SECURITY Technology

Scan tech for ancient paintings at may be the cure for the TSA junk shot

Imagine a world in which your naughty bits are treated with the same loving care by TSA as are the ancient works of the great masters of our species’ art. That world may be coming soon, if tetrahertz scanning technology becomes mainstream.

Tetrahertz spectroscopy uses energetic waves somewhere between the infrared waves your remote control uses and the microwaves you use to cook up your leftover garbage plates. It has the uncanny ability to discern the structures and shapes of materials below the visible surface in a non-destructive fashion.

X-rays, by contrast, would never be used to scan the subsurface of ancient works, because it would be too destructive. But no one at the TSA has any problem aiming a dose straight at the old John Thomas if they think you’ve got a literal rocket in your pocket. And broadcast the resulting nudie pics to some perv behind a desk, no less.

Newly published research, funded by the Department of Homeland Security, aims to eliminate this problem – and direct scanning of passengers, altogether – by using tetrahertz technology to scan the whole room at once:

Researchers now report in ACS’ The Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters a more precise and direct method for using that “terahertz” (THz) technology to detect explosives from greater distances. The advance could ultimately lead to detectors that survey a wider area of an airport without the need for full-body scanners.

So instead of making you stand for a quick porn shot, of which they never have the decency of sending you a few glossies anyway, you can now walk unimpeded through the airport safe in the knowledge that a scanner is looking for bombs everywhere. Of course, that also means that instead of per-person dick pics, you’ve got a whole room full of naked people.

But there’s safety in numbers, right?

Journalism Politics Rochester

Terror at the post office: local reporting raises more questions than it answers

As a story, the recent news about the Orlando postal worker, now resting in Irondequoit, who fell ill after handling a suspicious package has a little bit of everything: a deathly ill man; a caring mother; a government cover up; a terror angle. It’s an incredible tale. Someone, somewhere is cutting a check for a made-for-TV movie.

You very much want to believe “The Jeff Lill Story.” And so do I. What man-fighting-massive-bureaucracy-in-search-of-the-truth story wouldn’t I want to believe? None of them, never. But therein lies in the rub, because I think there’s reason for caution on the story, the movie, everything.

The story appears to be contradicted, or at least not fully supported, by the documentary evidence made available so far.

Considering the source…

To review, the story claims that Jeffrey A. Lill, a postal worker, handled a broken package from Yemen. Spilling out from the package were wires and tubes, which dripped a syrupy brown liquid that burned Lill’s arms, nose and throat and later made him very ill, causing organ failure and memory lapses.

Reporters at the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting (FCIR) and a journalism school grant program at the University of California-Berkeley dug into his claim and wrote the account most people read this weekend. It was distributed everywhere by the Associated Press and published locally by the Democrat and Chronicle.

D&C staff wrote a separate short feature on the postal worker’s mother, and they apparently edited the story, but didn’t report it. Neither did the hundreds of other media outlets which published the AP’s version this weekend. Some outlets, including Reuters and WHEC, have begun to publish independent reports, but they mostly rely on Lill.

.. and the story…

To back up his claim, the original story relies on an email from Lill to his boss on the eve of the Feb. 4, 2011, incident.

But there is no suspicious package from Yemen in Lill’s email. He mentions only a strong odor, and describes his response to it this way: “I immediately cleared the area of employees (sent to breakroom) and took the gpc [general purpose container] of empty sacks outside to the Haz-Mat shed.”

No Yemen, no tubes, no oozing brown liquid, no nothing. The sacks are described as empty.

Now, it’s possible that Lill saw all those things but simply didn’t mention it in that particular email. And left untouched are the two whistleblowing employees the reporters say they confirmed the story with. But exactly which parts of the story those employees were able to confirm suddenly becomes very important.

One of them, Paz Oquendo, is described in Lill’s email as reporting the suspicious odor to Lill. She’s also quoted in the story, saying the odor was unbearable. But did she see the package from Yemen? Did the other whistleblowing postal worker? The story doesn’t make that clear.

In addition to calling the Yemen angle into question, the evidence also conflicts with other elements of the story.

