Bachmann fears full-body scanners will result in ‘naked pictures’ on Internet

Transporation Security Administration staff members demonstrate the use of Millimeter Wave technology for passenger security screening.
REUTERS/Jason Reed
Transporation Security Administration staff members demonstrate the use of Millimeter Wave technology for passenger security screening.

WASHINGTON — Michele Bachmann won’t go through the full-body scanners at airports anymore, she said, because she’s concerned that “naked pictures” of herself will wind up on the Internet.

It wasn’t a response to a question I or another reporter asked, rather airport security was on the mind of one Iowan at a coffee shop in Des Moines, as Bachmann began her first swing through her home state as a presidential aspirant.

“Thank you for asking that question,” Bachmann concluded. “It’s one on everybody’s mind.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann
MinnPost/Raoul Benavides
Rep. Michele Bachmann

Indeed it is. Former Gov. Jesse Ventura filed a lawsuit against the Transportation Safety Administration’s “warrantless, non-suspicion-based offensive touching, gripping and rubbing of the genital and other sensitive areas of the body,” as he put it in the suit.

And citing numerous complaints about customer service, including reaction to those pat-downs, several major airports — Minneapolis-St. Paul, Charlotte, Orlando International, Washington Reagan, Washington Dulles and Orlando Sanford among them — announced they’d begin investigating a change — replacing federal TSA agents with private screeners.

Those investigations varied in intensity — MSP’s was just informal staff research at this point, while Orlando Sanford had already committed to a switch and expected to have private screeners in place later this year.

All of those reform efforts are on hold now, however, as TSA officials said they’ll block any airport’s request to remove the federal screeners until the agency can be satisfied that private screeners are better than its own.

Hearings coming
In the law that formed the TSA, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, an opt-out clause was inserted. Essentially, it allows airports who had TSA screeners to replace them with private contractors who are paid for and overseen by TSA.

Sixteen airports, including San Francisco and Kansas City, have opted out so far and the small Springfield-Branson airport in Missouri asked to be number 17. In a letter late Friday, that request was denied. It was followed by a memo to all TSA employees stating that the agency would not be approving any more opt-out applications.

“Shortly after beginning as TSA Administrator, I directed a full review of TSA policies with the goal of helping the agency evolve into a more agile, high-performing organization that can meet the security threats of today and the future,” TSA Administrator John Pistole said.

“As part of that review, I examined the contractor screening program and decided not to expand the program beyond the current 16 airports as I do not see any clear or substantial advantage to do so at this time. The airports that currently use contractor screening will continue to be regulated by TSA and required to meet our high security standards.”

The American Federation of Government Employees — the union that represents many of the TSA’s tens of thousands of screeners — hailed the move. “The nation is secure in the sense that the safety of our skies will not be left in the hands of the lowest-bidder contractor, as it was before 9/11,” said AFGE President John Gage.

Florida Republican Rep. John Mica, who replaced Jim Oberstar as head of the House Transportation Committee, blasted the decision and said he’d hold hearings into the decision.

“It’s unimaginable that TSA would suspend the most successfully performing passenger screening program we’ve had over the last decade,” Mica said in a blistering statement. “The agency should concentrate on cutting some of the more than 3,700 administrative personnel in Washington who concocted this decision, and reduce the army of TSA employees that has ballooned to more than 62,000.”

Mica initiated many of the airport reviews himself last year; sending a letter to the nation’s largest airports (including MSP) advising them that they could opt-out.

House Republicans say privately that part of the reasoning behind Pistole’s decision is an effort to keep unionized TSA officers employed. Most private contractors in airport security are non-union workers. TSA officials and opt-out opponents quietly note that Mica received more than $80,000 in the last campaign cycle in contributions from the companies that hope to provide private contractors to those airports.

However, if the House brings the issue up, some members will be agitating for more than just a simple enforcement of the opt-out provision.

