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Is the Government X-Raying You While You Drive?

Homeland Security has just purchased mobil X-ray vans that can scan cars, trucks and homes without the drivers even knowing that they're being zapped.

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Arjun Makhijani, an engineer and physicist with the Institute of Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland, also points out that any safety studies for the backscatter machines are referring to their effect on average adults. But if the government is scanning moving vehicles on a highway, or looking inside trailers, for example to spot smuggled immigrants (the metal-piercing backscatter machines are being installed at border crossings on the Mexican border), there is no way to know when they are exposing children or the fetuses of pregnant women, both of which populations are far more vulnerable to damage from ionizing radiation than an average adult.

Americans in Atlanta got a taste of this latest government intrusion into their lives when Homeland Security last Tuesday ran what it called a “counterterrorism operation” not prompted by any specific threat. They set up one of their ZBV vans on I-20 and snarled traffic for hours while all trailer trucks stopped and scanned by Homeland Security personnel.

The US military has been operating backscanner X-ray machines on the streets of New York, where it has been aiming the devices even at pedestrians. One location where this was done was outside the United Nations building on 1st Avenue in Manhattan.

The mobil X-ray vans are only the latest step in a steady march by the American government towards a total national security state, where citizens can expect to be monitored in everything they do. Cities are installing video cameras all over the place, allegedly to fight crime and catch drivers who run red lights or speed. And just last week, the Obama administration announced that it was seeking to expand monitoring of communications to include non-phone systems like Skype and Google Phone, and that it would require internet communications providers to provide it with customer messages, even encrypted ones.

What makes the new mobile X-ray campaign even worse is that, like the airport X-ray machines, they are unlikely to work as advertized. For example, as Prof. Rez notes, the one thing that the airport X-ray devices cannot detect is liquid or semi-liquid explosives! He notes for example, that plastic explosive, like C-4, can easily be molded to look like a roll of fat on the body in an X-ray. Similarly, once criminals or a would-be terrorists know that the government has mobile X-ray vans on the highways, they can just stay to secondary roads, or disguise their bomb materials to look like something ordinary.

In other words, we all get zapped for nothing.

Says IEER’s Makhijani, “I know there can be a legitimate concern about security, but all this is happening in secret. We really need to open things up, so we know how these things work, what the dosages are, how they are being used and maintained, and we especially need to have a thoughtful public discussion about whether we really want this kind of thing to be done.”

Dave Lindorff is an award-winning investigative reporter and author of the blog, This Can't Be Happening . A regular columnist for CounterPunch, he also writes frequently for Extra! and Salon, as well as for Businessweek, The Nation and Treasury & Risk Magazine .

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