The story says that the “USPS briefly stopped accepting mail from” Yemen after an October 2010 bomb scare, but the Postal Service’s website and a spokesperson said today that service from Yemen was never restored. It would have still been suspended at the time Lill says he encountered the package. Whether a package from Yemen containing wires and tubes would have likely made it to Lill’s sorting facility remains an open question.

The story also repeatedly calls on the Postal Service to investigate the incident, and hammers in that there hasn’t been an investigation. But a letter(PDF) from the service’s lawyers to local congresswoman Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, published by the D&C with the story, says that there was a thorough investigation that found Lill’s claims to be unsubstantiated.

Perhaps the authors didn’t consider the Postal Service’s investigation to merit the name investigation, but it’s odd that they don’t address that.

It doesn’t help the Postal Service’s credibility that, since it expects a lawsuit from Lill any minute, it’s very careful when discussing the specifics of whatever investigation it says was conducted.

What few specifics it does discuss provide an alternate story: On Feb. 2, a bottle broke, spilling a disinfectant in the sorting facility. The disinfectant was cleaned up, but some remained. An employee reported an odor (possibly Lill or one of his coworkers) and found the remainder on Feb. 4. The contaminated material was removed and no employees were injured.

That Lill is suffering from a terrible undiagnosed illness, and that he and his coworkers encountered a foul-smelling problem at the sorting facility that Feb. 4 day seems to be without question.

But whether the Postal Service’s specific version of events or Lill’s is supported more completely now depends on Oquendo and her colleagues’ recollection. If they remember the odor and Lill’s response, but not the package from Yemen, it’s down to a claim from a bedridden man who everyone wants to believe, but everyone ought to know that they shouldn’t do so without caution.



Pat Downs and Screening: Let the Talk-Downs Begin

There’s no reason to fear the TSA. There’s no reason you should be embarrassed about being seen naked, no reason why you shouldn’t get felt up at the airport. After all, it’s a small sacrifice for security when we’re in the middle of two terror-related wars.

So saeth Tim Macaluso and Josh Marshall in the same day, today.

I’ll agree its a sacrifice. And depending on your personal preference, it may indeed be small…. But never mind that. What I wonder is: what do we get in exchange? What are we sacrificing for?

For all the hyperbole about the underwear bomber, the fact is that they caught him. Does that mean we need more security measures? Would chemical testing for bombs would have been as effective at catching the hypothetical Taint Bomber as either a pat-down or a screening would be? Nobody particularly minds a crotch-sniffing dog, why not use them instead of crotch-grabbing TSA workers? Are there objective goals to the new procedures that can be met? Is the TSA the best body to handle any of this? What are their success and failure rates at catching terrorists? Is there evidence to support the conclusion that the screenings are necessary? And who, exactly, won the contract that supplies the machines the TSA insists must be used, on pain of ball-pinching justice?

I have no idea, but do you really expect a bored TSA worker to spend a lot of time down there where it matters with just anybody? Whatever the objective facts of the case are, I wouldn’t look for answers from the TSA chief who has just today admitted that he withheld information from the public in advance of the new screening procedures because he didn’t want to “compromise security.”

Or so he says. But I have little tolerance for the insistence that the big, hush-hush secrets our security apparatus have in place are what keep us from harm. We hear that one over and over again – from the Cold War to the present day. I think its generally just a cover for bad decisions.

No, we the American people are certainly not suffering or sacrificing in the name of our many anti-terror efforts. Yes, we could afford to do more for the cause, I do suppose. But to simply shrug your shoulders and insist that, without the slightest evidence one way or the other, the sacrifice is “worth it,” is just a silly abdication of your rights.


911, Subprime and the Zero Bound: How the Terrorists Really Are Winning

Its an uncomfortable thought, to be sure. But reality is not rooted in our personal comfort levels and an honest assessment of the situation says that, while Osama bin-Laden certainly could not have imagined it would actually work out this way, the attack on 911 really did strike a far more serious blow to our nation’s economy than we knew.

