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Confessions of an airport security worker


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Staff would make fun of images from full-body scanners and target passengers from 12 countries, a former US airport security worker has alleged

By Oliver Smith11:34AM GMT 05 Feb 2014

A former US airport security worker has confirmed the suspicions of many fliers by admitting that staff will often laugh and gawk at the images of naked passengers that appear on full body scanners.

In a candid confession for the website Politico, Jason Harrington, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officer from 2007 until 2013, also alleged that passengers were until 2010 profiled based on their nationality, and said that he and fellow staff accept that many measures are unnecessary and ineffective.

The [full-body scanners] were good at detecting just about everything besides cleverly hidden explosives and guns, wrote Mr Harrington. Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women whod had mastectomies were easy to discern their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixellated regions.

Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred posesmouths agape, à la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.

He went on to explain that technological changes eventually made the images less revealing, and discusses how in March 2012 a blogger named Jonathan Corbett demonstrated in a YouTube video how the scanners could not detect metal objects, such as a gun.

Another issue Mr Harrington looks at was the confiscation of seemingly innocuous items from passengers, and intimate pat-downs.

I hated it from the beginning, he said. It was a job that had me patting down the crotches of children, the elderly and even infants as part of the post-9/11 airport security show. I confiscated jars of homemade apple butter on the pretence that they could pose threats to national security. I was even required to confiscate nail clippers from airline pilots the implied logic being that pilots could use the nail clippers to hijack the very planes they were flying.

Once, in 2008, I had to confiscate a bottle of alcohol from a group of Marines coming home from Afghanistan. It was celebration champagne intended for one of the men in the groupa young, decorated soldier. He was in a wheelchair, both legs lost to an I.E.D., and it fell to me to tell this kid who would never walk again that his homecoming champagne had to be taken away in the name of national security.

Mr Harrington who is writing a book about his experiences, and who also writes a blog called Taking Sense Away later alleged on Twitter that airport employees would often drink those bottles of alcohol you surrender at the checkpoint.

He also confirmed that passengers from 12 nations Syria, Algeria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and North Korea were, until 2010, automatically given enhanced screening, meaning they were pulled aside for full-body pat-downs and had their luggage examined with a fine-toothed comb.

Each day I had to look into the eyes of passengers in niqabs and thawbs undergoing full-body pat-downs, having been guilty of nothing besides holding passports from the wrong nations, he added.

The TSA has issued a statement following Mr Harrington's confessions.

Many of the TSA procedures and policies referenced in a recent opinion piece are no longer in place or are characterised inaccurately, it says. "TSA has installed Automated Target Recognition software on every Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) unit in use, eliminating the analysed images references in the article." As of last summer, there were more than 700 AIT scanners in use at 165 US airports.

It added: Every passenger deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and Transportation Security Administration policy upholds this standard. TSA does not tolerate any form of unethical or unlawful behaviour by its employees and takes swift disciplinary action if discovered.

Nigel Richardson examined the issue of airport security in Britain for Telegraph Travel last year, and found that many readers and experts are beginning to question the effectiveness of the measures in place.

Im not sure airport security has ever stopped anybody from doing anything, anywhere, said Chris Yates, a respected consultant on international security issues.

Some of the measures imposed upon travellers such as the (thankfully withdrawn) ban on some sharp objects and the on/off requirement to remove shoes and belts could be fairly described as being there for the sake of public relations. These and other such measures serve no purpose other than to increase the workload of already hard-pressed security personnel, create confusion among passengers and perpetuate a climate of fear.

A subsequent poll of more than 3,000 readers found that 84 per cent believed airport security measures had "gone too far", and did not make them feel any safer.

Edited by nanana1
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