Airport scanners: beware of bee stings

The mandatory see-through scanning charade at Australia’s international airports is security theatre, aimed at boosting corporate profits more than passenger safety, says Dee McLachlan. Drowning, falling off a horse, being stung by a bee are a far bigger threat to your average Australian’s life. Why don’t we put our money where the risk is, she asks?


The Right Honourable Anthony Albanese MP
Minister for Infrastructure and Transport
Parliament House

Cc: Alison Sommerville
A/g General Manager
Aviation Security
Office Of Transport Security

Warren Truss, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.
Senator Christine Milne.

7 May 2013

Dear Mr Albanese, and Ms Sommerville,

Ms Sommerville, many thanks for your letter dated 12 April 2013, on behalf of Hon Anthony Albanese MP. (1)  However, I maintain my position that the MANDATORY scanning of international travellers by PRO-VISION BODY SCANNERS is:

  1. A decision by government based on a fraudulent incident that was possibly designed to enhance and profit the “security theatre” industries.
  2. That there is no long term research or trial confirming that these body scanners, unlikely as that may be, will not result in chronic medical problems in the future (‘chronic’ being determined after 20+ years).
  3. That these machines are no better than traditional security measures.
  4. That the body scanning machine security system is flawed (and slow), as deemed by other countries such as Italy. (2)  And that the machines (during the trial) have been found to be flawed in “analysis”, resulting in a high percentage of false readings.
  5. That the mandatory roll-out (in the legislation) is, for some people, highly objectionable, anti-democratic in nature and a violation of individual rights.
  6. That the mandatory roll-out ‘appears’ to have been introduced without a due and honest consultation process.
  7. That there is a small potential for personal privacy violations, and finally
  8. That the funding of tens of millions of dollars for these scanning machines (as a safe guard against potential terrorist deaths) benefit corporations and could have been put to much better use. 

2132 Australians committed suicide in 2009 (six per day).  Drowning (~300 deaths per year), horse riding incidents (~20 deaths per year) and bee stings (~10 deaths per year) are a far bigger threat to the average person in Australia.

Thus, I suggest that these body scanners are a reaction by government, based on media (and corporate) fear mongering over terrorism. There is a strong argument that this funding (of Pro-Vision body scanners) benefits corporate interests and their profits, and NOT the Australian public.

I agree that every rational security measure should be taken to ensure safe aviation. It appears that recent measures have been working. However, if the introduction of (some) body scanners are deemed to be a deterrent by their mere presence, I might condone that, but travellers should be able to ‘opt out’.

There are various reasons why certain people may want to ‘opt out’ (medical suspicion; mistrust of the equipment; privacy violation, rights etc.), and the public should have the right to choice (as in the USA and the UK) of, for example, a ‘pat down’ if required. (3)  And as I said in my previous letter, I object to the government deciding on my behalf.


However, my concerns are not only over the body scanner itself, but the implementation of this mandatory policy.
…. (example of passenger who was refused travel when he requested a strip search instead of the scanner)

Could your office confirm:

  1. Why was the decision made to refuse that person travel for a seemingly ‘arbitrary’ 24 hours? Is the intention to give time for the person to re-think their dissenting behaviour? Or was it designed to be a financial disincentive, and punish public non-compliance?

I cannot read anywhere in government documentation that refusal (to pass through the machine) will result in detainment, and the possibility of a criminal charges. Thus,

Could you confirm the exact procedure that Aviation security has to follow when a person wants to opt out:

  1. If a traveller is prepared to be searched by any other means (as the passenger requested), when and under what circumstances can a potential passenger be detained and placed in detention (or jailed) for refusing to go through a scanner?
  • Is a person allowed to be detained for the 24 hours after refusing to go through the body scanner, when asked three times, OR is the person allowed just to leave the airport and come back for another flight in 24 hours (and potentially not be randomly selected for a body scan)?
  • Is there anything in the legislation or your rule book that implies, or suggests, that non-compliance or requesting to ‘opt out’ might imply criminality in any way?
  • What documentation is made available to personnel to ensure correct procedure and protocol for concerned travellers requesting to not be scanned, and where can that material be accessed?
  • Are there systems in place where security firms can be fined or personnel be fired if they make illegal threats to people to encourage compliance? And where and how can the public report such action?
  • Have any measures been put into place to identify dissenting travellers who want to ‘opt-out’, and placing them on a so-called ‘body scanner black list’?  (I presume this would be illegal, unless they were identified as potential terrorists, and would then be on an official terrorism watch list?)

