Ex-Homeland Security secretary’s company lobbies for body scanner maker
The CEO of one of the two companies licensed to sell full body scanners to the TSA accompanied President Barack Obama to India earlier this month, a clear sign of the deep ties between Washington politicians and the companies pushing to have body scanners installed at all US airports.
Deepak Chopra, chairman and CEO of OSI Systems and no relation to the New Age spiritualist, was one of a number of CEOs who traveled with the president on his three-day trip to India, which focused primarily on expanding business ties between the US and the emerging Asian power.
“I am honored to be selected to play a role in this very important cause,” Chopra said in a statement ahead of the trip. “Currently the trade between US and India is only one tenth of the amount of trade between US and China. There is substantial opportunity to improve the trade relations with India for mutual economic gain.”
Chopra’s company manufactures the Rapiscan brand of body scanners, currently being deployed across US airports. He joined the CEOs of such companies as GE, PepsiCo and United Technologies on the trip.
The president announced commercial deals worth some $10 billion during the trip, which he said would add some 50,000 jobs to the US economy. India decided earlier this year to implement body scanners at its airports, in the wake of the 2008 Mumbai attacks. (An early experiment with body scanners was quickly scuttled in 2007 due to privacy concerns.)
That a manufacturer of body scanners accompanied the US president on a foreign trip shows the extent of the ties between the industry and the US government. With anger growing at the intrusive news screening procedures, many observers have focused attention on Michael Chertoff, the former Homeland Security secretary whose consultancy, the Chertoff Group, counts OSI as a client.
The original orders for body scanners were made in 2005, during the Bush administration when Chertoff was still head of Homeland Security. Chertoff stepped up his lobbying for body scanners late last year after the attempted Christmas Day bombing.
“Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected ‘[the alleged Christmas Day bomber’s] explosive,” Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, told the Washington Post.
“Airport security has always been compromised by corporate interests,” wrote James Ridgeway at Mother Jones. “When it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record of enriching private corporations with failed technologies, and there are signs that the latest miracle device may just bring more of the same.”