In the United States, if a policeman stops you for a traffic violation, and you offer him a $20 bill to forget about the whole thing, you’ll likely end up in jail.
But if you leave your Federal government job and go work as a consultant to the very industry you used to regulate, you won’t go to jail – you’ll grow rich. Very rich.
Michael Chertoff is the poster boy for this institutionalized corruption going on in America today. He is not unique. He is not an outlier of any bell curve.
If anything, Chertoff’s form of corruption is average – it’s ordinary. It’s what everyone is doing: Everything within the law, everything that the law says he ought to be doing – yet the net effect is a blatant corruption that is personally despicable, and socially disastrous.
Michael Chertoff was the head of the Homeland Security Agency from February of 2005, to January of 2009. But after he left, he formed an outfit called The Chertoff Group – and was promptly hired by an obscure company called Rapiscan Systems.
The Chertoff Group, according to their website, “provides strategic security advice and assistance, risk management strategy and business development solutions for commercial and government clients on a broad array of homeland and national security issues.”
That sounds . . . impressively vague. Slippery as a greased stripper’s pole, actually. So let’s approach this a different way:
What does Michael Chertoff do?
Well, as of late, Michael Chertoff has been a one-man media tsunami: There isn’t a single talk show on all the networks on which he has not appeared – and in every single one of them, he is singing the praises of the airport body scanners that are being deployed throughout the United States.
These body scanners are supposed to spot explosives, weapons, and other “tools of terrorism”. As in the picture to the right, you get zapped by magic rays, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) worker checks the monitor to make sure you haven’t brought a bomb on board the plane.
On its face, airport body scanners seem eminently sensible: A way to thoroughly make sure that no terrorist gets on board a plane with all the makings of a bomb.
Michael Chertoff is currently making the rounds of all the TV and cable talk shows, giving the song-and-dance routine about airport body scanners, and how they are “an effort to prevent terrorism” – how they bring about “enhanced levels of security” – how they are “a proactive approach to safety and security” – all the same old tired bullshit that is the same empty, hysterical clarion call that we’ve heard over the last decade: Safety!-Safety!-Safety!-Safety!
Samuel Johnson said that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel – but I would say that, in today’s day and age, public safety is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
The reason I dismiss Mr. Chertoff’s media appearances – and dismiss everything he has to say on the subject – is because the airport body scanners he is singing the praises of? They are manufactured by Rapiscan – The Chertoff Group’s biggest client.
In other words, Michael Chertoff is not some kindly old Ã©minence gris, looking after what’s best for the United States out of his boundless patriotism –
No: He is the paid spokesman for the manufacturer of the airport body scanners. And he stands to profit from the implementation of these airport body scanners. Profit directly.
Even back when he was in office as Secretary of Homeland Security, Chertoff kept pushing the TSA to adopt full body scans – even though there were a host of problems with the policy:
• Body scanners are not inherently superior to other methods of preventing unlawful items from being taken on board an airplane. The very fact that an individual can (currently) “opt out” of a body scan, and instead be manually patted down proves that scanners do not have an inherent advantage over low-tech solutions.
• Body scanners are extraordinarily expensive – $150,000 each – a cost which might be better applied to hiring more TSA workers, and thereby increasing the flow-rate of passengers through security, which currently has reached bottle-neck proportions.
• Body scanners represent an as yet unquantified but real health danger. (I will discuss the specifics below).
• Body scanners are an obvious breach of civil liberties – a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment (unlawful search and seizure) and the rule of probable cause . . . unless we are going to redefine “probable cause” as meaning all airplane passengers by definition are likely engaged in criminal activity, and therefore there is probable cause to essentially strip-search each and every one of them.
But even in the face of these very obvious, very reasonable objections, Chertoff kept pushing the body scans during his tenure as head of the Homeland Security Agency.
Which would have been fine – if Chertoff hadn’t immediately upon resigning his post created The Chertoff Group, and then gone to work for Rapiscan: The manufacturer of these body scans.
