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Advanced Imaging Technology - Yes, It's Worth It

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Wednesday, March 31, 2010
imaging

There's been a lot of public discussion about TSA's deployment of new screening technology known as AIT. Public discussion and debate is good, and we at TSA have worked hard to inform, educate and adjust our screening protocols in the interests of security, efficiency, safety and privacy. Our FY 2011 budget request includes $573 million to purchase 500 Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units and to operationally staff, operate and maintain 1,000 units, which includes the 500 units we are deploying now. This is indeed an important investment decision and not something we take lightly. We don't take the threats we're facing lightly either.

We've greatly improved TSA's IED detection capabilities in bags through better technology and more rigorous training and testing of our officers. Getting to threats hidden on a body is more difficult, because of the limitations of metal detectors, and patting down everybody that comes through a checkpoint isn't an option anyone likes.

So starting in 2007, we began testing AIT at the Transportation Security Lab and TSA's own operational testing facility to study its capability to detect non-metallic items as well as metallic ones. Based on the success in the labs, we tested the units in the airport environment, where they proved effective in threat detection and they were accepted by passengers as a screening option. The airport testing also looked at throughput, staffing needs, real estate requirements, privacy protections, and reaffirmed all safety requirements were met for the public and our officers. We left no stone unturned.

All the work we have done in the past two years gives me confidence that this technology will significantly increase TSA's detection capability at the checkpoint. Using AIT, our officers are finding things like small packages of powder-based drugs hidden on the body. When I say small, I mean that one packet was smaller than a thumb print. We have also found small weapons made of composite, non-metallic materials.

Based on the intelligence reporting we see every day, this technology is absolutely essential to address the threat we see today. It can also be upgraded over time, either as the threats change or as the industry improves the threat detection software.

With our first 1,000 units we will be able to use AIT to screen over 60% of all air passengers each day. We take our responsibility to protect each and every traveler very seriously. We have used lessons learned from the past, and we deployed this technology only after we were fully confident it would work in an operational environment and after our acquisition process had undergone extensive reviews and approvals by DHS' Acquisition Review Board.

Which brings me back to the cost. At about 1.8 million passengers going through checkpoint screening a day - 650 million passengers a year - the annualized, full cost of purchasing, installing, staffing, operating, supporting, upgrading, and maintaining the first 1,000 units of this technology is about $1 per trip through the checkpoint.

Is it worth a dollar per passenger in the short term for increased long term security? You bet it is.

Gale Rossides
Acting Administrator

Comments

Submitted by Earl Pitts on

Translation: it's worth it because we say it is.

Earl

Submitted by Travisina on

This is a load of crap. Another way to invade our privacy....this would not have stopped the underwear or the shoe guy.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Using AIT, our officers are finding things like small packages of powder-based drugs hidden on the body"

Why is TSA searching for drugs?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Very interesting. Not ONE question that people have raised about (WBI) AIT was answered. e.g. why backscatter and not MMW?, and (the big one) Why the name change?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Gale, does these AITs detect explosives? No? Then you've just bought a pig in a poke. Thank you for wasting both taxpayer's time (increased screening times) and money for an insignificant improvement in airport security.

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

Not that anyone will answer this, but I'll try anyways ...

So, AIT is going to be used in order to (try to) ensure that passengers don't bring threats aboard an aircraft. Certainly seems like a noble goal.

So, if you manage to achieve this goal, does that mean that ID checks can go away? After all, what's the harm in letting someone aboard the aircraft if you've verified that they aren't carrying anything dangerous?

Submitted by FriendlySkies on

"Translation: it's worth it because we say it is.

Earl"

+11111111111111111111111111111111111


By the way, we still don't have an accurate image from the device. What is TSA afraid of? Show us the real image that the screener can see in the "imaging room"

Submitted by Anonymous on

Also a new definition of Irony is that the supervisors badge is turned around so it cant be seen. Its amazing how often this is done when TSA does something wrong so that they cant be identified for a complaint. maybe travelers need to start taking pictures of the offender to affix to the complaint so there no way of denying they were there.

