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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 3)

A test system was installed at the San Ysidro border crossing in San Diego in 2008 and portals will soon be deployed in El Paso and Laredo, Texas, and elsewhere on the Southwest border, according to contract documents obtained by the privacy group EPIC.

The portals, made by AS&E, can scan cars and buses from the top and sides as their drivers pass through at 3 mph. 

The scanners’ X-rays have to penetrate metal and glass. But according to Customs and the company, the radiation dose is equivalent to an airport body scan.

The dose is low because Customs officers do not need as high a resolution to see bulk explosives or drugs as a TSA screener would need to see a tiny detonator or a razor blade, said Rez, the Arizona State physicist. He estimated the dose by analyzing the images with a computer program.


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The company says the portal is safe for everyday use. But Burke, the Customs spokeswoman, said it won’t be used on every driver crossing the border—only those who raise suspicion and require additional inspection. Passengers will be allowed to opt out and have a Customs officer drive it through the portal for them.

Ginger McCall, director of EPIC’s Open Government program, is skeptical.

“You know what else started out as a secondary screening mechanism?” she asked. “Airport backscatter machines. The TSA said ‘don’t worry’ to the American public. ‘These are only going to be used as secondary screening devices.’ And look how that turned out.”

“Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance”

There are now about 250 X-ray body scanners in airports nationwide. But government agencies are exploring additional uses for the technology.

In 2010, the military brought two TSA body scanners to the Pentagon visitors’ entrance, where they were tested by Defense Department staff. But plans were put on hold pending TSA testing of new privacy software that wouldn’t show an image of a person’s body.

“There’s now technology which makes it look like a cartoon figure,” said Chris Layman, spokesman for the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. “We wanted to make sure that if we did this, all the privacy concerns are taken care of.”

The Department of Homeland Security has funded research for walk-through X-ray body scanners that could be used at special events, and for long-range X-ray scanners to detect suicide bombers in crowds, according to documents obtained by EPIC.

Using similar backscatter technology, the walk-through scanner would speed up checks that now require people to stand with their hands over their heads while scanned. In tests of the long-distance scanner, according to contract documents, officials wanted to see whether it could identify people with metal and dense plastic from up to 30 feet away.

“Customers need a greater capability than what is currently available for detecting IEDs on people,” Homeland Security officials wrote in a statement of work for a technology dubbed the “Intelligent Pedestrian Surveillance Platform.” “This is especially relevant at high-volume public areas and entrances to important infrastructure.”

The radiation dose for such a scanner was listed in 2006 as 10 times higher than that of an airport scanner.

Intelligence released last summer that terrorist groups are considering implanting bombs in their bodies has raised concerns that the TSA would one day deploy X-ray scanners that can see into the body. In the past, the agency has declined to say whether it had ever considered the technology, known as “transmission X-rays.”

But other Homeland Security documents, also obtained by EPIC and provided to ProPublica, show that in 2010, Homeland Security’s science and technology division entered into an agreement with the FDA to test such technology.

“Transmission X-ray devices are being considered by DHS for passenger screening,” the statement of work says. “The proposed use of transmission methods for routine passenger screening may have significant health & safety implications and requires special study and evaluation.”

John Verrico, a spokesman for the department’s science and technology division, said the proposed tests never went forward and the discussion of transmission X-rays was ultimately removed from the final statement of work.

“Transmission X-ray systems have not been tested,” he said in an email. “Personnel have viewed vendors’ demonstrations at their locations to evaluate the maturity of the equipment and the state of the technology.”

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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


Report this

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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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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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.”

Report this

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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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

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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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