TSA Body Scanners: Do They Even Work?

Janet Napolitano
A sign stands in front of the first Advanced Imaging Technology unit at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 8 passenger security checkpoint on October 22, 2010 in the Queens borough of New York City. The new X-ray full-body scanners, which are optional, can see through clothing and will screen passengers for metallic and non-metallic threats including explosives.
Getty Images
A sign stands in front of the first Advanced Imaging Technology unit at John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 8 passenger security checkpoint. Getty Images

Updated: 5:01pm

TSA scanners are causing some pilots to revolt.

Privacy advocates fear they are intrusive and a group of doctors in San Francisco want the FDA to do an analysis of the radiation risk... but do the scanners even work?

It appears the Obama administration wants to keep that information classified.

Earlier this year at the request of Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) investigators from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) attempted to smuggle bomb making materials past the scanners at various airports around the country but when the report was released it was "classified."

"The Obama administration which is now responsible for keeping airline passengers safe doesn't want you to know the results of these tests," Senator Grassley said on the Senate floor in September.

Grassley says he asked the GAO to publish a declassified version of the report with results that did not include details of which airports were tested but the administration would not allow it to be de-classified. "Keeping the results secret will accomplish one thing, however, it will ensure the public has no idea how effective our airport screening strategy is ," Grassley said.

Another report on the scanners was done by the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security . Investigators tested the devices in eight airports using federal agents disguised as passengers to see if the items they had on their person were detected by the controversial whole body scanners.

A summary of the report was published in March 2010.

But good luck getting your hands on what they found.

The report notes: "The number of tests conducted, the names of the airports tested, and the quantitative and qualitative results of our testing are classified."

The Government Accountability Office has criticized TSA's internal testing of the machines. TSA is using $300 million in stimulus spending for the passenger screening program in addition to regular annual spending to install whole body scanners across the country. TSA has spent $42 billion on aviation security since 9/11.

But the agency's success has been mixed when it comes to introducing new technology. For example, TSA bought and deployed over 200 puffer machines made by GE and Smiths Detection. They constantly broke down and became choked with dust. TSA says it cost them over a million dollars just to bring them all back to DC headquarters.