Submitted by Anonymous on

NO IT ISN'T WORTH IT.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Didn't know that drugs were part of the administrative search for WEAPONS, EXPLOSIVES, and INCENDIARIES authorized by Congress. Care to elaborate Gale?

Would you explain how you can expand the search parameters into areas not covered under the Patriot Act? Are you not in contempt of Congress when you do things like this?

Submitted by Avxo on

We've heard time and time again that the TSOs looking at the screen don't know who's going through the machine, which is somehow protects our privacy and/or dignity by ensuring anonymity.

And yet, I notice that the TSO looking at the screen has a fancy headset... Can he communicate with TSOs outside his "office" and on the screening line? Is that communication one-way or two-way and what is the purpose?

Submitted by Philr on

On the other hand, we also now have published policies on how the TSA will inspect your monkey.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Would an AIT scan have detected the explosives in the underwear of the Christmas bomber?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Does the TSA have any official comment about the over 600 complaints filed in 2009 regarding AIT? The complaints demonstrate how the TSA directed passengers through the machines without the screener explaining the technology or being made aware of the pat down option, also many check points had absolutely no signage or sample images posted.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Based on the intelligence reporting we see every day, this technology is absolutely essential to address the threat we see today. It can also be upgraded over time, either as the threats change or as the industry improves the threat detection software.
----------------------------------

By upgraded over time does the TSA mean privacy protections removed and x-ray radiation output increased essentially to perform a body cavity search? Please elaborate on the above statement.

Submitted by Anonymous on

As the technology gets better and the images get more detailed does the TSA plan on keeping the sample images provided on the website up to date? Or will they continue to use the same severely degraded, out of date images currently provided on its website?

Submitted by Anonymous on

1. "Using AIT, our officers are finding things like small packages of powder-based drugs hidden on the body. When I say small, I mean that one packet was smaller than a thumb print."

And you don't understand why some of us are outraged at the thought of government agents seeing naked images of our bodies (and our children's bodies) that provide such levels of detail? Also, does this indicate that any "shadow" on the image, even one as small as a thumb print, justifies further searching? Is the TSA aware of any feasible weapons-delivery system that can be contained in a package that is smaller than a thumbprint? If a TSA agent detects a small, irregular spot near my scrotum, will I be required to drop my trousers to resolve the alarm?

2. "Which brings me back to the cost. At about 1.8 million passengers going through checkpoint screening a day - 650 million passengers a year - the annualized, full cost of purchasing, installing, staffing, operating, supporting, upgrading, and maintaining the first 1,000 units of this technology is about $1 per trip through the checkpoint."

Your attempt to make over half a billion dollars seem like an insignificant amount of money is amusing, though hardly convincing. Yes, we could visualize this expenditure as each passenger forking out a buck as they pass through screening. It would probably be more meaningful, however, to compare this expenditure with alternative uses of this money. How many at-risk youth could we send to college with $573 million dollars? How many desperately-needed medical clinics could we establish in rural America? How many defibrillators could we put in public places? All of these measures might actually save lives. Don't try to make me think that half a billion dollars is chump change.

3. "Is it worth a dollar per passenger in the short term for increased long term security? You bet it is."

Oh, well, there you have it. Problem solved.. Is it worth it? You bet it is! Seriously, what is the point of this post? We already know that the TSA thinks the expenditure is worth it. Why don't you provide us with any evidence for why we should agree? The fact of the matter is that any serious analysis of the question would begin with the recognition that terrorist attacks on passenger airplanes pose a statistically insignificant risk to the lives of even the most frequent air travelers. Therefore, any additional measures-- even those that substantially reduce the probability of an incident-- are only making an insignificant risk marginally less significant. Is it really worth half a billion dollars (not to mention the violation of our dignity) to marginally reduce an insignificant risk?

