I mentioned the failures almost as a side note, though. My main point was that there are very few attackers out there - I base this partially on the lack of attempted attacks (although you are quite right in saying that security which discourages attacks is still doing its job), but more on the fact that there are many, many unprotected targets which are simply ignored - as I said in another post, if you want to see what happens when you actually have a reasonable risk, look at Northern Ireland.

            It's not enough to posit that there's something both less intrusive and more effective. You have to actually show such a thing.

            I said the opposite - that a more effective process would have to be more intrusive. What I did say, though, was that a rudimentary system would have approximately the same effectiveness simply because there are so few attackers to bother protecting against.

            I don't know if backscatter is optimal for the purpose, but I know it's more effective than taking no action.

            Only if you are working on the hypothesis that the cost and inconvenience are proportionate to the actual threat.

            • by mdarksbane (587589) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @08:33PM (#34526456)

              Indeed. Why would anyone bother sneaking a bomb through airport security when malls, stadiums, high school graduations, and even the airport security line are such easy and terrifying targets.

              The whole usefulness of attacking an airplane is to take control of a multi-million dollar man-guided missile. That's not going to happen any more, with the secure cockpit doors and passengers who aren't likely to along quietly.

            • by jfengel (409917)

              What I did say, though, was that a rudimentary system would have approximately the same effectiveness simply because there are so few attackers to bother protecting against.

              And there's the rub, one to which I do not have a good answer. There have indeed been very few attacks in the US, plus a few more in Europe. And yet there are clearly plenty of people willing to blow themselves up to strike at somebody. Look at the attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Or today in Sweden, for that matter. Why haven't they tried much simpler and effective attacks against something other than airplanes.

              The biggest difference is that it's not within the US. It may simply be that those familia

          • by gerddie (173963)

            It's not enough to posit that there's something both less intrusive and more effective. You have to actually show such a thing.

            How about this [thestar.com]?

          • by fahlesr1 (1910982) on Sunday December 12, 2010 @12:04AM (#34527224)

            Behavioral profiling, such as what is practiced by the Israelis, is both cheaper and more effective than searching for weapons. If we adopted behavioral profiling, screened all baggage for explosives and ran passengers through the air-puff chemical sensors we'd have a system that protects travelers privacy much better, is much more effective and significantly cheaper than our current system.

            Explosives are the real threat anymore. A few terrorists wonldn't be able to take over an airplane, not now that the passengers will fight back and the cockpit doors are reinforced. Preventing passengers from bringing things like nail clippers is just asinine.

          • by kf6auf (719514)

            Actually, most of the "failed terrorist attacks" actually succeeded in making us scared. The "failed" shoe bomber means 800 million people annually now need to take off their shoes every time they go through security, taking a cumulative 760 man-years of time (assuming 30 seconds for on and off), of monetary value $67 million if you assume $10/hour value for the average person's time. The "failed" underwear bomber, now means 800 million domestic airline passengers annually need to be xray-screened, and co

    • by mellon (7048) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:20PM (#34524690) Homepage

      It's highly questionable whether the machines are even capable of identifying "suspicious areas of the image." But suppose for a moment that they are. These scanners are already, in themselves, more of a safety hazard than actually flying. They have been through nowhere near the degree of rigorous safety testing and analysis that any component of an aircraft has to go through. While exposure to the intended dose of radiation for a scan may be safe (even that is debatable), the scanning process is software controlled. Imagine if the software crashes in the middle of a scan, or the scanner mechanism sticks.

      And now, suppose that it is possible to detect suspicious areas of an image and do a more thorough scan. This simply increases the safety risks of these machines. X-ray scanners? How is that exposure going to be controlled? Is testing ever going to be held to the degree of rigor required for aircraft? If not, why should we be willing to accept the risks of using these machines?

      The fact is that if we really care about people taping explosives to their stomachs, the only way to detect this is with a thorough search (a.k.a. "enhanced patdown"). If we are really that concerned about security, that is what every traveler should be subject to. And if we aren't comfortable with searching passengers like that, then we really ought to stop being such cowards and accept the quite minimal risk that someone is going to get one of these Rube Goldberg explosive devices past security and actually succeed in harming an aircraft with it (unlike the shoe-bomber and underwear bomber attempts, which did not harm either aircraft).

      • And now, suppose that it is possible to detect suspicious areas of an image and do a more thorough scan.