Was there a “relationship” between Chertoff and Rapiscan before he exited the Federal government? I don’t know – and I would guess that Chertoff is too shrewd to have been on the pay of Rapiscan back when he was Secretary of HSA.
But certainly as the head of The Chertoff Group, Michael Chertoff is in the pay of Rapiscan now. What, you think high-powered lobbying comes for free?
Before continuing, let’s make a necessary pit-stop: We have to know what we’re talking about, when we say “airport body scanners”. So let’s get that out of the way.
There are essentially two types:
• Backscatter X-ray Scanners: These fire x-rays which, rather than going through the body, bounce off the skin and other objects. A computer interprets this reflection (“backscatter”), and creates an image.
• Millimeter Wave Scanners: These fire microwaves in the 0.1 mm to 1 mm range, between microwaves and the infrared spectrum. Some marketers claim that millimeter waves are different from Terahertz radiation (which sounds very scary) – but they are essentially one and the same. Exactly as backscatter x-rays, millimeter waves go through clothes but reflect off of skin. Similarly, a computer interprets this reflection, and creates an image.
Both of them present health concerns – not hippy-dippy faggotty-assed pussy concerns, but reasonable health concerns any sensible person would be foolish not to take seriously.
To start with the first: Backscatter x-ray scanners fire low levels of x-rays – much less energy than the kind normally used to x-ray a broken limb in a hospital, for instance.
Proponents of backscatter x-ray scanners argue that the x-rays of this type of scanner do not penetrate the skin – so therefore, harmful x-ray radiation does not build up in the body.
This is bullshit. To be fair, at this time, it is not clear from the current evidence if this type of low-level x-ray radiation does not build up inside the body – but it certainly bombards the skin of the subject. That’s the whole point of the backscatter x-ray scanner: To have x-rays bounce off the subject’s skin, and thereby create an image of what they might be carrying beneath their clothes.
Therefore, the concentration of x-rays on the skin is much higher than a more powerful x-ray passing completely through the body. Here is a letter from a group of biochemistry and biophysics professors from the University of California San Francisco, raising precisely this concern, discussing the physics in detail.
Regardless of whether x-rays build up on the skin or in the body itself, there is no question that, just like medical x-rays, repeated uses of backscatter x-ray scanners leads to build up of harmful radiation, which will eventually – and inevitably – lead to cancer. That’s because x-rays have a cumulative effect: Each dose of x-rays adds to the effect of a previous dose.
The ways x-rays cause cancer is, the photons ionize atoms in cells. The chemical bonds therefore break down – the cells literally rip apart, including DNA. This can in time lead to cancer. The direct causal link between excessive doses of x-rays and cancer and/or leukemia is a non-controversial statement.
Who are the ones who face a disproportionate risk of developing cancer and/or leukemia from backscatter x-ray scanners? Obviously, airplane crews: Because of the ridiculous TSA mandate that even the pilots of the planes have to be checked to make sure they’re not bomb-carrying terrorists, and since of course airplane crews have to wend their way through the airport body scanners multiple times per week in order to do their jobs, then obviously it is inevitable that they will develop cancer and/or leukemia from backscatter x-ray scanners. Inevitable.
But in perhaps some poetic justice, the people most likely to suffer cancer in the long term (and maybe not so long term) are the TSA workers operating the machines. You see, there is a reason that in every hospital, the x-ray room is sealed off, and x-ray operators always work behind lead shielding. Yet TSA employees stand around these backscatter x-ray scanners for hours on end, day after day, with no shielding or protection. It’s a safe bet to claim that TSA workers operating these machines will suffer disproportionate amounts of cancer and/or leukemia in the medium- to long-term future.
Poor dumb bastards
Millimeter wave scanners, on the other hand, use less energetic particles than backscatter x-ray scanners. And unlike x-rays, terahertz radiation does not seem to accumulate in the body.
