What's Next--The Boob Bomber?
As published on Forbes.com, 1/5/10:
With America's most recent terrorist scare in Detroit, the infinitely wise and inexorably competent Transportation Safety Administration will once again follow the terrorists' lead and continue the game of ring around the rosy. We will still need to remove our shoes and surrender our Gatorade. But now the TSA is going high-tech: 3-D body scanners at all U.S. airports. At around $150,000 a pop, these machines will not only give the security agents a free peep show, they will enable them to see anything attached to the skin. Of course, these Star Trek machines will be able to perform routine metal detection, but the days of carrying machine guns or metal bombs onto airplanes are long gone. Today's terrorists prefer powders, liquids or plastics, which are low-density and therefore much harder to detect. So, what is the shrewd terrorist to do if he cannot place a little PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) in his underwear? Outsource the job to a surgically enhanced female.
It's not like a would-be terrorist would stand out much with breast implants. Breast augmentation has recently overtaken liposuction as the most common cosmetic procedure in the U.S., with 355,671 performed in 2008. So while body scan machines can detect medical devices placed beneath the skin's surface, the reviewing security agent won't bat an eyelash given the prevalence of breast implants in Western societies. And unless he has a degree in radiology, he is unlikely to distinguish between saline, silicone or PETN-filled ones.
While most religious clerics would frown upon breast implants for aesthetic reasons, there are more than a few who would likely put their blessing on a pair for explosive reasons. Terrorists have become very clever when it comes to "fitting in." The 9/11 gang did it for years by frequenting strip clubs and drinking alcohol in the run-up to the big day--all in the name of assimilation. And there is no shortage of physicians who are terrorist sympathizers or even terrorists themselves. Just look at Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was a prominent gynecologist before dedicating his life to death and destruction. He is more than capable of popping some implants into an eager small-breasted terrorist.
Once the implants are in, then what? As Mr. Abdulmutallab demonstrated in Detroit, all our surgically enhanced terrorist needs is a small amount of liquid accelerant. She sits in 31B waiting for the flight attendants to pass out the overpriced unappetizing airplane food and pretends to pick up a fork off the floor only to substitute it for a pen filled with the missing ingredient. When no one's looking, she jabs it into her explosive-filled breast and KABOOM! Mr. Abdulmutalleb only had a few grams of PETN; a breast implant can easily hold a few hundred grams--more than enough to bring down the largest commercial airliner.
Plus, there's no need to jet to Tora Bora to have the implants fitted by Dr. al-Zawahiri himself. As a plastic surgeon who has done hundreds of these procedures, I know that all you really need is a knife, some suture material and maybe a bite stick. It doesn't require a board-certified surgeon to make a skin incision, place a sterile bag filled with explosive material in the subcutaneous fatty tissue and then close the wound with some fishing line. This could be done not just in the breasts but almost anywhere in the body. Arm. Belly. Thigh. You name it.
So should we travel naked and consent to invasive searches? I don't know what the ironclad system is to prevent terrorist acts on airplanes. But as an expert in anatomy, I know that the TSA's body scan machines will do nothing to protect against the inevitable shift to body-cavity-placed explosives. Rather than effective security, the TSA's latest effort will result in even longer security lines and state-sponsored pornography. We'd be better off having the producers of "Wag the Dog" protecting us.