I was born and brought up in South Africa – a country that was rightly blacklisted by Australia for a brutal Apartheid regime; where every citizen was under suspicion; where individual rights were disregarded legally or illegally for the sake of a false sense of security; and police threats to make or persuade the public to comply was commonplace.

South Africa was a POLICE STATE. I have to say, sadly, that the introduction of mandatory body scanners and the resulting attitude, both legislated and purported attitudes of security personnel, is most disturbing and is very reminiscent of South Africa’s darkest days.


I was travelling through a US airport just over a year ago, when US security personnel assured me, absolutely, that their x-ray body scanner was “completely safe”. I opted out. There is now consensus (even inferred on Australian government material) that the back scatter x-ray body scanners could potentially harm human health.

Interestingly, the backscatter body scanners were first deployed on a large scale at Schiphol in the Netherlands on May 15, 2007 (when 2 of 17 scanners were installed). This is the very airport where the ‘underpants bomber’ was ushered through (as witnessed by attorney Haskell, and reportedly without a passport – see p10), to board the plane, and create the incident that would ignite a global body scanner purchasing pandemic. (4)

Even though there is wide range of opinion as to the danger factor from these X‐ray backscatters machines, the consensus is thankfully, that there is a health concern exposing subjects to a source of ionizing radiations. These machines have been banned in some countries. It was also recorded in March 2011 that some of the full body scanners in the US were emitting 10 times the normal level of radiation they were claimed to emit.

This is complex science and I presume the Honourable Ministers of the government had to rely on summarised material from a variety of experts and INTERESTED COMMERCIAL PARTIES and take their word: that the present Pro Vision scanners are completely safe. From the data, the millimetre waves fall well under the limits set by ARPANZA. But as many other experts have pointed out: There are no specific trials and not enough research to be 100% sure.

Cigarettes were once prescribed by doctors to calm pregnant mothers; asbestos was once safe, and so were back scatter x-ray body scanners only a very short time ago.


I note you did not mention or reply to my question and reference to flight 253, that Peter Robertson (General Manager, Aviation Security) mentioned in his letter (18 March 2013) to me. He cited as do government websites, that this incident was the catalyst for the roll-out of body scanners in Australia.

It has been suggested that this incident could have been a planned fraudulent or criminal action by unknown parties to boost security budgets, and to get already produced body scanners sold, and out of warehouses in the US.

This sounds most conspiratorial, but for the for the sake of those copied into this correspondence, I (not as an investigative expert) again reiterate and summarise that:

  1. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underwear bomber on Flight 253, attempted to ignite a defective explosive device concealed in his underpants mid-flight on Christmas Day 2009.
  2. Despite him being on a terror watchlist and warnings from his father; the State Department was allegedly ordered not to revoke Umar’s visa by ‘Federal counterterrorism officials’.
  3. There is evidence that Umar was “ushered” onto the plane, as witnessed by Michigan attorney, Kurt Haskell (who has since written much about this incident).
  4. That Dutch military police initially indicated that Umar did not go through normal security measures, and
  5. He was allegedly allowed to fly without a passport.

Considering the government has invested tens of millions of dollars into body scanners based on this incident, did the government just rely on the mainstream media reports (as intelligence)?  Will the government now investigate the facts and the validity of this incident? (5)

Sadly, as a result of 9/11, we have been conditioned to believe that the job of the government is to keep us safe, but in reality the job of the government is to protect our liberties. Once the government decides that its role is to keep us safe, whether economically or physically, they can only do so by taking away our liberties.