This ought to sound like good news: The photons of millimeter wave scanners are less energetic, therefore unlikely to ionize atoms and therefore rip apart DNA – so no cancer. Right?
Well . . . It turns out, researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have discovered that terahertz radiation is not energetic enough to ionize atoms – but it is energetic enough to essentially “shake” DNA until the strands “unzip”, creating “bubbles” in the DNA strand, hindering replication.
These researchers discovered that the damage to DNA was “probabilistic rather than deterministic”, which explains why some (pro-scanner) experiments produced no damage to DNA, while other identical experiments did produce damaged DNA – sometimes terhertz radiation rips apart DNA, and some other times it doesn’t. Here is a layman’s explanation of their work, in the Technology Review of MIT from last October 30, 2009, and here’s their academic paper in PDF.
This means that, unlike backscatter x-ray scanners, millimeter wave scanners do not create a build up of harmful radiation in the body. However, the probability of terahertz radiation causing damage to DNA – and ultimately cancer and/or leukemia – is a numbers game: Sooner or later, your number’s up.
To put it simply: Imagine you have a revolver that, rather than six chambers, has a thousand chambers – and only a single bullet. You can play Russian Roulette with this gun quite confidently once, twice, three times, maybe even four times. But eventually, you’ll start getting nervous – because you know the odds will start to rise uncomfortably.
And if during a busy day, thirty or forty thousand people pass in front of this one-bullet-in-a-thousand-chambers gun, what will happen? Why, that’s easy: At the end of the day, thirty or forty people are going to be lying dead with a bullet between the eyes – because those are the odds.
Now, what are the odds of terahertz radiation producing cancer and/or leukemia? No one knows yet, because the technology is too new. Maybe it’s not one in a thousand – maybe it’s one in a million.
Fine: Would you like to be that one-in-a-million?
Or put it another way: During the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, something like 24 million Americans are going to be flying. Therefore, with one-in-a-million odds, and since those 24 million Americans are likely flying round trip, at the end of Thanksgiving Weekend, 48 Americans will be dead – because of this technology.
Or put yet another way: In 2009, according to the Department of Transportation, 769 million passengers flew in the United States. With one-in-a-million odds, that would be 769 dead passengers – that would be two full jumbo-jets’ worth of passengers.
How many people died of airplane terrorism in 2009?
This, of course, is the calculus that must be made: What is the cost of this protection? And is the cost substantially less than what is being prevented?
If scanners had been in place in every airport in America in 2009, and assuming a one-in-a-million rate of lethal effects from either one of the two types of full body scanners, that would mean 769 Americans would die.
Yet in 2009, there were no deaths from airplane terrorism. In fact, since September 11, 2001, there haven’t been any deaths from airplane terrorism in the United States.
So imagine if during the nine years since 9/11, one in a million passengers going through the airport scanners had died as an effect of those scanners. That would be roughly 7,000 people who would have died of cancer and/or leukemia, in order to prevent . . .
. . . nothing.
Now on top of this cold-blooded, rational calculus as to the cost-effectiveness of the airport scanners, we have to face up to a particularly painful fact:
These scanners don’t work.
When I say, “The scanners don’t work”, I mean, the scanners don’t fulfill the function for which they were intended: They do not catch potential terrorists bringing bomb-making equipment on board an airplane.
Check out this video, from German TV:
The second half is spectacle – everyone loves seeing stuff blowing up on TV.
But the first half is chilling: Dr. Gruber, the physicist brought on the show, very easily smuggled the ingredients necessary to blow up a plane. He was fully scanned, yet he managed to smuggle a fuse, a lighter, a bottle of thermite – voilà. Enough to blow up an airplane.
The British operator of the scanner claimed that the test was incomplete, because the scanner on the TV studio did not do the sides, and because Dr. Gruber was wearing his jacket, where he had the thermite, which ordinarily would have gone separately through an x-ray machine. Fair enough.
