A couple of weeks ago, while trying to understand why body scanners are ineffectual, I found this great clip. Trouble is, it’s in German. Now, I could fix this, because I’ve done a fair amount of professional translating, German to English. But more trouble ahead: We were heading into final exams, and I know how much time it would take to insert the subtitles, having done it once before. I figured I might tackle it after I finished grading, even though the main expert’s Bavarian accent is atrocious.
Now that my grades are in, I found the same clip via Clarissa’s Blog – this time with English subtitles. They contain more infelicities than if a pro had done the job, but the translation is perfectly serviceable. (When they say “plaster,” they mean “band-aid,” in American English.) I’m pretty confident the translation isn’t Clarissa’s, but we owe a debt of thanks to this person (I suspect a native German speaker) who took the time to do a conscientious job.
In any event, you will understand more than enough to be alarmed.
This, folks, is why we could double our national debt investing in these scanners and not be appreciably safer.
If any of my chemist readers is itching to pen a guest post on thermite, I will gladly publish it. (I know there’s at least one of you out there!)
The scanners are, of course, only part of the problem. Another loophole could allow a bad guy to sneak through 24 ounces of Evildoer’s Goo (thermite specifically? I dunno). Jeff Goldberg recounts this three-way rendezvous between himself, security über-guru Bruce Schneier, and a TSO in Minnepoo:
We took our shoes off and placed our laptops in bins. Schneier took from his bag a 12-ounce container labeled “saline solution.”
“It’s allowed,” he said. Medical supplies, such as saline solution for contact-lens cleaning, don’t fall under the TSA’s three-ounce rule.
“What’s allowed?” I asked. “Saline solution, or bottles labeled saline solution?”
“Bottles labeled saline solution. They won’t check what’s in it, trust me.”
They did not check. As we gathered our belongings, Schneier held up the bottle and said to the nearest security officer, “This is okay, right?” “Yep,” the officer said. “Just have to put it in the tray.”
“Maybe if you lit it on fire, he’d pay attention,” I said, risking arrest for making a joke at airport security. (Later, Schneier would carry two bottles labeled saline solution—24 ounces in total—through security. An officer asked him why he needed two bottles. “Two eyes,” he said. He was allowed to keep the bottles.)
See? If it says saline, it must be saline! And not thermite!
Wherever the new scanners are coming online, they actually intensify an existing threat: that of a bomb aimed at passengers being shepherded toward the security checkpoint. Even if only 20% of flyers are directed to the scanners, without any opt-outs or false alarms – well, that’s enough to slow the lines noticeably. In busy airports, the waiting times will balloon, as will the crowds, once the new scanners become more routinely used. They’re simply slower than the old magnetometer.
Schneier makes this point in the Goldberg piece just cited: we’re creating sitting ducks. In the Thanksgiving edition of the New York Times, Roger Cohen channels Osama bin Laden in a busy U.S. airport and observes:
bin Laden might also wonder at just how stupid it is to assemble huge crowds at the Transportation Security Administration’s airport checkpoints, as if hundreds of people on planes were the only hundreds of people who make plausible targets for terrorists.
Feeling safer yet?
So far Germany, at least, isn’t squandering its money on naked body scanners. But then, its watchdog media (ZDF is a publicly supported TV network) are actually doing their job right.
And really … if the intent of the grope-down was to save us from the underpants bomber, why weren’t “enhanced patdowns” implemented way back in early January 2010, when our memory of him (and our gullibility) had just hit another local maximum? After all, that’s when Chertoff traversed the airwaves to sing the praises of Rapiscan technology. “Enhanced patdowns” are a better bet than the scanner for actually catching the next underpants bombers (though I’m positive there won’t be a clone; next up will be the booty-bomb.)
Of course, I’m not defending the grope-downs. Not at all! I’m just pointing out that the timing of their introduction had nothing to do with “homeland security,” as it has been sold to us. It had everything to do with the first major rollout of the naked body scanners, however. They were a punitive means of guaranteeing compliance and organizational efficiency from the flying herds of American sheeple. Otherwise, we would have gotten the grope back in January, for sure.