Out of the Mouths of Bureaucrats

Any day now I’m going to be accused of being a one-note blogger, but the TSA is just providing too much material to pass up. (Just for the record, I’m also known to post on Regime Uncertainty, education, the Census, and other issues.)

Case in point: the TSA’s own blog, where “Blogger Bob”—presumably the official internal apologist for the TSA—provides pronouncements on current TSA controversies that would be just plain hilarious if they weren’t coming from people who have the kind of power TSA wields. As Dave Barry used to say, I’m not making this up:

In response to reports on the stowaway who flew from JFK to LAX recently, Blogger Bob informs his fellow TSAers:

First, it’s important to point out that our approach is designed so we don’t depend on any single layer of security. Together, the 21 different layers provide a strong, formidable system that gives us the best chance to detect and prevent attacks before they occur. Every day we screen nearly 2 million passengers and utilize many layers of security to keep our nation’s transportation systems secure.


it’s important to note that this individual received the same thorough physical screening as other passengers, including being screened by advanced imaging technology (body scanner).

The one piece of information Blogger Bob does not convey is why TSA actually failed to prevent the Nigerian national from clearing security using an expired boarding pass in a name different from the ID he presented—not once, but twice. See Blogger Bob’s post, reassuringly titled “JFK – LAX Stowaway Was Screened By TSA,” here.

On a matter to which one might expect TSA employees to be particularly sensitive—the current question as to whether the new scanning machines are causing cancer among TSA employees themselves—Blogger Bob again does a neat side-step of actually addressing the issue. In response to his question to himself: “Why aren’t your officers permitted to wear dosimeters [radiation-level detectors]?” Bob answers:

The emissions from our X-ray technology are well below the requirements that would require their routine usage. To help reassure passengers and employees that the technology is safe, however, health physicists with the U.S. Army have been conducting area dosimeter surveys at multiple airports nationwide.

In other words, “TSA says the radiation levels are low, so we don’t need to let our employees wear detectors that might say otherwise.” And, according to the report below, the Army surveys were only performed at three airports. I guess three could be characterized as “multiple.”

Meanwhile, in response to charges that there has been no independent testing of the scanners, Blogger Bob cites:

Independent third party testing and analyses of TSA backscatter technology have been conducted by the U.S. Army Public Health Command, the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL).

Unfortunately, Blogger Bob doesn’t provide actual citations of or links to the “studies,” and I’ve yet to find them posted. This report says they don’t exist: “AOL Investigation: No Proof TSA Scanners Are Safe.”

The one semi-private source listed, Johns Hopkins, has publicly responded to TSA’s use of its study as a seal of approval for the scanners:

But Johns Hopkins says that its study only demonstrates that the radiation dosage is under the limit set by ANSI [American National Standards Institute]. A spokeswoman for Johns Hopkins said the people who did the testing were unhappy with the way the TSA characterized the study. The safety of the machines is a somewhat different question, she said.

As has been specifically raised by independent scientists, there is no guarantee that the settings of the scanners in the field will not be set to expose their subjects to much higher levels of radiation than those assumed. And if there is no independent testing or other check allowed, how will we know?

As one concerned scientist pointed out regarding the data made available on the scanners:

We found that essentially none of this information was known or made public, and more interestingly, it looked like this technology had not been independently vetted by the scientific community, published, peer-reviewed or even discussed openly.

Essentially, all the information was coming from companies that were making the devices, and it looked like it was being parroted by the FDA and the TSA, which didn’t seem reasonable.

So much for Blogger Bob’s pronouncement:

They all came to the same conclusion by the way. It’s safe…

I guess a pronouncement of “Consensus” is what passes for science in the government these days.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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