Bachmann plan
Bachmann says she’d prefer U.S. airport security mimic Israeli airport security, which includes multiple face-to-face interviews with airport security and passengers and a form of profiling with extra attention paid to those whose behavior suggests they’re not just at the airport to catch a flight. Critics of that system say it’s a short slide down the slippery slope to racial profiling.

Rep. Collin Peterson, a licensed pilot, has called for changes to the TSA. In an interview last year, Peterson told me that much of what the TSA does is “for show.”

“It’s almost like we’re harassing passengers so they feel better,” he said.

Last session, the Democratic-led House passed a bill calling for advanced imaging scanners to not be used for primary screenings. It was supported by a majority of the Minnesota delegation.

However, it’s uncertain how the House’s new makeup would affect any similar legislation.

Privacy concerns linger
Key to Mica’s hearings will be concerns noted about customer service, especially allegations of inappropriate behavior and their subsequent disciplinary proceedings. Indeed, half the argument behind private contractors is that they can be fired and replaced with ease if they’re not acting appropriately at the security line.

But even private security screeners have to follow TSA guidelines, which means those full-body scanners would stay in use under private management. That’s why Bachmann and others are intent on full-scale reform.

TSA officials maintain that the crux of Bachmann’s complaint is impossible. “Naked pictures” of anyone couldn’t find their way online, because all file transfer abilities are disabled in their advanced imaging machines, including the ones at MSP.

However, her concerns that someone could be less than professional with sensitive scanning equipment have been echoed by several people who have filed complaints or lawsuits against TSA for inappropriate behavior in the screening area.

In December, former “Baywatch” star and Playboy model Donna D’Errico said she was picked to go through a body imaging scanner at Los Angeles International Airport so, she suspects, TSA agents could have a peek at her body (and not for security reasons).

D’Errico said the male agent who pulled her out of line “was smiling and whispering with two other agents and glancing at me.”

“This could, and I’m sure does, happen to other women,” D’Errico told the London Daily Mail. “It isn’t right to hide behind the veil of security and safety in order to take advantage of women, or even men for that matter, so that you can see them naked.”

A college student in Texas sued the TSA after a Corpus Christi airport officer pulled her blouse down during an enhanced pat-down search, exposing her breasts.

According to the suit, a copy of which was obtained by the Amarillo Globe-News, TSA agents laughed at the situation while the woman, humiliated, left the security area. After being consoled by a friend, returned to attempt once again to make her flight.

Then, according to her suit, “one male TSA employee expressed to the plaintiff that he wished he would have been there when she came through the first time and that ‘he would just have to watch the video.'”

And if Ventura has his way, Mica won’t have to worry about legislation to reverse TSA’s decision, because a court would throw most of the agency’s policies and procedures out the window as violations of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.

A TSA spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

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Comments (28)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/01/2011 - 11:10 am.

    My, what a fear-filled life these true-American conservatives lead.

    Remind me again who primarily pushed for the formation of the massive, unprecedented and intrusive “Homeland Security” apparatus?

    And as for basing what we do on the Israeli system, did you know Israeli citizens are required to carry identification and explain who they are and what they’re doing to police officers whenever asked? They can be summoned for questioning by police without reasonable suspicion of having committed a crime, and they can be arrested for refusing to be questioned. They are not allowed to have a lawyer present during questioning. Israelis can also be arrested and imprisoned without even knowing the charges against them, and without having any opportunity to face their accusers. When in trial, the accused in Israel do not have any right to a trial by a jury of their peers.

    Some people who really value freedom might think that questioning by authorities as to who you are traveling with, who you are going to see, why are you traveling, where are you traveling to, what is in your baggage, where you work, what are your political beliefs, what do you think of the current politics is also intrusive, and possibly more intrusive than a shadowy outline of your body on a video screen.