        They will come up with a heuristic that will work in 90% of their rigged demos.

        This simply increases the safety risks of these machines.

        The risks will be redefined as required.

        X-ray scanners? How is that exposure going to be controlled?

        The usual way: by promises by the government, which knows what's best for you (the remark about transmission x-ray machines hidden in the metal detector was intended as hyp

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:32PM (#34525214) Journal

        I basically agree with you, but I'd go one step farther.

        It's highly questionable whether the machines are even capable of identifying "suspicious areas of the image." But suppose for a moment that they are.

        Suppose we live in a world of fluffy pink unicorns and candy canes. The fact that we're even posing such a hypothetical scenario is part of the problem; we shouldn't even give them the benefit of the doubt. These pieces of garbage should never have been ordered at taxpayer expense until there was consistent, demonstrable proof of their effectiveness. The safety debate shouldn't even be happening now. The safety, privacy, and medical records debates should be happening ten years from now when they finally build a machine that is effective (read "full body CT scan or MRI scan"), and these worthless, overpriced toys shouldn't even be here.

        The fact of the matter is that people described in great detail a number of fairly straightforward attack vectors for circumventing these things before the government even ordered them. The whole "body cavity" problem is so obvious that our government buying these things verges on pure comedy. And before anyone makes the irrelevant claim that you can't hide enough explosives in a body cavity to bring down a plane, I would point out that 9/11 involved 19 people. How much explosive material could you fit in 19 body cavities? If the answer is, as I suspect, "plenty", then these scanners are worthless even if they can detect explosives on the outside of your body.

        The only way to reliably detect such things is by knowing your passengers. Even enhanced patdowns are useless against organized terrorist attacks. Profiling really is the only effective means of combatting terrorism, and those who say otherwise are kidding themselves.

      • by Reziac (43301) * on Saturday December 11, 2010 @05:14PM (#34525442) Homepage Journal

        "These scanners are already, in themselves, more of a safety hazard than actually flying. They have been through nowhere near the degree of rigorous safety testing and analysis that any component of an aircraft has to go through."

        Consider the level of testing and analysis that the *very same device* would require if it were labeled "medical equipment" rather than "airport security equipment". Consider also the site and personnel licensing required to operate one (probably akin to that required for a modern xray machine).

      • The scanner itself isn't the biggest hazard. The biggest hazard is the queue line to get scanned or groped. A terrorist doesn't need to sneak a bomb on a plane to kill dozens of people. All he has to do is stand in line and blow himself up at the right time when there is the highest concentration of people close together.

        The other people in line will produce significant casualties and instill all the terror the terrorist would want. Not only would people be afraid of flying and dying but also afraid of

      • has happened, with terrible results. Different machines of course, but nevertheless a demonstration that shit happens. There's no reason to believe that airport backscatter systems' software is any more reliable than that deployed on systems that have failed disastrously in the past.

        See http://courses.cs.vt.edu/cs3604/lib/Therac_25/Therac_1.html [vt.edu]
        for one example.

      • While exposure to the intended dose of radiation for a scan may be safe (even that is debatable), the scanning process is software controlled. Imagine if the software crashes in the middle of a scan, or the scanner mechanism sticks.

        If I'm understanding you correctly, I think you are getting at the possibility for the scanner to inadvertently deliver a non-safe dose of radiation. If so, yes there is some validity to your concern. I remember hearing a while back that it was discovered some CAT scanners had a software error that was causing it to miscalculate the radiation dosage, and that tons of people had been exposed to much higher levels of radiation than they were supposed to. I have to believe that CAT scanners are held to a much

  • Solution (Score:5, Funny)

    by Arancaytar (966377) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:14PM (#34524638) Homepage

    Passengers and cargo are a security risk. Prohibit them from boarding planes, and everyone will be safe.

    (Pilots are also a security risk. In the future all planes will fly autonomously, controlled by AIs.)

    (Programmers writing the AIs are also a security risk. You know what? Scrap those planes, they're not carrying anything anyway.)

    • by Haedrian (1676506)
      The solution is much simpler than that.

      Naked people on a transparent plane - while your suitcases are sent by train/boat. You try hiding a weapon now mister terrorist.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Considering how a lot of you look naked, that would be enough to force anyone to give up terrorism.

