About a month ago, one of my colleagues was describing to me a forthcoming trip, when he paused and reflected, “I’m still not sure whether I want to be groped or zapped.” It is a question many Americans have contemplated in recent weeks, “groping,” of course, being the instantly-infamous “enhanced pat downs” airport travelers can opt for if they refuse a “zapping,” the new X-ray backscatter or millimeter-wave machines that provide TSA shockingly clear body images. Both types of machine are known as Advanced Imaging Technology [AIT].
A few days ago I traveled internationally and had some opportunities to experience these notorious new security measures. Because AIT, according to Congressional testimony by Columbia University biophysicist David Brenner, delivers radiation at a rate of “20 times the average dose that is typically quoted by TSA and throughout the industry,” I leaned toward being groped rather than zapped. The TSA has been lying about other things, after all, proclaiming that the AIT machines don’t record or store images when in fact they can and sometimes do.
Exhausted after entering customs in Detroit after a fourteen hour flight, however, I was in no mood to have my privates jostled, so I opted for a zapping. It seemed innocuous enough. I cleared my pockets, stood in the transparent cylinder, and raised my arms as the panels rotated and emitted a flash of light. Not even Aldous Huxley was imaginative enough to have predicted the scene. While I was in the cylinder awaiting the zap, I rolled my eyes at a skeptical woman who seconds earlier had flatly proclaimed to the agent, “I’m not getting in that thing.” She grinned at me, a favor I was able to return a minute later after I had gathered my belongings and passed her as she stood in an area designated for miscreants, a TSA agent’s hands down the back of her pants.