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Drive-By Scanning: Officials Expand Use and Dose of Radiation for Security Screening

Posted on Jan 28, 2012
publik16 (CC-BY)

by Michael Grabell, ProPublica

(Page 2)

But the rapid expansion raises serious questions about whether the United States is sacrificing safety in the name of security.

“Because of the wide proliferation of these things, we don’t know who’s using them and how frequently,” said Peter Rez, an Arizona State University physicist who has criticized the use of the machines. “It’s not that the radiation from these machines is very high. It’s ‘Does the benefit outweigh the risk?’”

X-rays on Wheels

One of the first technologies after 9/11 that would expose humans to X-rays was the Z Backscatter Van —essentially a x-ray scanner on a truck—made by American Science & Engineering.


Square, Site wide

The device, which was deployed by the military to detect car bombs in war zones, uses X-rays that are designed to find organic materials such as drugs and explosives. The rays scatter back to a detector rather passing through an object as in a medical X-ray. The van can scan while driving alongside a line of vehicles or while parked as they pass by.

According to a company presentation obtained by a civil liberties group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a backscatter van delivers a radiation dose about twice that of an airport body scanner.

Soldiers serving in Iraq nicknamed the vans “white devils.” Customs officers call them “ice cream trucks .”

Customs and Border Protection has purchased 75 backscatter vans for use at border crossings, ports, Border Patrol checkpoints and even the Super Bowl, according to agency records. Customs spokeswoman Jenny Burke said passengers must exit the vehicle before the scan.

While the Transportation Security Administration hasn’t bought them, it tested them at a Delaware ferry crossing in 2004 and at a Long Island ferry crossing in 2009, spokesman Greg Soule said. In the first test, passengers weren’t in the vehicles. But in the second test, passengers remained in the vehicles but could opt out, he said. Another TSA test in 2009 was conducted in northern New Jersey on empty commuter train cars in a rail yard.

The X-ray vans have also shown up on American streets. In 2010, Homeland Security officials conducted an exercise scanning tractor-trailers on Interstate 20. And the New York Police Department uses the vans.

The NYPD has declined to release details about the use of the machines.

ABC News reporters Richard Esposito and Ted Gerstein provide one of the few accounts of the backscatter van in a book they wrote chronicling a year inside NYPD’s bomb squad. Describing the security ahead of President Bush’s motorcade to the 2004 Republican convention, they wrote that every vehicle entering the street in front of the hotel was ordered to drive between two unmarked white vans, which X-rayed each vehicle for bombs.

Such covert use of radiation, if done without informed consent, would violate the industry standard.

“The institution operating the system shall inform each person being screened that the system emits radiation,” the standard states. It also requires that people be told the radiation dose and that there be a visible indicator when X-rays are emitted.

Joe Reiss, AS&E’s vice president of marketing, said although the vans are designed for covert use, the vans comply with the standard because they have two lights that flash when a scan is in progress.

Kevin Barry, an NYPD bomb squad detective who retired in 2002, said that when he was there, the police ensured that the area was clear of people any time they used X-ray equipment and that officers wore film badges to monitor radiation exposure.

“They’re very cognizant of the fact that if there’s a radiation issue that they have to monitor the health issue,” he said.

But even if a violation were discovered, there is little the FDA can do because the standard is voluntary and not a federal regulation.

The FDA, which said it doesn’t regulate the “use” of security scanners emitting radiation, referred questions to New York State, which also said it does not regulate the scanners and referred questions to the New York City Department of Health, which also said it does not regulate the devices.

Drive-through Scanners

Customs and Border Protection is also installing 35 drive-through X-ray portals purchased with economic stimulus money, according to a company report posted on the government’s stimulus website,

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By heterochromatic, January 31, 2012 at 10:27 pm Link to this comment

gerard, that was

somewhere over the rainbow….indeed


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By gerard, January 31, 2012 at 10:10 pm Link to this comment

Hedges’ article on corporations not acknowledging any borders is far more applicable these days than any of us are willing to admit.
  This case of x-ray scans for “security” reasons is one more case.  Corporations refuse to acknowledge borders, national or economic. Corporations and government refuse to acknowledge health borders, making anyone and everyone subject to accumulated radiation sickness or cancer.
  Both cases of denying borders of safety are reprehensible.  Now consider this: Militarism (particularly the war on “terrorism”) refuses to acknowledge borders.  Anyone can be a “terrorist” on suspicion, picked up, incarcerated, spirited to a “black site”, terrorized—even a loyal citizen.
  Next in line comes the entire general idea of “going beyond borders.”  Drones know no borders; they survey and fire on any place to which they are directed. Even in matters as seemingly harmless as
science, NASA (representing the national spirit of accomplishment). spends its entire expensive efforts to “go beyond terrestial limits” and prides itself on same.
  “Boys, be ambitious!” is an American cliche. Favorite TV programs involve millions in “radical sports” and fanciful excapades “beyond borders” of expense, reason and possibility.  It is all very amusing—surreal, exciting, stimulating etc.  The sky’s the limit—and not even that! Onward! “Don’t Fence Me In!” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
  It’s all very “natural”—in America—an inherent part of “the American Dream. 
  Shall we doubt the sanity of it it, now that it imperils our very life on the planet?  Shall we raise questions about whether some respect should be given to “normalcy” and “moderation”—that we cannot justly be as “exceptional” as we might think or hope,  and that the preservation of the species depends upon rational limits?

