Ex-TSA Screener: Yes, America, We Saw You Naked and Laughed

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“In defense of the T.S.A., it is on the right track in at least one area: a behavior detection program. Of course, Israel is the paragon of effective airline security, and the adoption of some of its techniques is one of the smartest things that the T.S.A. has done,” wrote former Transportation Security Administration officer Jason Harrington in a January 2010 letter to the editor published in the New York Times. At the time, Harrington was a three-year veteran of the government agency.

The letter came just days after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate 80 grams of highly explosive powder hidden in his underwear while onboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on December 25, 2009. In what Harrington described as “a masterpiece of post-9/11 tragicomedy,” passengers tackled and restrained Abdulmutallab for the remainder of the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

In the end, he burned himself. However, to the TSA, the incident was a “near-miss” and proof that aviation security needed full-body scanners in every U.S. airport. Previously, there were only 40 full-body scanners in use as part of a pilot program at 19 airports in the United States. The decision to make the scanner a ubiquitous part of American airports caused an uproar in the U.S.; it prompted concerns that the detailed and realistic images of people’s naked bodies that the machines were capable of producing would be used inappropriately.

As Harrington went on to describe in a January piece for Politico, his co-workers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport habitually made fun travelers’ bodies when revealed by the full body scanners. “Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues,” he wrote in an article titles “Dear America, I Saw You Naked: And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.”

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