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A Full Body Scan of American Corruption

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

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 approach 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 éminence 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—0,000 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?

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About the Author

Novelist, Filmmaker, Economic Commentator