Lastly, I'm somewhat surprised that you haven't yet addressed the Moscow attacks. Maybe the reason for your silence is the clear fact that such attacks cannot be prevented. Any public location with a large number of people is a potential terrorist target. If the public actually grasped this reality then it might be a lot harder for you to sell your constant absurd efforts to make one particular means of travel (aviation) absolutely secure. For what it's worth, I've traversed the Lubyanka and Park Kultury metro stations many, many times, and will again in the future. I'm a lot less concerned about the small possibility of a terrorist attack than I am with the implications of a government that claims the right to look at my children's genitals.

Submitted by Avxo on

Anonymous wrote: "and once again TSA violates the freedom of speech by blocking comments that aren't pro-TSA and questions there authoriti."

I don't know about that. I've read a whole lot of comments on here that aren't pro-TSA and question their authority. And I've personally posted some very critical comments on here and all have been approved.

No doubt that some comments aren't approved, but I don't think that is because they challenge the TSA's authority. That's not to say it's impossible. Only to say that the evidence doesn't seem to support your premise.

Besides, any such challenges to the TSA's authority made on this blog are by and large meaningless and at best symbolic.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob, since you are unable/unwilling to answer many of the questions posted over here, why does TSA even bother to have a blog?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Gale, why has TSA refused to post an example of the images these machines generate at the same size and resolution seen by its operator?

Are you aware of the GAO report that indicates these machines would have had, at best, a 60% chance of detecting the style of explosive the underwear bomber tried to use?

How many people have received invasive secondary searches because these machines detected harmless and private medical devices?

What is the protocol when these machines detect a prosthetic breast, a penile implant, or adult diaper?

I don't think you comprehend the utter lack of confidence Americans have in your agency to tell the truth and do the right thing. Given how often TSA misleads us and abuses passengers, why should we trust a single thing you tell us about these machines?

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Using AIT, our officers are finding things like small packages of powder-based drugs hidden on the body."

So what? Your job is not to look for drugs, and drugs cannot harm and aircraft.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Gale, if these images are so innocuous please post one of yourself. I won't hold my breath.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Gale, since you're here, could you tell us how many countries require every air passenger to remove their shoes for X-ray? Bob's been asked this question many, many times and has never, ever answered. Perhaps you could be a bit more forthcoming than he has.

Submitted by Ranger11 on

Finding a small package on a person with AIT requires a search to clear the package. In the course of the search to clear the package it turns out to be illegal drugs, What should TSA do?
As Federal Employees TSA Officers may call for LEO assistance in the event that unknown items are discovered. In any event at the checkpoint, an LEO can/will intervene when there is something unknown, regardless of the suspicion as to what it is. That is the job they have. So, if you have something that TSA cannot identify, and it turns out to be illegal drugs, expect to see a LEO at some point.
The LEO intervenes, and then does what they feel is best. Sometimes it's arrest, sometimes it's a citation, sometimes it's a warning. TSA does none of these tasks. We only refer these situations to the LEO. Is it legal to travel with illegal drugs? Sounds like a stiupid question doesn't it? TSA does not search for drugs of any kind. If you carry something on your person or in your bags, TSA will probably see it. If they cannnot identify it, then it is highly likely that a LEO will see it. See how it works?

Submitted by Jim Huggins on

So if the cost of this enhanced screening is $1 per passenger, is an increase in the security fee in our near future in order to pay for this?

Submitted by Anonymous on

If the images generated are not invasive, why can't I see my own whole body scan images?

Submitted by Prank Call Of C... on

Yup, all it costs is $1 per trip. And your dignity. And your privacy, too. And your right to be free of warrantless search.

But mostly just $1.

