On the heels of outrage over enhanced screening procedures being implemented at airports nation-wide, a series of public officials, elected and not, have stepped up to defend the x-ray devices that can produce images of people in the nude.
Their praise of the new technology comes amid a flurry of anger at the TSA over what some have called overly invasive searches. In spite of the bluster in most media, the vast majority of Americans are okay with the TSA’s actions, according to a recent survey.
A CBS News poll released Tuesday also showed that a large majority of Americans agree with him. Only 15 percent of respondents said they were opposed to the use of body scanners, with four out of five saying they’re in favor.
Independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, which held a hearing on the issue, was quick to support the “difficult” and “sensitive” effort, maintaining “it is necessary” to ensure aviation safety.
“This is unfortunately the world in which we live,” Lieberman told the hearing on air cargo security, held in the wake of an attempted cargo plane bombing that originated from an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group in Yemen.
John Pistole, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), told lawmakers that he thought “everybody who gets on a flight wants to be sure the people around them have been properly screened.”
Passengers and airline crew members, including pilots, are randomly selected to pass through the scanners. They have the option of refusing but would then be subjected to what the TSA calls an “enhanced” manual search that includes a pat down of a traveler’s private parts.
Some civil rights groups have slammed them as an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.
About 315 scanners are currently in use at 65 US airports, according to the TSA, and the machines or body pat-downs are “the best technology we have today” to screen individuals, Pistole said.
He also brushed off health concerns that the equipment might expose people to dangerous levels of radiation.
Citing independent studies and research from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Pistole insisted going through scanners “is similar to receiving three minutes of radiation that you would receive on a normal (commercial) flight.”
For people who may not wish to receive full-body pat-downs due to religious reasons, Pistole said: “While we respect that person’s beliefs, (if they refuse the pat-down), they won’t be getting on an airplane… no exceptions.”
His message was similar to that of DHS director Janet Napolitano, who published a Monday editorial in USA Today asking for patience.
“Our best defense against such threats remains a risk-based, layered security approach that utilizes a range of measures, both seen and unseen, including law enforcement, advanced technology, intelligence, watch-list checks and international collaboration,” she said.
Napolitano added that the body scanners are “safe and efficient.”
The TSA first introduced the full-body scanners at US airports in 2007 but stepped up deployment of the devices this year when stimulus funding made it possible to buy another 450 of the advanced imaging technology scanners.
Michael Chertoff, the former DHS director and a vocal supporter of x-ray machines, owns a security company that contracts with Torrence, California-based Rapiscan, one of two major manufacturers of x-ray body scanners. The government ordered its first body scanners in 2005, at Chertoff’s direction.
The stepped-up security measures are also a reaction by the authorities to several thwarted attacks, including an attempt in December last year by a Nigerian man to detonate explosives hidden in his underpants on a flight that was about to land in Detroit.
Ahead of the rush of flyers expected across the United States next week for the US Thanksgiving holiday, Pistole urged patience with the new procedures.
“Let’s make it a partnership,” he urged, reminding passengers who encounter long lines due to the hands-on security effort that TSA workers “are there to work with you to ensure everybody on your flight has been properly screened.”