Federal investigators “identified vulnerabilities in the screening process” at domestic airports using so-called “full body scanners,” according to a classified internal Department of Homeland Security report.
DHS has spent nearly $90 million replacing traditional magnetometers with controversial X-ray body scanning machines that are intended to detect items that could be missed by a metal detector.
Exactly how bad the body scanners are is not being divulged publicly, but the Inspector General report made eight separate recommendations on how to improve screening.
The news comes as authorities are examining an underwear bomb, allegedly seized by the CIA in Yemen as it allegedly thwarted an Al-Qaida plot to destroy a U.S.-bound airplane, according to The Associated Press. Authorities are now looking to determine if the bomb could have passed through airport screeners without being detected.
Meanwhile, an unclassified version of the Inspector General report, unearthed Friday by the Electronic Information Privacy Center, may give credence to a recent YouTube video allegedly showing a 27-year-old Florida man sneaking a metallic object through two different Transportation Security Administration body scanners at American airports.
The TSA agreed with all of the Inspector General’s recommendations. The Inspector General did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In March, meanwhile, a TSA spokeswoman said “These machines are safe” when asked to address a video by Jonathan Corbett, of Miami Beach, who allegedly had discovered a method tobeat the body scanners, which number 600 and are in about 140 U.S. airports. A brief YouTube video allegedly shows Corbett, who had sewn a pocket to the side of his shirt, getting past two body scanners with a metallic object in that pocket.
It was not immediately known when the TSA published its unclassified summary, TSA Penetration Testing of Advanced Imaging Technology. It comes with a “November 2011″ date and can be found on the DHS Office of Inspector General website under the heading “OIG Reports: Fiscal Year 2012.”
It’s not the first time the body scanners, produced by Rapiscan and L-3 Communications, have come under attack. In a three-part series last year, Wired reported that, indeed, there were suspected security flaws with them. Even the Government Accountability Office — Congress’ investigative arm — said the devices might be ineffective. And the Journal of Transportation Security suggested terrorists might fool the Rapiscan machines by taping explosive devices to their stomachs.
The unclassified summary said the government has spent $87 million on the scanners, which includes $10 million for “installation and maintenance.” To quiet privacy concerns, the authorities are also spending $7 million to “remove the human factor from the image review process” and replace the passenger’s image with an avatar.
The unclassified version said the “quantitative and qualitative results of our testing are classified.”
Passengers who refuse to go through the machines are subject to intense physical patdowns. Many have complained the process includes being sexually groped.
Amie Stepanovich, an EPIC attorney, said the group would file a Freedom of Information Act claim in a bid to get access to the full report. “This involves a program that is important to the public,” she said in a telephone interview.
EPIC had sued the government, claiming the machines were an unconstitutional breach of Americans’ privacy. A federal appeals court sided with the authorities, although the court said the government did not adhere to the law when it began implementing the machines at airports as early as 2007.