Backscatter scanners, aggressive pat-downs give us a false sense of security when the terrorists have already won by making us afraid

Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

As a gay man, I have been groped before. In fact, it used to be hard to get a drink in a gay bar without getting a few “friendly contacts.”

Was it welcome? Not always. Did I feel violated? Not really; it came with the territory.

So that said, how would I feel about being groped by a blue-gloved Transportation Security agent? Violated!

First and foremost, the new security procedures being added to current screenings are ineffective. Recently, a German TV show demonstrated clearly how the exact chemicals used in the infamous “underwear bomb” could be walked through the full-body scanners without detection.

Additionally, the whole “three bottles with no more than three ounces in a plastic bag” ruse does nothing to prevent high-powered explosive components from being brought through screening. That same TV segment showed how these passed right through the scanner and X-ray with no notice.

Three bottles of three ounces of chemicals were plenty to create a roaring incendiary bomb with sufficient heat to burn through the metal fry pan holding it.

The whole security screening is more for us than for security. It makes us feel like the TSA and the government are doing something to protect us. It is more theater than security — and now it’s getting really personal.

The companies that make the scanners have sold the TSA and the government the bill of goods that these invasive X-ray machines are foolproof. They aren’t.

They also have tried to convince us that they are not an invasion of privacy. Well, they are, Blanche; they are.

We have been told the image of your naked body is being viewed by some anonymous person upstairs at the airport who supposedly will not share the image with anyone. Gizmodo, a high-tech online site, already obtained more than 100 images stored improperly by U.S. marshals in Orlando. Perhaps they would make nice greeting cards?

We have been told the scanners pose no health threat. However, if you travel frequently or are part of an airline crew, you get exposed to the radiation from these scanners over and over — and the jury is out on that.

Back in April, faculty members at the University of California, San Francisco, sent a letter expressing their concerns about possible health risks related to the backscatter X-ray scanners to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

So if you opt for a “pat down” from a TSA agent, which is your right if you decide you don’t want to go through the scanner, you get a not-so-delicate, full-body grope, sans happy ending. That’s where I get back to the whole violated thing.

Standard procedure is male agents pat down men and female agents pat down women. What about gay men and lesbians? Do we get a choice?

And even more to the point, what about someone who is transgender? It really gets difficult and becomes a clear invasion of privacy when you have to explain that the agent might not find the same anatomy they are expecting to find.

Again it’s an indignity, and just plain unnecessary.

I know we all want to be safe when flying, but if our line of defense is a group of poorly trained and underpaid folks wearing plastic gloves, we are already on shaky ground. According to many security experts, if the terrorists get to the airport, it’s too late anyway.

So speaking of terrorists, I feel pretty sure I will get a lot of flack from people asking me if I “want the terrorists to win?” Well, here is the stark truth: They already have won.

Their intent is not so much killing and destruction but terror. Look at our laws and how a small group of radicals managed to scare us into passing the Patriot Act and dozens of other measures that supposedly provide security at the expense of freedom.

Even the dastardly crime of 9/11, though it was spectacular, was far less deadly than the yearly total of deaths of innocent Americans through automobile accidents. Yet we have no “war on driving,” or even common sense safety reform for cars and roadways.

Why? Because that doesn’t terrify us. We falsely believe that we are safe in our cars and on our roadways, but get cold sweats every time we board a plane.
If that isn’t a triumph for the terrorists I don’t know what is.

Do I believe we should have no security at all? No, absolutely we should. But it should be balanced with our fundamental right to not be photographed in the nude or groped in the airport.

It’s time we stopped letting equipment manufacturers guide our security precautions and start actually weighing the risks and evaluating the practical measures that can reduce them.

If you actually believe these invasive searches are needed, why not just go the “full monty” and issue bathrobes to all passengers? Then we and we can all fly naked.

Oh yes, and then there is that whole cavity search thing. Now that might actually make flying fun again!

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.