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At Richmond International Airport today I stood for the first time in a radar-scanner-better-than-enhanced-pat-down-let-it-all-hang-out “Advanced” Imaging Technology machine. I’m still decidedly not sure if I feel safer, violated, ready for an orange prison jumpsuit, or treated like just another piece of baggage.

I’ve written about this twice before: “New Enhanced Body Pats,” “Revisiting Pat Downs, Body Scanners.” So you can be forgiven for thinking I’m obsessed with this. But really, folks, this is getting ridiculous, all in the name of the ultimate trump card: security.

Before “Advanced” Imaging Technology machines: You unpack your laptop, take off your shoes and maybe your belt, place all metal (watch, coins, cellphone) in your bag or the cereal bowl provided for you, place small-bottled liquids within a plastic baggy—get the baggy out of your luggage—place on the checkpoint belt, remove your jacket, and walk through the metal detector holding your boarding pass.

After “Advanced” Imaging Technology machines: You do everything you did before AND remove all items from your pockets, stand side-ways placing your feet on two conveniently provided yellow footprints, place your hands over your head and wait while an X-ray picture is taken of your all-together. Then walk to the end of the rubber mat and stand on two more yellow footprints facing an agent who’s waiting to hear from his or her cohort that “He's clear.” Meanwhile, said cohort agent is sitting nearby in an enclosed, specially and newly erected opaque booth checking out your bod, deleting…or viewing, processing, or saving the pic for a rainy day.

After the newly installed AITs you can’t pass through the checkpoint with anything in your pockets, not your leather wallet, not aspirin, not even a piece of paper (all of which were perfectly permissible before AITs). So you’re down to the clothes on your back.

This is progress, which is to say “Advanced” apparently means not-able-to-distinguish-skin-from-leather, pills, or paper.

Women, or men for that matter, wearing more than a piece or two of jewelry have to virtually strip themselves before going through the AIT, only to take considerable time afterwards to put themselves back together. Post-checkpoint looks like a cross between a slumber party and a locker room with total strangers in various stages of undress.

All this makes us safer we’re told. And maybe it does. But I still believe there’re other ways, other less invasive, intrusive, time-consuming, and demeaning security methods than AITs and/or enhanced pat downs.

I saw an elderly woman in a wheelchair. An agent pushed her near the AIT. Then she had to take off her shoes, an action that was for her challenging at best, stand up teetering while she removed her coat, strip her jewelry, etc. No one helped her. In my book this is unnecessary and, worse, disrespectful.

Not for a minute do I think authorities can guarantee some notable person’s image won’t show up on the Internet. If it can happen it will happen. It’s only a matter of time.

While we’re told the AIT X-rays are safe I don’t think we’ll know for ten or twenty years—we’ve been told a lot of things were harmless for human beings only to discover otherwise: cigarettes, DDT, liberals, gambling, Bernie Madoff, O.J., obesity.

Mostly, though, I don’t think this theatre of the absurd at airport checkpoints actually increases airline security, mainly because radicals are smart enough to conjure ways around whatever we do. So we're involved in much ado about what?


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2010

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