Say it Ain't So

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Prepare for a shock: the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lied.

That’s the bureaucracy pestering passengers in airports while the Underwear Bomber waltzes past checkpoints onto his plane and sets himself afire. No matter: the TSA turned that flaming failure into an excuse to clamor more loudly for "whole-body imagers," i.e., cameras that virtually strip-search us.

Though the TSA pretends these pornographic contraptions are its answer to explosive briefs, it’s actually been lusting after them for years — even as passengers vehemently objected to exposing themselves to government agents, especially ones armed with cameras. And so the TSA’s propagandists swore its imagers could neither store nor transmit pictures. Screeners may leer at your birthday suit for the "short 12 or 15 seconds" they scan you, but "the minute that the passenger walks in through the [imager] and is cleared, meaning they’re given a green light, that image is gone forever."

Ahem: not according to documents recently pried from the agency’s claws. The specs the TSA supplied to the machines’ manufacturers call for the capacity to both send and store images.

I know, I know: you’re terribly disillusioned. You thought the TSA’s selfless patriots protected you, not their own voyeurism. After all, they’re in that noblest of professions, public service; they’re from the government, and they’re here to help, not hoodwink. Sure, screeners and the agency’s assorted other miscreants become a bit coarse and cantankerous at times, even cruel, but only when we inmates disagree that they’re God.

Meanwhile, some serfs are foolish enough to question the TSA’s wisdom, skill, even its intentions. Among the heretics is EPIC, the Electronic Privacy Information Center. It refused to accept Our Rulers’ word that their perverted gadgets “have zero storage capability,” as the TSA’s website insists in at least three places and as its innumerable spokesfolks have assured the travelling public. Rather, EPIC’s skeptics actually prosecuted "a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit" to "[obtain] the technical specifications and vendor contracts" for the gizmos.

Sadly, those papers show the agency for a bold and brazen liar: "the TSA specifies that the body scanners it purchases must have the ability to store and send images when in u2018test mode.’" EPIC shared its findings with CNN, usually one of the government’s most reliable and loyal cheerleaders. And even CNN had to admit that the TSA may be "misleading the public," though the network quickly qualified this scandalous allegation by adding that it’s merely what "a privacy group says."

Anyone with a computer and common sense could have proved the TSA’s deception years ago by visiting the manufacturers’ websites: "storage capacity" is a benefit sales forces hype. (Or did. Rapiscan Systems’ website includes a page of “FAQ’s.” Number 10 is, “Can the Secure 1000 images be saved?” The answer is not only "yes" but "easily": “If saving images is enabled then the images acquired with the system can be saved on the system’s hard disk or transferred to floppy disk… The stored images can be recalled and viewed on the system monitor or on any IBM compatible personal computer with color graphics.” Intriguingly, “FAQ #10″ still appears in the list of questions, but the answer no longer does. Wonder whether Rapiscan’s multi-million-dollar contract with the TSA had anything to do with that deletion…)

Besides, the TSA’s claim of "zero storage capacity" is preposterous on its face. The agency’s fondness for falsehood often lands it in sticky situations where it tries (but fails) to discredit passengers with footage from cameras. To believe that it would pass up yet more visual ammunition against taxpayers betrays a fundamental, egregious, criminally nave ignorance of the TSA specifically and government in general.

Finally, there’s the agency’s notorious aversion to truth. Passengers have caught it in lie after lie, even if the corporate media can’t seem to.

So you might think any writer worth his ink would probe a bit when covering the TSA. But reporters are apparently too busy regurgitating the agency’s press releases to research their stories. So far as I know, not a single account anywhere in the mainstream media ever once questioned the TSA’s claim that its scanners can’t save our images. And though websites galore have picked up EPIC’s recent debunking of the "no-storage" claim, I have yet to discover any mainstream newspaper that has — though these pimps for Leviathan trumpet the TSA’s every belch about needing to ogle us naked.

Indeed, mainstream editors don’t take kindly to writers who reveal any aspect of the TSA’s duplicity. Last summer, when the TSA installed its X-rated X-rays at a few dozen airports nationwide, including Cleveland Hopkins International, I asked the city’s Plain Dealer if it wanted an editorial advising readers of the dangers since the TSA certainly wasn’t warning them.

Five days later, on August 4 at 5:11 PM, "the new editorial page editor," Elizabeth Sullivan, answered: "We’d be interested in considering a very brief op-ed (600 words if possible) on this subject if you are able to submit it by tomorrow afternoon. We do not pay for op-eds. Thanks."

Hmmm… I set to work anyway and actually beat her deadline, submitting the next morning.

But at 10 PM, while I frantically counted words and revised, one of the Plain Dealer’s columnists posted a piece on the same topic, albeit from the opposite perspective: "…The images are not porn…" wrote Connie Schultz, parroting the TSA’s fibs. "Anonymity is protected. Faces are blurred beyond recognition. The agents looking at the images aren’t the same ones waving passengers through. Agents cannot bring cell phones or cameras into the screening room… The Transportation Security Administration insists the images are not stored."

Ergo, Liz-Who-Doesn’t-Pay saw no reason to run my article, as she informed me a day later: it "largely parallels what [Connie] wrote for Wednesday’s paper. I’m sorry we won’t be able to use your piece."

You want to tick off a writer who’s beat a tight deadline, reject her effort without bothering to read it. Or so I assumed: no one who skimmed even my first paragraph could possibly equate my criticism and research with Connie’s obsequious ignorance. I pointed this out to Liz. I’m not crazy enough to suppose she’d run my article, but I do confess the modest ambition of shaming her into at least reading it: "Mine covers different ground, including the carcinogenic risks to backscatter, and offers reasons for distrusting the TSA’s propaganda."

Most mainstream editors are savvy enough to ignore a lowly freelancer, particularly one challenging their divine judgment. So I was surprised when Liz responded again: "To me it is just too similar."

Was the woman illiterate? "Ms. Sullivan," I fired back, "your columnist basically recycled the TSA’s talking points … Your readers recognized that Ms. Schultz did no research on her own, such as soliciting medical opinions on backscatter X-rays or analyzing data that shows how farcical the TSA’s u2018security’ is," as I had. "And they chastised Ms. Schultz for it — did you see their comments? In contrast, my piece counters the TSA’s lies with facts and statistics. I guarantee you that while you may not see much difference between the two columns, your readers certainly will."

To which she replied, "To be blunt, I found your column poorly sourced," — see what quoting the TSA gets you? — "full of generalizations and larded with accusations and sarcasm rather than facts. I’m not saying that there isn’t more to say on the subject." Oh, indeed. "Your column is not it."

The corporate media continues to hemorrhage not only readers but the advertisers who want to reach them. Executives moan and wring their hands and blame their woes on the internet’s immediacy, not its truthfulness and freedom. Wanna bet they never do figure it out?

Becky Akers [send her mail] writes primarily about the American Revolution.

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