But what I found chilling was what Dr. Gruber kept in his mouth – the fuse. Obviously, if he had been a real terrorist, he could have kept the fuse in his mouth and the thermite in his rectum, rather than his coat pocket. Furthermore, Dr. Gruber stuff a shiv in his sock, which was not spotted by the scanner.
So to me, the test is valid: Dr. Gruber, without much of a to-do about it, handily defeated the body backscatter x-ray scanner, with materials which were unequivocably deadly on an airplane.
(By the way: Some critics of airport scanners have a cow over the privacy concern – images of naked people which could be copied and distributed, oh my! But really, who gives a shit about privacy, when the fucking things aren’t doing what they were meant to be doing? At this stage, privacy is so far down the list of reasonable objections to airport body scanners that I’m not even going to bother with it.)
So, what does this all mean?
It means that airport body scanners are ineffective by any metric you care to apply:
• They are medically dangerous.
• They potentially cause more deaths than they would save.
• They can be easily defeated.
This has not prevented Michael Chertoff from going on every television show, pleading how these devices are necessary to protect the Homeland from the terrorist threat.
It’s as if Mr. Chertoff had been on a mission –
– but then again, at $150,000 a pop, and with a minimum order of 1,000 units necessary to put body scanners in each and every airport in the United States, this represents $150 million dollars to Rapiscan. (Which by the way, is fully owned by OSI Systems, which is headed by none other than Deepak Chopra, who founded the company.)
Furthermore, if we assume a very conservative yearly maintenance cost of 10%, and a yearly attrition rate of 5%, that’s an additional $22.5 million for Rapiscan per year. Over five years, this adds up to something like $262 million for Rapiscan. Add another “full upgrade” every five years or so, and you’re talking serious money.
Only God and Chertoff’s accountant know how much this represents to Michael Chertoff personally. Say he gets 5% commission? You’re talking $7.5 million to $13 million.
So for $7.5 million or more, Chertoff is doing like the song says: Doing his little dance, making a little love, getting down tonight with the mainstream media – big time.
Now, why is Mr. Chertoff’s lobbying so effective? Two fronts: Current Homeland Security Agency employees, and public relations credibility.
First, current Homeland Security Agency employees: They will never ever contradict the fervent recommendation of their former boss, Michael Chertoff – not out of loyalty, but because Chertoff represents future employment to these people.
These current high-ranking HSA employees – the very ones who could credibly contradict Michael Chertoff and say that these scanners aren’t necessary – will exit government service at some point. Will these current high-ranking HSA employees contradict their former boss? No – because after their stint with the Federal government, they want a job in the private sector, not a place in the unemployment lines.
They won’t contradict Chertoff today, so as not to hurt their chances for employment tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if these HSA employees will not work for either The Chertoff Group or Rapiscan – the contacts and influence Chertoff wields will naturally affect these former HSA employees’ employment prospects.
So they will never contradict Chertoff as he makes his rounds – they’ll be too worried about protecting tomorrow’s job. On the contrary, if they’re shrewd, they’ll fully agree with Chertoff’s recommendation of buying as many airport body scanners as possible, so as to curry favor for the future.
The second advantage Chertoff brings as a lobbyist is his credibility: He was the former head of the Homeland Security Agency, so he could not possibly be advocating something that would be bad for people – could he?
Of course not!
Though his relationship with Rapiscan is public knowledge, the American mainstream press rarely if ever mentions the fact that Chertoff is a paid lobbyist for the company manufacturing the airport body scanners. When he goes on a show, he is identified merely as a former Homeland Security Agency head. Maybe he’s identified as head of “The Chertoff Group” –
– but no one in the mainstream media says the truth when they introduce him: “Michael Chertoff represents the guys who stand to make the most money off the deployment of these contraptions.”
