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– Israeli Airport Security Expert: Full-Body Scanners Are Waste of Money
October 15, 2010 – My name is Michael Roberts, and I am a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, Inc., based in Houston (that is, I still am for the time being). This morning as I attempted to pass through the security line for my commute to work I was denied access to the secured area of the terminal building at Memphis International Airport. I have passed through the same line roughly once per week for the past four and a half years without incident. Today, however, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents at this checkpoint were using one of the new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) systems that are currently being deployed at airports across the nation. These are the controversial devices featured by the media in recent months, albeit sparingly, which enable screeners to see beneath people’s clothing to an extremely graphic and intrusive level of detail (virtual strip searching). Travelers refusing this indignity may instead be physically frisked by a government security agent until the agent is satisfied to release them on their way in what is being touted as an “alternative option” to AIT. The following is a somewhat hastily drafted account of my experience this morning.
As I loaded my bags onto the X-ray scanner belt, an agent told me to remove my shoes and send them through as well, which I’ve not normally been required to do when passing through the standard metal detectors in uniform. When I questioned her, she said it was necessary to remove my shoes for the AIT scanner. I explained that I did not wish to participate in the AIT program, so she told me I could keep my shoes and directed me through the metal detector that had been roped off. She then called somewhat urgently to the agents on the other side: “We got an opt-out!” and also reported the “opt-out” into her handheld radio. On the other side I was stopped by another agent and informed that because I had “opted out” of AIT screening, I would have to go through secondary screening. I asked for clarification to be sure he was talking about frisking me, which he confirmed, and I declined. At this point he and another agent explained the TSA’s latest decree, saying I would not be permitted to pass without showing them my naked body, and how my refusal to do so had now given them cause to put their hands on me as I evidently posed a threat to air transportation security (this, of course, is my nutshell synopsis of the exchange). I asked whether they did in fact suspect I was concealing something after I had passed through the metal detector, or whether they believed that I had made any threats or given other indications of malicious designs to warrant treating me, a law-abiding fellow citizen, so rudely. None of that was relevant, I was told. They were just doing their job.
Eventually the airport police were summoned. Several officers showed up and we essentially repeated the conversation above. When it became clear that we had reached an impasse, one of the more sensible officers and I agreed that any further conversation would be pointless at this time. I then asked whether I was free to go. I was not. Another officer wanted to see my driver’s license. When I asked why, he said they needed information for their report on this “incident” – my name, address, phone number, etc. I recited my information for him, until he asked for my supervisor’s name and number at the airline. Why did he need that, I asked. For the report, he answered. I had already given him the primary phone number at my company’s headquarters. When I asked him what the Chief Pilot in Houston had to do with any of this, he either refused or was simply unable to provide a meaningful explanation. I chose not to divulge my supervisor’s name as I preferred to be the first to inform him of the situation myself. In any event, after a brief huddle with several other officers, my interrogator told me I was free to go.
Read morePilot to TSA: ‘No Groping Me and No Naked Photos’