Submitted by Anonymous on

@philr: By interesting coincidence I refer to my genitals as my "service monkey" so the fact that the TSA is inspecting them is relevant to my interests.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I have a relative who is a breast cancer survivor and wears a prosthetic. She went through one of these once, not knowing what it did. She told me she was still in it with her arms up like a criminal when an officer 3 feet away loudly asked her about her prosthetic. She had to answer from where she was, in front of a crowd.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the search ended there. There was no further action taken. That means there was no effort made to differentiate a prosthetic breast from, say, an explosive item which would have a similar image.

How is something that invades our privacy and does not add to security worth it??

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Using AIT, our officers are finding things like small packages of powder-based drugs hidden on the body"

---

Gale, are you admitting that the TSA is searching its passengers for drugs at the checkpoint, which is a violation of the 4th Amendment? I want to be clear here.

Submitted by Anonymous on

So Gayle, has your PR braintrust decided that Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) is more palatable to a privacy-sensitive public than Whole Body Imaging (WBI)? I find that amusing. Personally, I'll stick with Virtual Strip Search; it's more accurate.

Tell me, can the virtual strip search detect a tampon or see a breast implant? If no, then it fails to detect the threat TSA claims to be concerned about. If yes, then the technology is too intrusive. How do you plan to resolve alarms on adult diapers, feminine hygiene products, mastectomy bras, medical devices, etc.?

My desire to travel by air is neither probable cause nor even reasonable suspicion that I have or intend to commit a crime. Therefore I should not be strip searched and treated like a criminal.

Oh, and as Acting Administrator, it's easy for you to support this thing, because you won't be the one dragged into court and in front of Congress in a decade or so when someone concludes that virtual strip searches cause cataracts, damage skin DNA, increase cancer risk, or create some other health problem. Are you prepared to be held personally responsible if/when that happens?

Do you know that reputable medical experts and scientists consider that there is no safe dose of ionizing radiation, and that exposure should be minimized while taking into account personal health needs? I don't need to be exposed to x-rays to know that I'm not a terrorist; so there's no benefit to me in going through one of your virtual strip searches.

Are you prepared to tell the public that TSA will never require passengers to submit to a virtual search in order to travel by commercial aircraft? If so, what penalty/compensation are you prepared to pay when that is proven to be a lie?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Bob,

Still no word from the "procedures" people as to if passengers with medical devices attached to their body such as insulin pumps, either declared or discovered by virtual strip search, are subjected to 100% bag dump searches? You said you asked the "procedures" department on March 17.

Or have you and your PR people decided that the answer is too embarrassing, or SSI, or some other lame excuse?

Submitted by Andrew on

Is this an official admission of TSA violating its own charter by looking for drugs and other non weapons/explosives/incendiary materials?

Submitted by Anonymous on

I believe the majority public support with these machines is due to lack of knowledge on the real images it can display, and how dangerous it can be if these images are compromised. If a malicious employee decides to take pictures (smuggling a camera) or saves the images (by hacking the machine to allow it to save), then these images can be transferred and shared. It is very possible that this will happen.

In addition, even though these machines are quite effective in detecting contraband, I would not be surprised if a malicious passenger is finding a way to "beat the machines". If he/she can do, then these machines can be rendered as useless (especially if a terrorist attack is successfully executed).

Finally, these should only be used to detect devices that would compromise the security and safety of the airplanes. Not sure if searching for drugs, money, other contraband that does not affect the security of airplanes and passengers would be in the legal jurisdiction (correct term?) of the TSA.

Just my 2 cents.

Submitted by Ayn R Key on

But is using X-Rays instead of Millimeter Waves worth it?

Is putting passengers at risk for cancer simply to line Chertoff's pockets worth it?

But supposing you actually do the right thing (ha ha ha) and switch back to mmw, is trashing the constitution worth it?

The TSA thinks the answer to those questions is "yes". Doctors think the answer to the first two is "no" and patriots think the answer to the third is "no".

Submitted by Ron Pelton on

The FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security, which was doing its job just fine until is became the TSA, published an internal report in the late 1990s stating that the biggest roadblock to deploying virtual strip search machines (Yes, Gale, they existed back then) was public acceptance. The report stated that the government needed to use any means possible to negate or ignore the certain public outrage over this intrusive technology. You obviously have read this report.

