Elizabeth Fuller in the Christian Science Monitor runs down the history of the AIT scanner boondoggle:

The TSA received more stimulus funding than any other single agency, company, or organization: $1 billion for aviation security. Most of that money was allocated to screening checked baggage. But $266 million went toward improving checkpoints by acquiring five types of screening equipment: chemical analyzers; explosives detectors; bottled-liquid scanners (which should allow passengers to carry water and shampoo through security checkpoints); enhanced X-ray scanners for carry-on bags; and the AIT scanners.

In 2002, the DHS said that the five types of scanners would be operational by the end of 2009.  But as of June 2010, the GAO says that the TSA had not even begun to acquire the first four types.  The fifth, the AIT, had 7 machines up and running at the end of March.  A $25 million dose of stimulus funds pumped into the program in January rushed more into operation — there are 385 in use now, and 100 more are scheduled to be operational by December.

John Pistole, head of the TSA, used the December 2009 incident with the underwear bomber to justify the use of stimulus funds on the scanners.  But they still haven’t complied with the GAO’s October 2009 request for a cost-benefit analysis of the machines:

[W]hen the GAO asked the TSA in October 2009 to assess the effectiveness of scanning technologies in reducing the risk of terrorist attacks, the agency couldn’t provide a solid answer. “TSA officials … stated that they expect to develop a cost-benefit analysis and establish performance measures, but officials could not provide timeframes for their completion,” the GAO report said.  To date, the GAO still has not gotten an answer, said a GAO analyst.”

In an April 2010 report, the GAO says that there is no evidence the machines would have stopped the underwear bomber.

Further, the TSA has not published a Civil Liberties Impact Assessment (CLIA) on the enhanced patdown procedures, nor a Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA).

And according to scientists at the University of California at San Francisco, there has not been sufficient testing to evaluate the impact of the scanners on on pregnant women, old people, children and adolescents, as well as those at risk for breast cancer and HIV.

In short, they rushed these things into operation without any evidence that they actually work, or what the impact would be of their new heightened “security” measures.

Now, according to the 2011 Homeland Security appropriations request, Pistole wants  money for 500 more porno scanners.    The Homeland Security appropriations bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee in July 2011 has $5.67 billion for the TSA:

  • $360 million for the procurement of checkpoint security technologies, including $192 million for 503 additional AIT units (bringing the number of AIT machines purchased to 1,000); $39 million for 800 portable explosives trace detection units; and $6 million for the Airport Surveillance Program at checkpoints, which can be used for the purchase of security cameras for airport exit lanes.
  • $2.961 billion for Transportation Security Officers, including funds for an additional 5,355 TSOs to staff new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) units.

El-Al, which has the reputation of being the “safest airline in the world,” has screeners who are college graduates and are highly trained at spotting suspicious passenger behavior.  El Al security chief Isaac Yeffet says these scanners aren’t effective, and they don’t use them.

But instead of putting people to work with stimulus funds, John Pistole spent $25 million on these machines and created 1 job.  Now he wants to spend hundreds of millions more on questionable technology –  then pay thousands of people slightly more than minimum wage to staff the machines.

If your ultimate goal is to make airline travel safer, these decisions make no sense.