      • The idea being that anyone with wires hanging out of their bottom would not make it through security?
      • by NoSig (1919688)
        You joke, but that wouldn't even work even if you include rectal and oral examinations for every passenger. Take out a kidney and surgically replace it with a bomb in the shape of a kidney - you won't be detecting that. Doing that isn't going very far for the terrorist seeing as he is going to be blowing himself up shortly anyway. Since we are not going to be able to detect something like that, any security measure we might institute is only going to stop a terrorist that cannot access a trained doctor with
      • by xnpu (963139)

        People themselves aren't transparent. They'll swallow their weapon.

      • Never under estimate the success of body cavity carriage. A rectal explosive device almost worked recently in Saudi Arabia. Only a little luck (good or bad depending on POV) prevented the attack from killing the target. It WILL be tried again and will eventually work.

        People who have nothing to lose will become human bombs.

  • by Ismellpoop (1949100) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:15PM (#34524652)
    the former head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff helped sell them to the government and the government mandated them and removed everyone's rights.
    American anthem playing in background.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Mojo66 (1131579)
      Exactly. Those machines were not installed to make flying more secure, but to make a few select people a bit more richer than they are already. This is how goverments work nowadays.
      • I propose an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting those in any position of authority in the federal government, to include at a minimum any person who is elected or subject to constitutional confirmation procedures but also those designated by Congress, to be prohibited from working in the private sector in any position of influence or interaction related to their old job, directly or indirectly, for a period of not less than five years, with Congress authorized to extend but not reduce the term by law

        • I propose an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting those in any position of authority in the federal government ...

          Its a nice sentiment except of course they will all use family members and close friends instead, who will then get the gravy passed back onto the crooks after they "retire" ....

          Stopping corruption in governments will require much more radical measures than that method, which by the way was attempted to be applied many times before in many governments, with no results to speak of.

    • the former head of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff helped sell them to the government and the government mandated them and removed everyone's rights.

      Close, but not quite. They still haven't taken away your right to take flying lessons and fly your own damn plane.

  • It's theater... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sdo1 (213835) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:20PM (#34524698) Journal

    Not to sound like a broken record (does that phase mean anything to people or did I just show my age), but I'm not sure why this surprises anyone. It's not about security. It's about security theater. And until the TSA fundamentally changes the way they do things, it always will be.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Not to sound like a broken record (does that phase mean anything to people or did I just show my age),

      "You sound like a broken MP3!" -- Professor Farnsworth.

    • by Scarletdown (886459) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:36PM (#34524834) Journal

      Not to sound like a broken record (does that phase mean anything to people or did I just show my age)...

      That is right along the lines of "Don't touch that dial."

      And personally, I have started using "Not to sound like a scratched record" instead of "Not to sound like a broken record."

      If you think about it, a broken record would sound li...

      Whereas a scratched record would sound like...record would sound like...record would sound like...

    • Re:It's theater... (Score:5, Informative)

      by tgd (2822) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:54PM (#34525000)

      The TSA isn't the problem. Politicians scaring the public, and a public easily scared are the problem.

      The TSA is just doing their job.

    • Re:It's theater... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Inominate (412637) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:06PM (#34525068)

      It's not even theater anymore, it's about the TSA buying expensive machines to make their friends rich.

    • Re:It's theater... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:13PM (#34525106)

      ... It's about security theater...

      Popular to say, but pure nonsense. It's about defense contractors with connections to present and former high-level government "leaders" making truckloads of money.

  • Explosives detectors (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Yup, experts have been warning about this all year. Meanwhile, explosives detectors (you know, the ones removed from airports last year because they were too much trouble to maintain) seems to be a banned topic in the news.

    Unfortunately the TSA now has too much invested to suddenly admit it probably wasn't a good idea to stop using the more effective machines that are less invasive (they were the round swabs on luggage) replaced with the less effective machines that are more invasive.

    • by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv.vadiv@neverbox. c o m> on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:02PM (#34525034) Homepage

      Yup, experts have been warning about this all year. Meanwhile, explosives detectors (you know, the ones removed from airports last year because they were too much trouble to maintain) seems to be a banned topic in the news.

      Meanwhile, we're letting utterly unchecked luggage onto the plane.

      Don't worry, we've solved that by banning wifi. Luckily, there's no other way besides wifi and by hand to detonate explosives.

      Unfortunately the TSA now has too much invested to suddenly admit it probably wasn't a good idea to stop using the more effective machines that are less invasive (they were the round swabs on luggage) replaced with the less effective machines that are more invasive.