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By heterochromatic, January 31, 2012 at 9:11 am Link to this comment

Oceanna~~~~  How are we doing today?

I’m glad to see that you’re presenting an argument about threats to bomb iran’s
nuclear facilities. This IS something that’s been widely discussed and is being

It is quite, quite different from mounting an invasion of Iran…..which has NOT
been widely discussed and is not being considered and which you should admit
was something that you said and should not have said.

Would you be so good as to admit the error and let the discussion move

You needn’t use simple sentences for the retraction, I’ll read diligently in hope
of supplementing my shortfall in comprehension.

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Oceanna's avatar

By Oceanna, January 31, 2012 at 8:49 am Link to this comment

So TD—someone like “hetero” can initiate hostile communications, but a honest
and factual rebuttal to it isn’t allowed?!?

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Oceanna's avatar

By Oceanna, January 31, 2012 at 8:44 am Link to this comment


Tell the Israeli media to “respect the truth” then.  Or Truth Dig, for that matter,
as if the article on the US developing more thorough bunker busting bombs
designed specifically for the Iranian nuclear facilities is either falsified or
doesn’t indicate planning for that.  Or the US nuclear sub and destroyer heading
for the Persian Gulf are actually Carnival Cruise lines!!

But since you hadn’t heard anyone say Iran is going to be bombed, then it’s not
going to happen.  Yeah, right!  Never mind the variation of the current “no
options are off the table” with the old Iraq pre-invasion rhetoric of “all options
are on the table.”

In respect to this article, you need to freaking read it. Dude, the commander-
in-chief DOES have responsibility in implementing the so-called security
scanners throughout the country.  Of course, that involves people unknowingly
getting dosed, including people who have undergone radiation treatments for
cancer!!  Duh, how do cancer prevalence and past treatments NOT factor into
the public exposure for scanners?  Don’t accuse me of fabrication when I wrote
about the obvious and its consequences. 

I don’t think you’re nearly as stupid and illiterate as you pretend to be, though
you do appear to have barely middle school level reading comprehension!! 

You seem schizzy with how you go from one extreme to another—you hurl
epithets and then go sickeningly maudlin.  But I think you’re just a two bit right
wing and militaristic shill playing with smoke and mirrors.

BTW, Hetero, your screen name is really amusing in a psych 101 kinda way!

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By Mercedes Lackey, January 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm Link to this comment

Guess I had better order that lead bodysuit now.

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By heterochromatic, January 30, 2012 at 7:07 pm Link to this comment

Oceanna, it was indeed indelicately phrased, but it was
absolutely true….your assertion was without
foundation or merit.

sorry to have hurt your feelings, but please don’t
insult the truth.

good night, and I promise to be gentle with you in

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Oceanna's avatar

By Oceanna, January 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm Link to this comment


I didn’t like going to the trouble of dragging your communication from the
previous post over here, but then I don’t like liars continuing with their lies and
shams. You’re a pathetic shill.  Goodnight!


“entirely untrue, and you would be fucking hard-pressed to find anyone in any ?
position of authority in the US who has even suggested invading Iran.
you’re just pulling “invasion” from out yer ass”

Report this

By heterochromatic, January 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm Link to this comment

Oceanna, feel free to complain rather than to try to
respond to the point that you baldly state things as
truth without having any reality-based evidence that
they are truthful.

Perhaps if you were not quite so focused on
unreasonably smearing the people of the Obama

( “This shows an abysmal lack of concern by the Obama
administration for the
American health and safety…”)

you would avoid having someone say something as
horribly untoward about your comment as

” This is not good.”

I hope that you can overcome such viciousness.  Best
of luck and if you say anything really wonderful, I
promise to offer praise.

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Oceanna's avatar

By Oceanna, January 30, 2012 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment


You need to stop bothering me and trailing after my comments like this. 

You unleashed some rage and profanity at me earlier in NOTE TO IRAN: U.S.
ORDERS UP A SUPER BUNKER-BUSTER.  I reported it, though I hope it remains
because your comment there so clearly illustrates what a pitiful little man and shill
you are.

Report this

By heterochromatic, January 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm Link to this comment

Oceanna—-you’re again just making stuff up and then blaming the Obama
administration for what you’re imagining.

this is not so good.

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Oceanna's avatar

By Oceanna, January 30, 2012 at 10:03 am Link to this comment

So individuals who have gone through radiation treatment for cancer can be
subjected to radiation without their knowledge. Like in the TSA airport settings,
there most likely will be minimal to no monitoring of radiation levels, and the
individuals handling the equipment and procedures will be no more than high
school graduates without any of the medical training that’s usually required. 

