OSI Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:OSIS) and Level 3 Communications (NYSE:LLL) are the two big manufacturers of the "hottest" techology in air travel safety. The former Director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, is the principle of a consulting company, Chertoff Group, which happens to have a lucrative contract with OSI. He is busy touting x-ray backscanning, on CNN, and behind the scenes to the TSA, the administration and all his other contacts.
Full body scanning machines are able to take nude pictures of air travelers, as they pass through, allowing TSA personnel to determine whether the person has any weapons on his body, as well as giving a sneak peak at the traveler in the nude. Both companies also have high-profile investors and employ consultants like Chertoff who wield heavy political clout. Both have been selling machines, like hotcakes, to the U.S. and U.K. governments, in the name of "air traffic safety".
Recently, 31 year old John Tyner, a California software engineer, refused to walk through the full body x-ray machine at the San Diego airport. Tyner was offered a “pat-down” as an alternative to passing through the x-ray scanner. He consented. Male TSA personnel began explaining the pat-down process. TSA pat-downs once stopped without touching the sex organs. But, apparently, not anymore. The guard described how he would put his hands between Tyner's legs. It is not clear whether Tyner was joking, or seriously warning the guard, when he stated:
“Alright, but, if you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested.”
The video I viewed stopped there, so I don't know for sure what happened afterwards. Reportedly, supervisors were called who insisted that potentially touching the sex organs was part of the process he would need to undergo because of his refusal of the x-ray scan. One TSA guard allegedly warned him that refusal to allow a groin grope could result in a $10,000 fine, as well as other potential punishments. In the end, no fine appears to have been levied, at least not yet. Instead, even his supposedly non-refundable airline ticket was refunded.
Tyner was, however, escorted out of the airport. Unknown to the TSA, Tyner videotaped the process on his cell phone. He posted his experience on the internet, and the video has now gone viral.
Was Tyner justified? Was he setting up the TSA?
Let us not bother to consider the potential embarrassment inherent in being photographed in the nude by an x-ray machine that creates a nude photo. Let us forget about the fact that TSA personnel may barely able to hold back their giggles, as certain travelers are being x-rayed.
Most important is that radiation is NEVER a good thing. The Food and Drug Administration, of course, denies that there are any health issues. It claims that the emitted x-rays are so small that they are benign. This, of course, comes from the same government that claimed, back in the 1950s, that open air nuclear bomb tests in Nevada would have no adverse effect on the cancer rates for populations near the testing zones. We now know that such claims were materially false.
In May, 2010, scientists from the University of California San Francisco wrote to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, advising concerns that the airport scanners might expose the skin to high doses of X-rays. This could increase the risk of cancer and other health problems, particularly among older travelers, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.[i]
In February, 2010, the Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety, expressed reservations about the safety of such scanners. The IACRS includes the European Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency, Nuclear Energy Agency and the World Health Organization. According to them, neither children nor pregnant women should be subjected to the radiation dose from the scanners, even though it is “extremely small.”[ii]
These machines, of course, like all machines, are subject to manufacturer's defects, wear and tear, incorrect settings, and so forth and so on. God forbid that the x-ray backscanner malfunctions for any of these reasons. There is a little lead ball with tiny holes in it that spin around, very quickly, scattering a powerful beam of x-rays. If that little ball doesn't spin fast enough, the innocent traveler is going to get hit with a barrage of x-rays that are going to fry his skin.
The government claims that full body scanners and/or full body pat-downs, including the groin area, are necessary to protect the country from terrorists. To that purpose, the regulations now subject “refuseniks” to heavy fines simply for refusing dangerous and/or invasive procedures. This begs a question. Has our own government turned into the terrorists they claim to be “protecting” us against?
Current TSA regulations apparently require that a full-body pat-down be performed by a person of the same sex. This, supposedly, insures that no sexual gratification from the process. But, does that reassure you? According to Wikipedia, about 2-3% of the population is gay. Those small numbers may make it very hard, and sometimes impossible, for persons attracted to the same sex to find partners. With these regulations, and the fear of walking through full body scanning machines, a job with TSA may become a dream job for a homosexual in need of sexual gratification. Nevertheless, given the danger of mechanical breakdowns and malfunction, and the fact that the only thing standing in the way of you and a super-powerful x-ray is a tiny little ball of perforated lead, I'd rather take my chances of being groped by a potentially homosexual TSA employee.
The type of groin groping that Mr. Tyner objected to would land the perpetrator in jail in the outside world. Yet, a mere warning to a guard that he would not be allowed to touch the sex organs resulted in someone being refused air travel. Legalizing same-sex groin-groping is very bad public policy. Making it mandatory if you refuse a radioactive scanner is even worse. Threatening to impose a heavy fine and/or imprisonment for refusing means we now live in a police state.
I’d rather have a female (good looking preferably) TSA guard groping me. But, I’d much rather have no one outside my bedroom touching my private parts. I am sure that this feeling is shared by 99% of all travelers. What, then, leads to the conclusion that air travelers give up all right to privacy and/or human dignity simply to travel by air?
Secretary Janet Napolitano, of the Obama Administration, defends mandatory groin groping and/or radioactive scanning, saying that “"This is all being done as a process to make sure that the traveling public is safe…".
Napolitano is making the argument of a fool. The idea that a terrorist might hide a bomb or a gun in his groin area is not entirely ridiculous. However, neither an x-ray of the surface of the skin, nor a groin grope, is going to stop that threat.
Small explosive devices can be hidden inside body cavities. Small guns can also be hidden in that way. Let us use Obama administration “logic”. Obviously, these facts mean every female air traveler must submit to a public examination of her vagina. Every traveler, whether male or female, must submit to the examination of the interior of the anus.
The real reason for this latest outrage, in my view, is a high level of incompetence among bureaucrats. Potentially dangerous x-ray machines, producing nude pictures of travelers are neither effective nor necessary. Same-sex or any other type of groin groping is also neither effective nor necessary.
Such equipment cannot detect small guns or bombs hidden in body cavities. Prof. Peter Rez, a physicist a Arizona State University who specializes in X-ray technology, says that it cannot detect liquid, semi-liquid explosives or plastic explosive, like C-4, which can be molded to look like a roll of fat on the body in this type of scatter X-ray.iii Yet the government is foolishly making full body x-ray scans a mandatory part of boarding any plane in America. At the same time, the threat of same-sex groin groping is being used to discourage people from refusing the nude x-rays.
TSA is NOT doing its job. It is wasting billions of tax dollars. It is invading the privacy of millions of air travelers and it is engaging in outrageous and unnecessary searches. It is also providing legal sanction to the type of groin groping that would land a person in jail in the outside world. Instead, it should be concentrating its time, energy and funding on cheap and effective means of detecting bombs and guns.
Dogs can detect the smell of gunpowder and bomb-making chemicals both inside and outside the human body. They are the obvious detection method of choice. They are far cheaper and more effective than potentially dangerous and very expensive x-ray machines. They are far less objectionable than groin groping.
With the outrage that this incident has raised, all over America, it seems that, at some point, policy makers will be forced to come to their senses. They will start to employ the readily available cheap and effective means of detecting air travel safety dangers. The threat of groin gropes will need to end, and that means that the shareholders investing in these two companies will lose money.
Disclosure: No positions.