      The TSA doesn't have to 'admit' things regardless.

      As I've suggested, the TSA should be required to operate something like this:

      There is an independent office outside the whole TSA, operated by non-TSA people. Let us all it the TSA Inspector General office.

      You show up there and present some object to wish to smuggle past TSA, or take one from them. It doesn't have to be the actual banned object, but it has to be one that would 'serve the function' of the object.

      They write down your name and what you're doing. You give them a $100 bond.

      If you manage to get that item past TSA, you then got to the IG office on the other side, and explain how you did it, and they pay you $1000 out of TSA's budget. The TSA is not allowed to know your name or any other identifying information so they can't start searching you extra. (The IG's office, OTOH, will know your name and the plane you're going to, and you won't be let on the plane, and be in rather a lot of trouble if you don't show up at their office with the stuff.)

      If you don't get it past TSA, you forfeit the bond.

      REPEAT.

      The very first thing people will do is smuggle 'razor blades'. By the thousands. Easy easy money-making scheme. There's all sorts of ways to hide very sharp things.

      At some point, the TSA will stop banning stuff they can't possibly stop. Or go broke. Or actually get to the point where only naked people get through.

      Let's call it 'privatized security testing'.

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:24PM (#34524726)
    Why didn't the TSA test this technology first to make sure it works? I mean, it's not like cloth tape and a flattened explosive are unprecedented or amazingly cunning bits of circumvention! Why not hire 20 nerds and give them a week to figure out if they can sneak something truly dangerous through the scanner? As long as they can do so reliably, wait for the next version of the machine and test again. Only when it works should you place the order!
    • by drumcat (1659893) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:29PM (#34524774)
      Come on. The government? They always buy first, and maybe question later. It's your money they spend, not theirs!
    • by meerling (1487879) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:37PM (#34524862)
      Terrorists don't care about reliability, look how many suicide bombers die from premature detonation.
      (Feel free to laugh at the joke, both of them, but it's real and some statistics have been published on this.)
      They are very willing to send a half dozen or more people through in the hopes that one makes it to target.
      • by vxice (1690200)
        Hell, Abdul al Mutalab the christmas day bomber didn't even detonate successfully and he has already cost the U.S. over $300 million on these worthless scanners. The scanners were sold to us as devices that would protect our privacy by obscuring private areas and catch terrorists that hide explosives in their private areas. Tell me which one is it? Do they work and violate our privacy or do they not work and you are lying to us?
        • by Reziac (43301) *

          "Do they work and violate our privacy or do they not work and you are lying to us?"

          To which the terrorist responds, "Who cares?? We still got you to waste $300 million dollars!!"

      • by jimicus (737525) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @05:52PM (#34525664)

        Really? Who?

        I'm deadly serious, if Al Qaeda et al were anything like the threat they're supposed to be, we'd be hearing of attempted bombings every month. With regular successes.

        What we hear is of amazing cockups and attempts at blowing things up which are not only jaw-droppingly stupid, but the time it takes for anyone to spot them and say "Hang on a minute... since when did arabs ship printers to synagogues?" is also jaw-dropping.

    • by MoonBuggy (611105)

      Because it's about placating the public, appearing to have done something when the election rolls around, and perhaps scratching the backs of those campaign contributors in the security industry.

      Reading that back I admit it sounds a little like something from the tinfoil-hat brigade, so I do hope I'm not devolving into one of them. It does seem that pandering to the voters (and perhaps a little low level corruption) is how much political business is done. It doesn't even have to be especially nefarious - "b

      • by Dr. Spork (142693)
        I'm not against placating people, but there's a cheap and well-known way to do that: a placebo. It also doesn't bathe you in dangerous x-rays.
    • by DavidTC (10147)

      See my post [slashdot.org].

      Basically, people should be able to put up a $100 bond to attempt to smuggle banned things past TSA, and get rewarded $1000 if they do so.

  • Writing something like

    As they write, 'It is very likely that a large (15-20 cm in diameter), irregularly-shaped, cm-thick pancake [of PETN explosive] with beveled edges, taped to the abdomen, would be invisible to this technology. ... It is also easy to see that an object such as a wire or a boxcutter blade, taped to the side of the body, or even a small gun in the same location, will be invisible.'"