Gale, your feeble and thinly-veiled attempt to ram these strip search machines down our throats is pathetic and disgusting.

The ACLU, EPIC, and brave private citizens are confronting you head-on and I applaud them, as should all freedom-loving Americans.

Gale, we the people will use every means at our disposal to stop deployment of these virtual strip search machines. We will not allow ourselves to be electronically strip-searched or frisked like common criminals for the daring act of buying an airplane ticket.

We will not allow your screeners, such as the one pictured above, from viewing us or our children naked - period.

Gale, what part of "this is unacceptable" don't you understand?

Submitted by TSO Colyn on

Howdy folx!!

Glad to see you guys posting in the comments! Thanks for helping to make the TSA Blog a success and raising some interesting questions. I'd like to tackle a few of them...

We officers do not search for drugs, we search for explosives, IED components, and other threats. The techniques used to smuggle explosives are the same techniques used to smuggle drugs. So it's inherent that we'll uncover drugs as we go about our mission.

When we uncover narcotics (yes, I've personally discovered narcotics) we are ethically required to refer the situation to local police. I say ethically for a couple reasons, the first of which is our oath of office. The second is that we cannot pick and choose which law violations are "worse" than others, as all illegal activity is, well, illegal. If I discovered a human head in someones bag, should we simply let that person go? Any rational person would say "no". So, if I have to turn in the murderer, I'm ethically required to turn in the drug dealer.

Travisina is right about one thing, the AIT devices will not stop a shoe bomber... This is why all shoes must be x-rayed, thank you for helping to illustrate the need to x-ray all shoes!!! However, the AIT will help to detect the underwear guy... I boldly make this claim because I was tested will working on the AIT at my base airport just a few days ago. Tho this may shock some of you, I passed the test (meaning I detected the threat).

As to the other questions, myself and others have answered them over, and over, and over, and over... So if your serious about finding the answers, I suggest you read the rest of the TSA Blog.

To all of you I wish safe travels and healthy living!

Submitted by Charles Goody on

You bloggers need to get a life. Are you serious with this stuff you write. Grow up and move in to the 21st century. Giving up your rights, privacy. Are you kidding me? You haven't given up anything. I also like the "Anonymous" signing. Arguing about censoring and you censor yourself. Oh I get it, if you give your name the TSA or another Gov't nagency will track you and persecute you too.
Good thinking.....

Submitted by Marshall's SO on

How many things have got through undetected? You'll never know that now, will you? ;-)

Submitted by Anonymous on

It's worth it? I think "it" needs defined.

If you come out and say that it is personal liberty, then you can actually start this conversation.

Submitted by Adrian on

Whole Body Imaging is a waste of money.

Fact: By the TSA's own numbers, at least 21% of passengers refused this invasive procedure.

Fact: The Christmas bomber failed, miserably, and WBI probably would not have detected his bomb anyway.

Fact: WBI detects private medical details, like breast reconstruction surgery for cancer survivors, and subjects them to additional scrutiny. http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/02/06/my-left-breast-put-fancy-tsa-sca...

Fact: Even screeners feel traumatized by the invasion of privacy when viewed by coworkers via the WBI machines. "I can't bear to think about the body scanner thing," she told the Sun. "I'm totally traumatised. I've spoken to the police about it. I'm in too much of a state to go to work."
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/mar/24/airport-worker-warned-body-scanner

Fact: Searching for drugs and other contraband is outside the TSA's limited "administrative search" exemption to the fourth amendment. A fingerprint-sized packet of *anything* is not a threat to an airplane, it should not have been subjected to further scrutiny.

Fact: The TSA has not explained what steps will be taken to prevent screeners in the private booth from photographing the screen. (See previous link.)