  2. Submitted by Eric Caron on 02/01/2011 - 11:12 am.

    Being concerned about the nudity risk before the health risk ( seems quite appropriate, when coming from Bachmann…

  3. Submitted by Barbara Miller on 02/01/2011 - 11:24 am.

    Could I just say…, actually I couldn’t. This woman renders me speechless. I wonder how the world looks to someone who believes they’re the center of the universe…..

  4. Submitted by Matt Eichenlaub on 02/01/2011 - 11:57 am.

    Wow, I agree with Representative Bachmann on an issue. That’s one in a row, folks. Say, what are her feelings on banana splits and fire works? Because if she likes those things we’ll have even more in common.

  5. Submitted by Tim Walker on 02/01/2011 - 12:17 pm.

    Neal (#1) I’ve been through Amsterdam’s Shipol Airport numerous times, and the security people there employ the same intensive, face-to-face interviewing procedure there.

    So, the MinnPost article could just have easily said “Dutch-style” security rather than “Israeli-style” security.

    My point is that this type of intelligent screening can, and does, happen without the baggage that the Israeli police state brings to it.

    Also, in Shipol, EVERY international passenger gets this treatment, so there is no racial profiling.

  6. Submitted by Molly MacGregor on 02/01/2011 - 12:23 pm.

    Good story, glad to see the info on the contributions from the private screening companies to Mica…now, if TSA exmployees are leering opportunities, why wouldn’t private screeners – who probably won’t be able to work fulltime, will earn less and won’t have benefits, be any better????

  7. Submitted by cheryl luger on 02/01/2011 - 12:35 pm.

    wondering if some objections to the full body scan result from fear of exposing aliens….not human ?
    certain humanoid ‘vital organs’ missing.

    suggestion for possible SNL ‘men in black’ skit ?

    only tuesday, and already it’s been a long week….waiting for the 1 pm timberwolves, mayor/council president press conference on target center $$$ rennovations.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/01/2011 - 01:04 pm.

    Tim (#3), I find it amusing that people who find walking through a passive scanner “intrusive” and a hand pat-down “outrageous” are willing to have “intensive, face-to-face interviewing” as a less privacy-invading form of security.

    There is irony there.

  9. Submitted by Tim Walker on 02/01/2011 - 02:14 pm.

    Neal (#9), I prefer the interviews, because they are based on established forensic principles, and they actually have a much higher probability of identifying a terrorist.

    The interviews are really very innocuous. If you are thinking of a Hollywood-style scenario with a suspect being interrogated under blazing lights by intimidating thugs … then think again.

  10. Submitted by Mark Stromseth on 02/01/2011 - 02:34 pm.

    “All of those reform efforts are on hold now, however, as TSA officials said they’ll block any airport’s request to remove the federal screeners until the agency can be satisfied that private screeners are better than its own.”

    Interesting. So TSA is saying they can give themselves authority to block an ability given to airports by Congress. That’s certainly new, and it’s yet another attempt by DHS and TSA to assert unconstitutional power they clearly do not have.

    Contrary to what TSA claims, images created by Whole Body Imaging are not just “outlines”; they are quite detailed, leaving nothing to the imagination. But if Bachmann is really so concerned about the possibility of naked pictures of her ending up on the Internet, then she and her ilk should have passed legislation to dismantle DHS completely; but they didn’t. They aren’t providing any security, except to their employees who haven’t found a single bomb, much less thwarted a terrorist attack. Because terrorism isn’t nearly as rampant as they want us to believe.

    Also, the claim that file transfer abilities have been disabled in these machines is demonstrably false, and it’s been proven in a number of different venues. If those abilities were not intended for use, then there would be no point in having them, but the TSA specifically required those abilities for any supplier. It’s true it can be turned off by the service technician, but since there’s no indication to the operator of it being on or off, it’s quite easy to turn it on, capture images, and return later to transfer the files out of the system, without anyone being aware of it.

    If Republicans really want to do everyone a favor, they’ll dismantle DHS and TSA immediately and stop pouring hundreds of billions of dollars down the drain, in search of absolute security where none exists.