    Will probably put them on the do-not-fly list for the rest of eternity. Of course, that won't matter much if they are scientists, since our country is about to start eviscerating the research budgets (and hence they will want to do their work elsewhere) anyways.

  • Seriously, though, if someone were committed enough, and could find a sympathetic medical professional, what's to stop them from having a kidney, appendix, portion of small intestine, and anything they could do without for a little while removed, and replaced with a few pounds of high explosive? The only real problem is keeping the detonator undetectable by the metal detector. For that matter, once that were done, this 'human bomb' would probably be able to get past just about any security checkpoint, not
    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:59PM (#34525024) Journal

      Maybe these devices and this system isn't perfect, but it's better than the alternative, which is doing nothing.

      Callous as it may sound, we balance convenience and cost against people's lives every day. Reducing the national speed limit to 10MPH would undoubtedly save lives, but people's need to travel is deemed to outweigh that benefit.

      Having accepted that we as a society do allow some increased risk in exchange for our day-to-day rights, profits and convenience, the question becomes: "How does the potential for an attack balance against the cost and restriction presented by the security measures?"

      A measure such as this is very expensive, only moderately effective, potentially risky (I haven't had a chance to read up properly on the radiation issues) and felt by many to be an unacceptable invasion of privacy. The risk presented by terrorists is minuscule (look at all the juicy unsecured targets in the US that simply aren't being attacked, then compare that to Northern Ireland - the latter is what you see if there are actually a reasonably sized core of determined attackers). To me, this seems like an unacceptable trade-off.

  • by hey! (33014) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:43PM (#34524914) Homepage Journal

    The Boston Globe reported today that a the mutilated body of a teen boy found last month in a Boston suburb probably fell out of the wheel well of an airplane he is believed to stowed away on. Several articles of his clothing were found scattered along the flight's approach to Boston's Logan Airport.

    Earlier this year in Japan a body was discovered in the wheel well of a flight originating at New York's JFK. Investigation later revealed that the unfortunate hadn't stowed away in New York, but in Lagos Nigeria *two months earlier*.

    What does this tell you about all this body scanning hoopla? We're building a fortress that sports a fearsome looking portcullis but has open windows on the ground floor.

    • Put a dome over the airport, or just the whole city. Scan at all times.

      They'll promote some sort of biometric implants at some point. You don't have an implant? What are you trying to hide?

      There's a reason these problems are never solved. There is more money in fixing/upgrading the gear than there is building it right the first time. CompanyA builds box to current specifications. Turns out those specs suck. CompanyA now given new money to build it better. Rinse. Repeat. As it's been mentioned alre

    • by xnpu (963139)

      This has always puzzled me. The passengers are thoroughly inspected, but I see many airports where you can still reach (and compromise) the planes themselves quite easily.

      • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:42PM (#34525278)

        This has always puzzled me. The passengers are thoroughly inspected, but I see many airports where you can still reach (and compromise) the planes themselves quite easily.

        That's because airport security is security theater. Even with terrorism and accidents, planes are already the safest way to travel between two points. The security at the airport is just a dog and pony show to reassure fliers and give the impression that the government is "doing something about it". The effectiveness of the security measure is rather meaningless because a 50% reduction in almost-never will still be almost-never.

        In fact concern over the new scanners and pat-downs at airports is probably going to kill more people than any terrorists. People uncomfortable with the invasion of privacy may choose to drive to their destination rather than fly. And you're roughly 15-20x more likely to die from an automobile accident than from a plane crash/terrorist incident over a trip of the same distance.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      So the obvious solution for the terrorist contingent is to stuff your bomb into the wheel well, then quietly walk away. No need to get on the plane or go through the silly security system.

    • by careysub (976506) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @05:28PM (#34525522)
      And then there are the body cavity bombs that have already been used. These are more powerful and are actually easier to engineer than irregular pancake "Woochie" bombs (a special effects prosthetic maker). Only body cavity searches or medical scanners will detect these by imaging. And there are also the possibility of weapons being passed via the concourse services - is the news stand supply chain truly secure against penetration? There is a point where trying to completely eliminate one category of threat passes the point of futility - when the residual threat is dwarfed by other unaddressed ones - we are surely there now, as we are also past the point where further intrusive measures reduce risks by such tiny amounts that other considerations must take precedence.
  • This report is likely to be taken as a how to do it manual for some creeps. The bad guys probably know about this sort of thing anyway I suppose.

