Airport Body Scanners Catch Drugs, Not Explosives; 80-Plus People Hid Illegal Items Nationwide This Year, TSA Says
The electronic strip-shows being installed at airports around the country haven't helped catch any terrorists, bombs or guns.
Yet body scanners are paying off for local law enforcement: The high-tech machines excel at detecting tiny packets of illegal drugs hidden on a person's body or in a pocket.
Since the scanners went operational earlier this year, the machines tipped off authorities to more than 80 people who were trying to smuggle drugs -- or sometimes weapons -- through airport security, Dwayne Baird of the Transportation Security Administration tells New Times.
One of the machines was installed at Sky Harbor's Terminal 4 in June, and more machines are likely coming.
Baird didn't know how many of the 80-plus cases -- if any -- were from Phoenix.
Phoenix police did not have additional information on the new way of catching hidden drugs, saying that if the new scanner resulted in any busts, they'd be mixed in with all the other airport drug cases.
TSA policy dictates that security personnel call local law enforcement when they find any kind of illegal drug on a passenger, Baird says.
The statistic provided by Baird seems to indicate a slowdown in the number of drug cases turning up due to body scanners. When CNN covered the same issue back in April, TSA stated there were 60 cases of illegal items hidden on folks. With only 20 or so more cases since then, it would seem many high fliers have figured out how to beat the system -- or just left their goodies at home.
Ostensibly, no one should be forced to step into a body scanner. Some people are worried about more than privacy concerns -- they're worried about the safety of the machines, as a recent New York Times article detailed. As the article explained, the scanner is supposed to be optional, with passengers able to choose an "intimate" pat-down instead. However, some travelers report that TSA personnel basically ordered them into a scanner.
The funny thing is, the scanners reportedly can't detect certain explosives or items hidden in someone's body cavities. Terrorists and hard-core drug smugglers with size 11 colons still have little to worry about.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.