  11. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 02/01/2011 - 02:36 pm.

    This is why Michelle Bachmann shouldn’t be on the House Intelligence Committee.

    I can’t believe anyone is seriously considering replacing TSA people with private security company people! In my better-traveled days, I recall such workers; some were as confidence-inspiring as the security people at many a retail-store door. (No, not all are people who evidently can’t qualify for other work. Now, many an intelligent but otherwise employed person is wearing a security company uniform.) Many seemed quite indifferent to their work, inattentive and imprecise about doing it, and not very capable of dealing with anything unusual.

    I was relieved when the TSA people took over the work. Suddenly we had federal employees dressed and acting like professionals.

    Why would anyone want to go backwards?

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/01/2011 - 02:43 pm.

    Bachmann’s vanity is showing — the only part of her anatomy that attracts attention is her mouth. Maybe she’s afraid that a scan will reveal the vacuum between her ears.

    More seriously, I always get patted down since I have artificial hips that make the sensors scream.
    I’ve always been impressed by the professionalism of the TSA screeners; invariably they explain to me exactly what they’re going to do before they do it. Since the underwear bomber, if you’re going to do a pat down it must be intrusive.
    I’m sure that there are some abuses; their are bad apples in any profession, and one tenth of one percent of passengers having bad experiences would be about a hundred a day; generating plenty of publicity.

    I agree with Rep. Peterson that screening may be more to assure the public that something is being done than any real effectiveness, but if you’re going to do it ….

    It’s been a while since I’ve been through Schiphol so I don’t know what their procedure is like now, but I doubt it’s as time consuming as the Israeli ones. Israel has only one international airport, so they don’t worry about delays as much as security. Imagine the uproar if security lines at US airports took two hours!

  13. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/01/2011 - 03:23 pm.


    I’m confused. You first describe the security interviews as “intensive, face-to-face interviewing” and then as “very innocuous”. Aren’t those descriptions mutually exclusive?

  14. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 02/01/2011 - 03:23 pm.

    Israeli “police state?” Tim, you should visit Israel.

    It’s as much a police state as is Minneapolis or Hopkins. Yes, you’ll see a lot of soldiers around, especially on Fridays and Sundays. Most of them are kids riding public buses to and from home for the weekend (it’s a very small country — St. Louis County is 7/8ths Israel’s size), their rifle magazines empty.

    Neal Rovick: Israel has been under attack by terrorists or armies for the last 62.75 years. Maybe there’s a reason its police sometimes ask questions. (People don’t gun down many bus passengers or blow up many pizza parlors in Hopkins.) I’ve been there six times and only once been asked by police for my passport, and that’s because I was taking photographs in the direction of a radar site. They didn’t speak English, I didn’t speak Hebrew, and after a look at my passport, they realized I was just another tourist, said goodby and drove off.

  15. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/01/2011 - 03:44 pm.

    Neal Gendler, I like the way you spell your name the correct way!

    My point is that the major push in the US is to do things in an increasingly repressive manner in the name of security, where 10 years it would have been unthinkable to have the amount of unwarranted government intrusion in our lives as is present now–most ironically pushed to a great degree by those parties that say that “government is the problem”. There is little or no evidence that those measures have made us more secure. Israel’s security procedures and judicial methods would be unconstitutional in the US, at least for now.

  16. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 02/01/2011 - 04:35 pm.

    Neal (#1) —

    I might add that Israel has only one major international airport, while the US has perhaps dozens, as well as hundreds of smaller airports.

    If Ms. Bachmann thinks the TSA employs too many people now, I’d guess hiring enough highly trained interviewers to cover US airports would really make her cringe.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/01/2011 - 04:54 pm.

    Neal G.

    Your view of the Israeli police state might be a little different if you were a Palestinian instead of a tourist.