Why not? Because the mainstream media are in bed with guys like Chertoff: They are all so afraid of antagonizing the people who ought to be serving the public good, that they wind up letting these “public servants” serve their own private good – like they let Michael Chertoff shill for body scanners, with nary a peep about his Rapiscan masters.
Chertoff’s corruption is average and ordinary – in point of fact, I would say that Chertoff’s corruption is the model for the kind of corruption endemic in the United States: The Chertoff Corruption Model. The Chertoff Scheme. We see it with all sorts of departments and agencies. The military? Every retired general winds up a paid consultant for some weapons manufacturer or other. Same with Congerssional staffers, same with FDA scientists – hell, it’s the New American Way!
It is indisputably legal – Chertoff is not breaking any law, as far as I know. Yet what he is doing is indisputably immoral and despicable nevertheless – Chertoff is preying on the citizenry’s fear and desire for impossible standard of safety, in order to enrich himself.
And Michael Chertoff is ordinary.
Now, like I’ve said before in other posts: I’m like Wayne Gretzky – I never bother with where the puck has been, I look for where the puck is going to be.
So in that spirit, I’ll let other people start looking through the rolls of former government employees, trying to catch other scoundrels carrying out their own versions of the Chertoff Scheme.
Instead, I will point you to the next likely example of the Chertoff Scheme – before it happens:
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Ray LaHood is the man most likely to carry out a Chertoff Scheme the second he leaves office.
He will not break a single law. He will not do anything that others have not done –
– but he will enrich himself immorally and despicably, by preying on the fear and worry of the American citizenry.
How do I know this?
Why, because I can read – I can read little missives like the following:
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said using a cell phone while driving is so dangerous that devices may soon be installed in cars to forcibly stop drivers – and potentially anyone else in the vehicle – from using them.
“There’s a lot of technology out there not that can disable phones and we’re looking at that,” said LaHood on MSNBC.
[. . .]
“I think it will be done,” said LaHood. “I think the technology is there and I think you’re going to see the technology become adaptable in automibiles to disable these cell phones. We need to do a lot more if we’re going to save lives.”
This was said by Secretary LaHood just last week.
How much you want to bet that, once he leaves office, Secretary LaHood will form a little consulting venture, The LaHood Group.
How much you want to bet that one of the biggest clients of this LaHood Group will be a company that manufactures cell phone signal blocking devices.
How much you want to bet that these devices will run a couple of hundred dollars a pop, and will be required by law to be installed in every automobile, new or used, or else face severe penalties for “non-compliance”.
How much you want to bet that hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue will depend on this little device.
How much you want to bet that, in order to work, these cell phone blockers will have to shroud every automobile in hundreds of times more electromagnetic radiation than cell phones currently emit – a barrage of frequencies whose ill-effects we still do not fully know, but which undoubtedly will be terrible.
How much you want to bet that – just as Secretary Chertoff did while he was in tenure – Secretary LaHood is already building a “relationship” with prospective clients for his post-government scheme.
How much you want to bet that, when he does his big media round once he is a private citizen, he will hammer home the same old tired bromides: Safety – security – protecting the children.
This is the shape of American corruption: It is not a folded $20 bill into the palm of the bureaucrat or the traffic cop. It’s not the $1,000 roll of bills tossed to the building inspector.
Rather, it is the “consulting” contract awarded to men like Michael Chertoff – a contract worth millions and millions, so long as the correct outcome is arrived at.
Chertoff keeps saying he is advocating the use of airport body scanners in order to “help save lives” – but as I hope I’ve shown, these devices do not save lives. They never have. And they will likely cost lives, in the not-too-distant future.
Does this matter to Chertoff? Does it matter to him that he is advocating a device that will likely kill far more people than it will ever save? No it does not. How do I know this? Because he is still out there in the media, shilling for a device that will kill Americans – which he knows will kill Americans – all the while claiming he is doing it in order to protect Americans.
What was it that Secretary LaHood said?
“We need to do a lot more if we’re going to save lives.”
Like I said: Public safety is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
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