Dr. Willard H. (Bill) Wattenburg


October 25, 2012
Government replaces body scanners at some airports
Associated Press     JASON KEYSER | October 25, 2012 05:26 PM EST |

CHICAGO — The federal government is quietly removing full-body X-ray scanners from seven major airports and replacing them with a different type of machine that produces a cartoon-like outline instead of the naked images that have been compared to a virtual strip search.

The Transportation Security Administration says it is making the switch in technology to speed up lines at crowded airports, not to ease passenger privacy concerns. But civil liberties groups hope the change signals that the equipment will eventually go to the scrap heap.

"Hopefully this represents the beginning of a phase-out of the X-ray-type scanners, which are more privacy intrusive and continue to be surrounded by health questions," said Jay Stanley, a privacy expert at the American Civil Liberties Union.

November 22, 2010
About  TSA  whole  body scanner changes that would eliminate a lot of insult and protest.  This simple solution was done at the Livermore National Laboratory in 2006.


by Ashley Halsey
Transportation Writer
The Washington Post

Scientists say they have solution to TSA scanner objections
The Washington Post,   Monday, November 22, 2010; 12:57 AM 
A cheap and simple fix in the computer software of new airport scanners could silence the uproar from travelers who object to the so-called virtual strip search, according to a scientist who helped develop the program at one of the federal government's most prestigious institutes. 

The researcher, associated with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, said he was rebuffed when he offered the concept to Department of Homeland Security officials four years ago. 

The fix would distort the images captured on full-body scanners so they look like reflections in a fun-house mirror, but any potentially dangerous objects would be clearly revealed, said Willard "Bill" Wattenburg, a former nuclear weapons designer at the Livermore lab. The scanners normally produce real-time outlines of the naked human body, and the Transportation Security Administration has been embroiled in controversy since installation of the new scanners began last month.
"Why not just distort the image into something grotesque so that there isn't anything titillating or exciting about it?" Wattenburg said.
TSA spokesman Nick Kimball said he could not immediately confirm Wattenburg's 2006 conversation with federal officials. "That was another administration," Kimball said.

A predicted outcry
Wattenburg said that when news reached Livermore in 2006 that the TSA planned to buy the new generation of "backscatter" full-body scanners, the problem seemed clear. "We knew what was going to happen," he said. "People are immediately going to scream like hell because they're taking the clothes off everybody." 

Livermore engineers have been deeply involved in enhancing airport security.  Wattenburg said a Livermore colleague, Ed Moses, turned to him and said, "There must be some way to modify the scanner images so that they do not reveal embarrassing things about a person's body profile." Wattenburg, whose long resume includes designing anti-terrorist devices, sketched out a possible solution and delivered it to Moses, whose computer experts refined the concept.  "Materials you were looking for would still be there, but body shapes wouldn't be apparent," Moses, the principal assistant director of the Livermore lab said on Saturday. "From the point of view of imaging it's very straightforward. Someone should do a quick study of it in an operational setting." 

The Livermore laboratory sent off a final application to the U.S. Patent Office on Nov. 23, 2006, and about three weeks later Wattenburg said he called the Department of Homeland Security to share the good news. The patent application is on appeal, according to government records, but the federal government owns the rights to the idea.  "These guys usually come to us when they have a huge problem," Wattenburg said on Thursday. "If it's something simple, we tell them and they don't listen."
Wattenburg says the program is so simple that "a 6-year-old could do the same thing with Photoshop." He said the TSA scanners could be altered so that they "would record an image that you would recognize; it would be totally uninteresting," but any potentially dangerous objects would be just as evident as they are now. "There is absolutely nothing that they would lose in terms of the imagery by using this," Wattenburg said. 

David McCallen, a deputy director for national security at Livermore who developed the idea with Wattenburg, said the concept is simple and should be put through rigorous field testing. "What it needs is vetting with real testing," McCallen said Saturday. "This is important stuff so you want to do very thorough testing." TSA official Kimball said the agency is working on development of scanner technology that would reduce the image to a "generic icon, a generic stick figure" that would still reveal potentially dangerous items." "It isn't up to the standard we would like, but it's getting close," Kimball said. 

Wattenburg is semi-retired and works as a consultant to Livermore and several major government contractors. Familiar with the federal bureaucracy, he said he doubts the TSA will take the simplest course of action. "They are so far down the road in buying all the equipment that they're too embarrassed to reverse course," he said. "Their very sophisticated equipment can be made to do this." 

Staff writer Derek Kravitz contributed to this report