With 2.84 billion commercial air passengers in 2011 across the globe, the probability of being killed in a terrorist attack in a plane (anywhere) has been said to be about I in 30 million. (6)  Yes – 1 in 30M, and anecdotally, twice as likely being killed by an asteroid.

It is probably 30,000 times more risky being on the road, just driving to the airport.

I believe the ‘war on terrorism’ is a constructed arena for corporate profiteering (and control)?   And I am not the one saying this. US Presidential Candidate, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced legislation against the scanning equipment. He complained that Michael Chertoff, who was the head of the TSA at the time and acquiring scanners, was involved with selling them too. He went on to say, “And the equipment’s questionable. We don’t even know if it works, and it may well be dangerous to our health.” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) said “There is no evidence these new body scanners make us more secure. But there is evidence that former Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff made money hawking these full body scanners.”


The regulations allow the Secretary of the Department to ‘determine’ what counts as a ‘scanner’ for the purpose of the Act. As there have been hand-held body scanners and metal detectors in use for a long time, could the Minister define what he believes as the definition of ‘body scanning equipment’?


In my opinion, the mandatory roll-out of body scanners seems to be designed mainly for corporate interests, ‘sold’ to the Ministers and the public as a safeguard.

I urge the government and the Ministers to review their non-questioning, high spending approach to combat terrorism, and to review the mandatory legislation on body scanners. It would be so comforting to know that the government is concerned about liberties, and wary of corporations profiting from a theatre of irrational fear. Australian society could benefit from a more balanced and hopeful approach.

As a self-employed person, I did not want to expend my time writing this, but I believe it important to do so. I thank you for taking the time to read this letter/submission.


Dee McLachlan
Albert Park, Victoria


These references/links added by CLA, not by the author:
Jammed Films Pty Ltd  t/a  THE PICTURE TANK.

(1)    I had originally written to the Minister objecting to the mandatory roll-out of the body scanners, and was not satisfied with the reply from Peter Robertson, General Manager, Aviation Security.

(2)   Lee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens)  from  Hansard source

(3)    It also seems unjust that one person– randomly selected – may be punished financially and emotionally, or worse, by refusal, when others were not selected for the machines.

(4) Interestingly

( 5)   This is only one of the many detailed articles by attorney Haskell regarding this this incident.

(6) This puts it into perspective considering the population of Australia is 24 million.

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  1. Hi Dee please keep us posted. We have cancelled overseas trips since scanners have been installed. I don’t believe the scanners are cancer/radiation-free. I did some research online regarding mmW. mmW’s waves can ‘unzip’ or tear apart double-stranded DNA, creating bubbles in the DNA that could interfere with processes such as gene expression and DNA replication. As per travelsecure website children over 140cm will be selected. My kid 14y/o height over 140cm. I don’t want any unnecessary radiation exposure to my kid and my family.

  2. So it is not criminal to refuse to be scanned, let’s all of us refuse, and tell our useless government to back off.

    (Ed. – people are advised to check whether or not it is a “criminal” offence to refuse to be scanned. Being new, how the see-through scanner legislation operates in practice is not yet settled.)

    Joseph Smith
  3. Gee, I wonder if Albanese and all the other pollies who travel overseas have to be scanned like everyone else? Of course it’s not about corporate profits, how could you think such a thing. It’s all about “protecting” passengers and planes and if the corporations behind the scanners make a little extra then that’s just a tidy bonus.

  4. Hi Dee,

    Your letter is a very pertinent reaction to this situation. I am currently writing a student feature article on whether our “need” for security is putting us in further danger/invading our privacy, and this letter is an excellent resource. I would love to makre reference to it or even to seek comment from you, if you give permission.

    Thank you and an enlightening read.

    Andrea Banicevic

    Andrea Banicevic

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