This shows an abysmal lack of concern by the Obama administration for the
American health and safety, not to mention their most basic rights as citizens to
privacy and being informed.  Their concern and respect obviously lie with the
manufacturers along with the military and additional private complexes behind it.

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thecrow's avatar

By thecrow, January 30, 2012 at 5:34 am Link to this comment

“Although the 9/11 attacks provided the impetus and prompted the spending to develop such equipment, most of the machines have been deployed only in the last few years. New attacks and ever-tighter security measures have made law enforcement officials more willing to expose the public to X-ray devices that were once taboo.”

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By Okasis, January 29, 2012 at 6:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The last time my son and his wife returned from Mexico, where she has family, their truck was scanned with them in it. No one offered them a chance to opt out, btw.

The scanner picked up my son’s artificial hip; the ball is metal and gives airport screeners fits. Then he was ordered out of his truck and told about the x-ray, after the fact. Pity the poor security jerk, my kid’s as pleasant as I am when someone steps on his Constitutional Rights and Personal Safety.

Guess it was a good thing Obomber hadn’t signed the ‘We are ALL Terrorists’ Act, yet, or they’d have been taken off one list and put at the top of another…

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, January 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm Link to this comment

President Obama wants to expand military law to cover every citizen in this country. So
that every American can be teated as a potential terrorist. Just the same way we treat
Iraqi’s, and the citizens of Afghanistsn.  Remember he has already executed an
American citizen and his 16 year old son. NDAA gives president Obama the right to
arrest anyone and hold them secretly in foreign prisons. So how will we ever know when
some on has been taken?  Next they plan to put every local law enforcement agency
under the contol of home land security. The one percenters also plan to contol the
populations fertility with GMO’s, acess to medical knowledge, and acess to alternative
health care. Then the population will be winnowed, allowing only obediant workers to

They will be little mor than slaves to the one percenters. They view the people of this
country as their enemies. Because we are the only ones who can take power away from

Report this

By berniem, January 29, 2012 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

The police state cometh! FREE BRADLEY MANNING

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By The Stevester, January 29, 2012 at 11:18 am Link to this comment

The “safe” amount of radiation is a unicorn or chimera ie. it is a mythical animal. There is no such thing. Anyone trained to work in a radiological environment or with radiological materials operates with regulations that follow the ALARA principle: As Low As Reasonably Acheivable - what you CAN do to LIMIT exposure, you MUST do. Your employers MUST provide you with whatever protection is required for the task, ensure that Standard Operating Procedures for dealing with a given emitter are followed, and that you are BOTH trained in its handling and AWARE of the dangers inherent in doing so, with the ultimate goal of limiting exposure to the absolute minimum amount required. Lab workers and medical techs make an INFORMED decision that the risk they are undertaking is the only or best option for achieving their goal: getting a test result or performing a procedure, the benefits of which to society on a macro level or the patient at the micro level reasonably outweigh the risk they are undertaking. And they understand at some level that ALL EXPOSURES ARE CUMULATIVE. That is why there are things like TLD badges. When your badge says you’ve hit your limit, that’s it, no more working with this stuff. You have hit a point where the risk you assume is no longer reasonable. This does NOT mean you have passed some arbitrarily decided “safe” level of exposure. You passed that “safe” point the second you entered the lab or hospital and assumed the risk inherent with subjecting your body to anywhere from zero to five or ten mSv per year with the trade-off of helping society or a sick individual. When you get an X-Ray, you assume the risk of taking 50rems in the long term weighed in the INFORMED interest of solving an acute or chronic medical issue. Lab & medical workers are well paid to do what they do and well educated to do what they do. And their patients are informed of the risk.
    There is no analogy between this and having poorly educated, poorly trained, low paid personnel. irradiating masses of people with no tracking of their cumulative doses, no long term testing of the equipment used, in the interest of some amorphous concept like “security”. This needs to be called what it is: long-term, randomly targeted mass radiation exposure. At what point are your citizens going to realise those developing these types of devices, those profiting from their manufacture, and those who are collecting a paycheck operating them, are a DIRECT EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO YOUR SAFETY?

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they call me the working man's avatar

By they call me the working man, January 29, 2012 at 1:05 am Link to this comment

They have been scanning trucks a lot longer than this article says. God forbid they should radiate the “real people”. Philosophy is as useful to us now as a flyswatter.

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By Rod Lemay, January 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

...and to think that Obama recently said that one of his
priorities to improve the U.S. economy was to promote
tourism to the U.S…Sounds pretty delusional, doesn’t it?

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By Tuscany, January 28, 2012 at 5:42 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I wonder if all this added security in NYC is good for business.  I used to shop in NY when I lived in CT.  Under these circumstances I would no longer shop there.  Also, some companies may decide to move their headquarters out of the city.  It would serve Bloomberg right.

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By Peter Knopfler, January 28, 2012 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment


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