Rebel of the Week: Jonathan Corbett, the blogger whose viral video exposed the loophole in the TSA’s body scannersMarch 14th, 2012
Talk about guts! I’ll be keeping my eye out to see if Jonathan Corbett ends up on the no-fly list sometime soon. The American engineer and blogger (his blog is TSA Out of Our Pants!) released a video on YouTube last week entitled “How To Get Anything Through TSA Nude Body Scanners.” In it, he exposes a critical flaw in the TSA’s $1 billion fleet of controversial “nude body scanners” as they are called by their critics (note that I’ll be calling them “nude body scanners” throughout the rest of this post).
Apparently, the nude body scanner loophole is a very simple, almost stunningly obvious one: its imaging method displays black threat objects against the light body of the subject in order to reveal them, but the subject’s light body is displayed against a black background, meaning that if a threat object is concealed in loose clothing and held away from the body instead of against it (a task made even easier by the pose that the TSA requires travelers to take as they stand in the nude body scanners), the black threat object will simply blend into the black background and the TSA will not detect it. Boom! $1 billion worth of equipment rendered instantly useless by a critical design flaw exposed by a blogger– just another citizen like you or me.
And Corbett didn’t merely postulate this flaw, he demonstrates it in the video, and gets a metal (non)threat object through the nude body scanners twice at two different airports– all on video. He also says on his blog that he’s filed a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy of the security video showing him going through the scanners, which he says “should fairly conclusively show that the object travelled [sic] through the scanners with me.”
In a predictably lame response, the TSA’s official blog derided the “crude attempt to allegedly show how to circumvent TSA screening procedures.” The rest of the post is very carefully worded in typical political-speak to sing the praises of the TSA’s nude body scanners while not addressing Corbett’s actual claim at all (because “For obvious security reasons, we can’t discuss our technology’s detection capability in detail”). Yeah, for obvious job security reasons. Because Congress would axe your budget so fast if you admitted to the American public what an incompetent waste of taxpayer dollars your agency is. If Corbett was demonstrably wrong, the TSA wouldn’t hesitate to say so. Because they didn’t, we can only assume that he’s right.
One guy with a blog, a curious intellect, and a video camera just made the entire United States safer on a budget of probably less than $1000. Meanwhile, he exposed the corruption of the police state-industrial complex that made someone rich selling these phony nude scanners, and he embarrassed the farce that is the TSA, which has as of this writing failed to foil a single terrorist plot despite its multi-billion dollar budget and ten year existence making the lives of travelers everywhere miserable. For such a creative, helpful, and daring caper, Jonathan, you are this week’s Silver Circle Rebel of the Week!
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