TSA’s Naked Scanners Headed to Afghanistan

(WIRED)   Naked scanners, the controversial imaging devices used by the Transportation Security Administration to look for hidden weapons at airports, are making their way to Afghanistan. The Army announced late Wednesday that they’ll buy $248 million worth of vehicle and personnel scanners from a range of different vendors for use on its bases in Afghanistan.

One of the systems the Army is set to purchase is the Secure 1000 personnel scanner. You might know it by its other use as one of the TSA’s get-naked scanners.

The Secure 1000 works by sending an X-ray beam at its test subject and observing how the X-ray photons are scattered back (hence the term “backscatter” technology).

Organic material — like your body — shows up pretty well on backscatter devices because elements with low atomic numbers powerfully scatter X-ray photons. That produces an image of the scanned subject with any concealed items plainly visible.

The TSA uses a privacy algorithm to obscure passengers’ faces and junk — and that resolution is often dialed down further in countries where the modesty is of a particular concern.

Still, if the image is too fuzzy, it’s not much of a weapons-detector. For the system to work, you’ve got to be more or less naked.

The Secure 1000 scanners will be used to create “integrated entry control points” at U.S. military facilities in Afghanistan, Rapiscan executive vice president Peter Kant tells Danger Room. The goal is to create a system of systems for different scanning technologies to peek into vehicles, cargo and people making their way through military entry points.

In addition to the Secure 1000, the Army will buy some of Rapiscan’s Eagle vehicle- and cargo-inspection scanners. The Eagle scanners, Kant says, use high energy X-rays to peer through trucks, cars and containers to hunt for bombs and contraband and are used by the U.S. and U.K. customs services.

The Army’s $248 million contract includes seven different vendors, so the Army will buy products from Raytheon, Smiths Detection, Alutiq, American Science and Engineering and others, in addition to Rapiscan’s scanners. The contract is set to be complete in August 2014, another reminder thatAmerica’s bases in Afghanistan might not be going away anytime soon.

The TSA’s naked scanners prompted a fair amount of controversy when they were introduced nationwide last fall. Privacy advocates said the devices amounted to a “digital strip search.”

It’s worth wondering whether they’ll provoke a similar outcry in Afghanistan. There’s no reason to think posing for nude photos — even extra-blurry ones — might go down any better with Afghans than it has with Americans. It might even be more controversial, particularly given that Afghans will be getting their snapshots taken by foreign troops.


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