Earlier this week Jonathan Corbett, creator of the TSA Out Of Our Pants blog, posted a video entitled How To Get Anything Through TSA Nude Body Scanners. In Mr. Corbett’s video he show images from Rapiscan Secure 1000 Backscatter scanners and then describes how items placed along the side of a person would appear dark, blending into the background and be undetected by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Transportation Security Officers (TSO).
Since the TSA’s implementation of AIT scanners it has known about the possibility of items blending in with the ‘x-ray’ image produced by the Rapiscan Secure 1000 Backscatter scanners. Initially security experts within the TSA has wanted protocol to be that each passenger be screened in two directions, allowing TSOs to view all angles of the passenger. The procedure of screening each passenger from two angles was never implemented due to the amount of time it would take to screen each passenger. Time and practicality gave way to an effective use of the Rapiscan Backscatter scanners.
In practical applications, items that can be concealed in the Rapiscan Secure 1000 backscatter scanner generally pose minimal threat to security, especially because these items need to be thin and present the same ‘shade of black’ as the image background. Yes, a long knife can be hidden down the side of a shirt, but it would be far easier to conceal a long knife inside a piece of baggage, or use a hardened and lethal non-metal blade. Should the blade of a knife be turned more than 1º off its parallel axis creating a different shade of black it would be detected. Smuggling a bomb through an AIT scanner inside a hidden jacket is impractical, as a bomb requires the explosive agent and detonator. There are far more effective ways to evade TSA scanners than to place a bomb within a hidden side pocket. Try concealing a gun through an AIT scanner and the shape and width of the gun would be revealed when a person raised their hands over their head, not to mention its profile would be detectable with a pattern, even a minimal pattern, appearing against the black screen background.
Should a passenger turn slightly off their center axis in any direction, or the hidden item touches the passenger’s side directly, whatever they are smuggling would be detected if it didn’t present a different shade of black against the background.
There are other factors that need to be taken into account when looking at the effectiveness of TSA AIT scanners. Referring to these scanners as “nude-o-scopes’ is in fact a misnomer. While Rapiscan backscatter scanners show an x-ray image, the TSA’s L3 Communications ProVision Millimeterwave scanners is not an x-ray system, they are based on millimeter wave technology and do not show a physical image of a person being scanned.
Back in February 2011 the TSA and L3 began rolling out the ProVision ATD millimeterwave software, a version of AIT scanning software that had been in place in Amsterdam’s Schiphol International Airport for roughly 18 months prior to the TSA’s integration. L3 Communication’s ProVision ATD software does not show a physical image of the person being scanned, rather it shows “ginger bread cookie” outline and displays a yellow block marker over any detected object on the person. Any object hidden within a person’s clothing would be detected by the L3 Systems ProVision ATD millimeterwave software and shown as a yellow marker, triggering a pat down of the traveler.
With the TSA using both the Rapiscan Secure 1000 and L3 Communications ProVision ATD scanners at airports throughout the United States a passenger would need to know exactly which scanners were installed at each checkpoint, and in some airports determine when each scanner was in use to ensure they ended up in a line with a Rapiscan scanner rather than an L3 Communications scanner or walk through metal detector. With all of this planning, it is far easy to smuggle contraband items through TSA checkpoints in other ways … because what happens when you step through the Rapiscan Secure 1000 with your smuggled item then get selected for a pat down?
Below is an x-ray image from the Rapiscan Secure 1000 and an image from the L3 ProVision ATD.