Fact: If you're not going to use them on every lane in every airport (which would be far too expensive), then it's going to remain trivial to cherry-pick entry points that don't have them. Even if you had them on every lane, passengers can still opt for a pat-down instead. So this is a huge expenditure of money to build a wall that you can simply walk around.

Fact: It's not illegal to carry a non-banned item under your clothes, but now those will be subjected to further privacy-invading scrutiny.

Fact: The assurances that the x-ray based WBI imagers are unconvincing, as they compare the intensity to ambient radiation. But there is a big difference between focused and directed x-rays as some of the WBI machines use and ambient x-rays. You can look directly at a 100 Watt light bulb, but I wouldn't recommend looking directly at a 100 Watt laser.

Submitted by Rosemary Blair on

One thing I dislike.
Is how the reporters try to challenge the AIT by sneaking Items through the machine.

Submitted by Anonymous on

avxo said...
"And yet, I notice that the TSO looking at the screen has a fancy headset... Can he communicate with TSOs outside his "office" and on the screening line? Is that communication one-way or two-way and what is the purpose?"

Well, he needs some way to communicate to the machine operator that the individual is either "clear" or needs further screening. And I would imagine that he would need to give specific details to the TSO at the machine regarding the item / area in question such as where it is, what it looks like, etc. This is likely 2-way communication between only the person viewing the image and the one at the machine.

Submitted by Anonymous on

To TSO Colyn
You stated that you are ethical required to turn over illegal activities to LEO. Does this only apply to passengers, or also to fellow TSA personnel?

I also noticed your reference to your oath of office which requires a standard of conduct. Do you report fellow TSA personnel when you see them violate their oaths?

How many violations have you witnessed from fellow TSA personnel, and how many of those did you report?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Anonymous said:

Well, he needs some way to communicate to the machine operator that the individual is either "clear" or needs further screening. And I would imagine that he would need to give specific details to the TSO at the machine regarding the item / area in question such as where it is, what it looks like, etc. This is likely 2-way communication between only the person viewing the image and the one at the machine.

This looks like one of the whisper communication devices issued to TSOs. He's probably in communication with anyone within radio range and could, if he wanted to, comment on what he sees on the display. Would he? Don't know since the level of professionalism at TSA is spotty at best. Just make the assumption that someone could be making derogatory comments in relationship to comments by other TSOs at the checkpoint.

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSO Colyn said...
Howdy folx!!

Glad to see you guys posting in the comments! Thanks for helping to make the TSA Blog a success and raising some interesting questions. I'd like to tackle a few of them...

We officers do not search for drugs, we search for explosives, IED components, and other threats. The techniques used to smuggle explosives are the same techniques used to smuggle drugs. So it's inherent that we'll uncover drugs as we go about our mission.

When we uncover narcotics (yes, I've personally discovered narcotics) we are ethically required to refer the situation to local police.
...........
Could you tell us just what training TSA provided that enables you to determine is something is a drug?

Thanks.

Submitted by Bubba on

I have a relative who is a breast cancer survivor and wears a prosthetic. She went through one of these once, not knowing what it did. She told me she was still in it with her arms up like a criminal when an officer 3 feet away loudly asked her about her prosthetic. She had to answer from where she was, in front of a crowd.

As if that wasn't bad enough, the search ended there. There was no further action taken. That means there was no effort made to differentiate a prosthetic breast from, say, an explosive item which would have a similar image.

How is something that invades our privacy and does not add to security worth it??

_______________________

A nicely explained exposure of security theater, one breast at a time.

Submitted by Al Ames on

The extra dollar per person, Gale, would also only apply if EVERYONE was screened thru the Nude-O-Scope. Are you trying to tell us that the Nude-O-Scope is going to become the primary method and mandatory?

Al

Submitted by Anonymous on

"The techniques used to smuggle explosives are the same techniques used to smuggle drugs. So it's inherent that we'll uncover drugs as we go about our mission."
-----------------------------------------

Please tell me what kind of explosives can fit into a packet that is smaller than a thumb nail.

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