I see nothing. Nothing! TSA boss and Chertoff

TSA head: We know nothing of Chertoff’s pornoscanner conflict of interest. Also, who wants ice cream!
[Via Boing Boing]

[Video Link.] At 4:55 in this (excellent) interview by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, TSA administrator John Pistole claims to have no knowledge of former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff‘s conflict of interest regarding the recommendation to adopt Rapiscan pornoscanning devices.


Isn’t it unfortunate they are called Rapiscans? Make the first ‘a’ long and see why.

Imitating Sgt. Schultz is not a good way to answer an question.

Finally, one of the comments hits a key point with these machines:

I opt out not because I’m prudish (I’m French, we have no modesty) but because I am a software engineer. There is a lot of software to control these machines, and it’s mostly new code. Which means it has bugs. Many bugs.

Assuming the radiation level generated by the machines is safe (I have no expertise to judge one way or the other), that assumes normal operations. That’s a big assumption.

In “normal” software, when there is a non-fatal bug it results in something looking strange to the user, or some incorrect transaction going through, which eventually might get caught. In these machines, unless the bug completely disables the machine, how can you tell there is problem? Your hair is not going to catch fire because the radiation level is 100 stronger than normal.

Even if these machines are 100% safe in a research setting (which they are not) we have no way of knowing if the individual machine has been properly inspected and is working correctly. One little bug and you could get exposed to much higher levels of X-rays than expected.

A personal anecdote. In the biotech lab I used to work in, we used radioactive compounds all the time. To track contamination, we had multiple Geiger counters around the lab. One day, all the counters in the lab went off, then stopped. Then they went off again. Not too high but very noticeable.

So, I walked around the lab with one trying to localize where the radiation was coming from. It quickly became apparent that it was coming from outside, up the street. Something about 100 yards away was sending out enough radioactivity for it to be detectable inside our building.

Turns out, it was a contractor who was checking pipe welds up the street. They were using an X-ray machine, that was supposedly emitting acceptable amounts of radiation. But we could detect the ionizing radiation 100 yards away, through two sets of brick walls. Think how high it might have been for anyone closer.

It really opened my eyes to the fact that an improperly calibrated machine could cause some real problems. Real world experiences with ionizing radiation do not necessarily match what is seen in a controlled setting.

One thought on “I see nothing. Nothing! TSA boss and Chertoff

  1. Right after the video of Pistole describing how fine the pat-downs are, you should have the video of the hysterical 4 year old!

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