Certainly it was the stated goal of al-Qaeda to disrupt our financial centers. Certainly, we know that this much happened at least for a few days: the Stock Market stayed shuttered for several days before finally reopening and air travel was disrupted for a full day. But what followed was a very clear overreaction on the part of the Federal Reserve, knocking interest rates down to never-before-seen levels, bottoming out very near to Paul Krugman’s “zero bound” even before our current economic crisis. And interest rates never really did get back to pre-911 levels, or even half that.

The actual sub-prime mortgage fiasco, however, was not of post-911 origins. It’s origins are rooted well before 911 in the mid-90’s when a President Clinton looking to find ways to work with an intractable Republican Congress signed deregulatory laws that removed fetters in place since the Great Depression. And the derivative markets feeding off mortgage-backed securities was gaining a healthy head of steam well ahead of President Bush’s election.

But look what happens when you put together a down economy, an increasingly hungry securities market based on mortgages and an extremely low interest rate! There is no other sector of the economy that improved so much or displayed so many pro-political statistics than the housing sector throughout The Aughts. Every single Bush SOTU address hyped the increasing numbers of home owners. Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac took steps to actively encourage lower income home-ownership – indeed, as has been their charter for decades. And in the midst of this, what possible reason did anyone have to raise interest rates? Sure, it’s a proof against inflation – and what gains the interest rate made were precisely for this reason – but pressure to keep the markets happy and the good news coming made the White House extremely interested in convincing the Fed to keep the rates as low as possible.

Neither do I especially blame the Bush White House for this: we see now in the Obama Administration what happens when the economy dives. The simple lizard brain of politicians has to find that prospect unacceptable when an easy solution is at hand.

But now that the derivatives bubble has burst, a recession falls upon us as many such recessions fall upon us. Though undoubtably, it is a much bigger recessionary event than any I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. And in such a recession, the solution to the problem is easy: have the Fed lower interest rates. Lowering interest rates makes borrowing money more attractive, businesses make capital investments, spend money, hire workers and before you know it, the economy is back on track. Lowering interest rates also tends to lower prices on consumer goods, making purchases easier for consumers and the lowered interest rates encourage them to buy houses, cars and televisions. All good news for an economy in trouble.

Except there’s no place for interest rates to go: they’re up against a nearly zero-percent interest rate and cannot possibly go lower. The primary tool in the fight against a recession is completely robbed from us. We are not powerless to stop the rising tide of unemployment nor to hold ourselves up against the looming threat of deflation that economists worry is the next step. But we certainly are without our best set of tools, and we certainly won’t be getting out of our current economic hole for a reasonably long period of time. I’d be amazed if we got anywhere near 5 percent unemployment in the next three years, though I’m not an economist.

And so I suspect that writers of history books a century from now will note with diminishing counter-argument that the events of September 11th were hugely developmental to the dark economic “Great Recession” or “Depression” that we now live in.


I’m Just Sayin. . .

It’s never ceased to amaze me the plans the military develops when we’re not looking. This one sounds oddly familiar in a number of ways.


911 – Less Problematic Than We’d Thought

So saeth the King of all Terrorist Crisises, former Mayor Rudy 9iul1ann1.  Despite his constant trumpeting of his experience on 911 throughout the primary campaign populated by men of at least reasonable experience, when asked if the former Mayor of Wasilla (Alaska), Sarah Palin, would be ready for a similar 911 experience, the Rudy-meister said he was “confident.”

What do you expect from a guy who spent 911 waving his arms and walking the streets of New York because his bunker got blowed up?


What’s Next for Gitmo?

Like almost every Supreme Court decision, the landmark decision handed down yesterday establishing the Writ of Habeas Corpus’ extension to Gitmo raises almost as many questions as it answered.  Newsweek got an exclusive interview with one of the Gitmo lawyers to discuss what the far-reaching effects will be.


Aaah! We’re All Gonna Die!!

So sayeth the Republican Party.

Anyway, looks like a great movie, but the tag line could use a bit of work: “Tell House Democrats to stop playing games with politics. (look for the Countdown to Death video game, based on this commercial, at your local Game Stop soon!!) “