  • Can they stop this, even if they look at it with their eyes? [youtube.com] (metal detector might get that one, but I feel like it would be easy enough to design one that makes it through any detector).

    But so what? Even if they manage to keep every single weapon off the plane, it is still simple enough to hijack. All you have to do is fill the plan completely full of Al Qaeda drones. Pick a plane going to Saudi Arabia and you have a perfect cover, a plane full of people, everything you need. If you can choose your seat
  • by hawguy (1600213) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @03:49PM (#34524958)

    Does this same condition exist for the Millimeter Wave RF scanners too, or do they have better resolution or discrimination abilities?

    I haven't traveled much since these scanners went into effect, but so far I've only seen the RF scanners.

    Last time I encountered one I asked the TSA rep if it was RF or X-ray, and she said "It's millimeter wave, and it's the same as an ultrasound". I told her that that can't be true since an ultrasound doesn't use RF energy, and she said "It *is* the same, now move along". I reported her misinformation to a supervisor, but I'm not sure he even understood the difference between ultrasound and an RF scanner.

    I'm fine with the RF scanners (I don't think they are all that effective since a determined terrorist will use one of the many holes in airport security to bring in his weapon -- plus my "junk" isn't all that interesting), but I don't like being lied too (or worse someone directing me into a device that she doesn't even have a basic understanding of -- surely the difference between sound and RF energy is not too hard for a TSA agent to understand)

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:27PM (#34525184) Homepage Journal

    >not very effective (PDF) even in their intended role

    You're implicitly buying in to the claim that their intended role has something to do with safety.

    The purpose of a system is what it does. The ~$200,000 scanner purchases funnel tax money to a company which made payments to the former director of Homeland Security. They condition people to being treated like prisoners. The first was deliberate.

    They're working perfectly.

  • by bkmoore (1910118) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:31PM (#34525204)

    Most people don't realize that backscatter is an imaging tool and not a bomb detector. It requires a human operator to interpret the image. If the bomb is well blended into body contours, there is a high probability that the operator would miss it. If you look at the backscatter sales literature (it's on their web sites) it shows images of people with concealed knives or guns. Stuff that would also set off a metal detector.

    In my opinion, it is a little disingenuous that the TSA is using the bomb threat as the justification to switch from metal detectors to backscatter. One of the reasons that the shoe and underwear bombers failed is they weren't able to conceal a proper detonator (which contains metal), and resorted to trying jerry rig a lighted fuze detonator. So in that sense, the metal detectors did do their job. But if concealed explosives were the primary threat, then x-ray in tandem with bomb sniffing dogs or some type of actual bomb detector would be more effective. The other downside to imaging is the human operator spends hours looking at thousands of passengers. There is a good chance that the operator won't be alert enough to spot a bomb or weapon, even when it is not perfectly concealed.

  • by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @04:39PM (#34525258)
    As I have said, the only way to be absolutely sure is to perform a premortem autopsy on every passenger. The downside is that somewhere along the way, it becomes a postmortem autopsy. The good news is that airlines could then stack passengers into cargo planes at twenty time the density as current passenger planes. The bad news, no more round trip tickets.
  • by smilinggoat (443212) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @05:05PM (#34525404) Homepage Journal

    Adam Savage of Mythbusters walked through a backscatter with two 12" razor blades [youtube.com] and they never noticed.

  • by bananaendian (928499) on Saturday December 11, 2010 @05:51PM (#34525660) Homepage Journal

    Stop Helping The Terrorists!

    These guys Leon and Joseph working at their fancy 'university' are clearly on an ego trip, revealing such secret information through their 'research', and publishing it through their rogue 'scientific journal'. They should put a warrant out for these guys, or better yet, an assassination drone.

    The real cost of this 'free information'! Will nobody think of the innocent TSA agents this will embarrass? How can the security industry survive if you keep downing their products with such facts. Security and survaillance systems, voting machines - all information on such vital systems to our democracy and freedom must remain a secret to protect our innocent pretty little heads.

    And Soulskill! how dare you post 'a story' here with and actual link to the original document in PDF format! you are not helping anybody. How will the link farm owners buy new shoes for their kids now? Will nobody think of the kids! They could've at least included some x-rays of kids on their paper - to demonstrate how effective the machine are at showing every part and crevice of their bodies.

The meat is rotten, but the booze is holding out. Computer translation of "The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."

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