Will likely just re-hash old TSA data

Steve Watson
Dec 19, 2012

The TSA has announced that it has agreed to provide a contract to the National Academy of Sciences, for an independent analysis of the potential health effects of the radiation firing full body scanners currently in use throughout the nation’s airports. However, the fine print hints that once again, no new testing will actually take place.

For some time now, the ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Susan Collins has been pushing the TSA to have independent tests carried out on the Backscatter radiation body scanners.

The TSA has consistently avoided the issue, erroneously claiming multiple times that research has proven the machines safe.

Late yesterday, Collins announced that the TSA “has heeded my call to commission an independent examination into the possible health risks travelers and TSA employees may face during airport screenings.”

“While TSA has told the public that the amount of radiation emitted from these machines is small, passengers and some scientific experts have raised questions about the impact of repeated exposure to this radiation,” Collins noted.

In a statement provided to Politico, a TSA spokesman wrote “Administrator Pistole has made a commitment to conduct the study and TSA is following through on that commitment.”

A DHS contracting notice posted by the General Services Administration confirms the move:

The Department of Homeland Security, Office of Procurement Operations (OPO), Washington, DC intends to award a sole source contract to the National Academy of Sciences pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 to convene a committee to review previous studies as well as current processes used by DHS and equipment manufacturers to estimate radiation exposure resulting from backscatter x-ray advanced imaging technology (AIT) systems used in screening air travelers and provide a report with findings and recommendations on: (1) whether exposures comply with applicable health and safety standards for public and occupational exposures to ionizing radiation, and (2) whether system design (e.g., safety interlocks), operating procedures, and maintenance procedures are appropriate to prevent over exposures of travelers and operators to ionizing radiation. This study will not address legal, cultural, or privacy implications of this technology.

However, the contract has NOT actually been awarded to anyone yet. Furthermore, few details have been provided on how the study will be carried out, and it is entirely possible that the NAS will simply re-examine old data from tests and studies carried out by the TSA and the FDA.

This would not be the first time that old data has been presented by the TSA in an effort to justify the continued use of the scanners.

Back in June, a study that on the surface appeared to be independent, claimed that there are no safety concerns regarding the TSA’s body scanners. However, it quickly emerged that the research was based purely on old data that was previously released by the federal agency itself, and that no independent testing of the body scanners was ever undertaken.

In February, a  government report cited as newly authoritative by TSA head John Pistole, also merely repeated old and questionable information that had been available on the TSA’s website for two years.

The report (PDF), by The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General, concluded that each backscatter radiation machine being used by the TSA “delivers an extremely low dose of ionizing radiation” with levels “below the acceptable limits”.

Dated February 14, and issued by Carlton Mann, assistant inspector general for inspections, the report stated:

“Specifically, to reach annual radiation dose limits, a passenger would have to receive more than approximately 17,000 screenings in a 12-month period, which is equivalent to approximately 47 screenings per day, 365 days per year.”

However, those claims are drawn from an old Johns Hopkins University assessment dating from August 2010, and use yearly limits of radiation set by the American National Standards Institute.

The figures cited are purely calculations and are not drawn from any scientific evidence. Dozens of radiologists and scientists have warned that decades of research has not established any dose of radiation as safe.

Indeed, even Johns Hopkins scientists have warned that the TSA body scanners will lead to an increase in cancers.

Despite this, and an admission in the DHS report that the body scanners have not been regularly tested to ensure they are calibrated correctly, the TSA said the report vindicated earlier statements that the machines are safe.

“We believe this report fully endorses TSA’s extensive efforts to keep the traveling public safe, which is our agency’s ultimate priority,” TSA Administrator John Pistole wrote in response to the report.

Pistole himself cited the report back In November, when the TSA head first reneged on a promise to the Senate to instigate further studies into the safety of the radiation firing scanners. Pistole had promised to commission further independent research into the safety risks associated with full body scanners, following a Europe wide ban on the machines. However, within two weeks the TSA head had backtracked, saying the upcoming IG report would contain new findings and that further study was unnecessary at this time.

As it turns out, unsurprisingly, the report simply regurgitated the same unsubstantiated claims the TSA has been making for over two years.

Scrutiny over radiation exposure was heightened recently following apparent efforts by the TSA to cover-up a “cluster” of cancer cases amongst scanner operators at Boston-Logan airport. According to FOIA documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), when Union representatives in Boston discovered a “cancer cluster” amongst TSA workers linked with radiation from the body scanners, the TSA sought to downplay the matter and refused to issue employees with dosimeters to measure levels of exposure.

The documents indicated how, “A large number of workers have been falling victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease.”

In addition, further documents obtained by EPIC show how the TSA “publicly mischaracterized” findings of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), in stating that the agency had positively confirmed the safety of full body scanners in tests.

Numerous other studies conducted by prestigious universities and health authorities, including Columbia University, the University of California, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety, have warned that the devices will lead to an increase in cancers.

Despite the fact that almost every independent study has concluded that the machines will cause cancer cases to increase, the TSA still routinely denies the threat.

In March 2011, The TSA was forced into a promise that it would retest every full-body X-ray scanner after maintenance records on some of the devices showed radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.

As we reported in January of this year, the DHS also plans to expand the use of X-ray scanning machines at US border crossings, despite the availability of millimeter-wave machines that do the same job without emitting harmful radiation.


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.com, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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