  18. Submitted by Bruce Alter on 02/01/2011 - 06:53 pm.

    Rep. Bachmann says she’d prefer U.S. airport security mimic Israeli airport security.

    For airport security, Israel spends around 10 times more per passenger than the United States does. El Al’s security bill is $100 million a year, which amounts to $76.92 per trip by its 1.3 million passengers. Half is paid by the Israeli government. In 2008, the United States spent $5.74 billion to monitor and protect 735,297,000 enplanements, or around $7.80 a passenger.

    So, Rep. Bachman is suggesting an increase from $5.74 billion to about $57.40 billion. Not a very Tea Party friendly suggestion.

  19. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 02/01/2011 - 08:36 pm.

    #19 And what has been the total cost of the 9/11 highjackings so far (which didn’t happen in Israel)? As the local police say about conceal/carry laws, if it saves even one life it is worth the cost.

  20. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/01/2011 - 10:23 pm.

    Yeah, modesty seems to only be a virtue to conservatives.

    The TSA is the poster child for kind of big, intrusive government that liberals love.

  21. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/02/2011 - 07:48 am.

    (@#20)….if it saves even one life it is worth the cost….

    I guess that language means that you support full access to health care for all, regardless of ability to pay.


    ….modesty seems to only be a virtue to conservatives…

    That’s part of the problem with conservatives, the concern with appearance as opposed to substance. There are far more privacy-invading concerns than that of a hazy picture of some pretty unidentifiable outline. Perhaps #21 is the type of person who would drape the classical statues of Rome and Greece with robes also to defend modesty.

    ….TSA is the poster child for kind of big, intrusive government….

    Absolutely true, but who rammed through the TSA and Patriot Act? The Bush/Cheney administration, of course. The GOP, as evidenced by Bachmann’s comments will do anything in their fear-driven campaign, infringing further into the private lives and rights of Americans.

  22. Submitted by John Olson on 02/02/2011 - 07:56 am.

    Just a reminder: TSA was created during the Bush 43 administration after 9/11 with wide bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The Republicans controlled the House and the Senate was essentially split 50/50.

    A phrase that has been used a few times goes that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

  23. Submitted by Eric Glenne on 02/02/2011 - 07:58 am.

    Okay, am I the only one who thinks that “Bachmann fears full-body scanners will result in ‘naked pictures’ on Internet” is the funniest headline I’ve read in weeks?

  24. Submitted by Eric Glenne on 02/02/2011 - 07:59 am.

    Nope. Guess not. Danie Watson got it.

  25. Submitted by Sherry Gunelson on 02/03/2011 - 09:48 am.

    Bachmann fears – a lot. Perhaps a lesson in that alone.

  26. Submitted by William Pappas on 02/04/2011 - 07:27 am.

    Good for the TSA for not caving in to the political grandstanding of Bachmann and other anti-government types that find annoying but necessary airport security measures an easy political mark. Shortly after 9/11 the United States realized its privatized security at airports was absurdly unprofessional and entirely ineffective. Remember that those private workers were mostly immigrants, could barely speak English and were paid minimum wage: not exactly confidence inspiring after the events of 9/11. Now, security is staffed with professional, well paid TSA employees who take their job seriously and are well funded by the government, a fact that makes me, a frequent flier, much more comfortable and secure carrying out my job. I could care less what the scanner image may be but the overriding concern should be the amount of radiation frequent fliers are receiving. I get scanned in the tube (as opposed to the metal detector) about half the time I fly. That worries me a bit. That is where regulation and research should focus. It’s hard to believe that Bachmann and conservatives, who profess to be the experts on terrorism, used it for seven years durring the Bush administration as a political football while creating a gargantuan bureaucracy (Homeland Security) to make us feel safe are now comlaining that our measures are too tight.

  27. Submitted by David Willard on 02/04/2011 - 06:22 pm.

    I love how The Left is afraid of a five foot tall Minnesota woman. It is too funny.

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