Scientist Says Simple Technical Fix Could Resolve TSA Scanner Controversy

The Transportation Security Administration is under fire for its airport screening procedures, but a California scientist says a simple technical fix could resolve some of the controversy.

Dr. Bill Wattenburg, a scientific consultant with the Livermore National Laboratory, says he was slapped down by the Department of Homeland Security after he and his laboratory colleagues submitted a patent application for a screening machine fix in 2006. According to government records, the patent is under appeal.

Wattenberg Patent Application :pdf

The former nuclear weapons designer and weekend radio host says his technical alternation would distort full-body images, much like a fun-house mirror. "It's very, very simple," Wattenburg told FOX News. "Take the titillating image of your body stripped down, and distort it into something comical, turn it into a tiny little head, a big sweeping torso, and tiny little legs."

Airport screeners would still be able to see suspicious materials. Just as "you can still count the buttons on your shirt and the number of pockets" in a fun-house mirror, "you lose absolutely nothing in the suspicious objects you want to examine," Wattenburg explains. "It's what you have on you, next to your body that is of a different density than your flesh that is suspicious or dangerous. So the two are really independent, in my opinion...I think they did it the hard way."

The current batch of machines used in airports across the country would be very easy to retrofit, the scientist says.

TSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but told the Washington Post that it could not confirm Wattenburg's 2006 conversation with federal officials.

"This is probably the first they heard about it," Wattenburg says of the current TSA administration, musing that the official he spoke with four years ago might have just thrown his idea into the waste basket.

While some angry air travelers are calling for a national "opt-out" day during the busy Thanksgiving travel season, Wattenburg says that ditching full body screenings altogether isn't a good solution to the problem. "The president is right, the TSA is right, and they ought to continue doing it," he says of the screening techniques some have called invasive. "In no way should this suggestion slow down the use of the present standards of procedures. That's just inviting the terrorists to step in a blow a plane apart."

Recalling that scientists at the Livermore facility knew "instantly" that the scanners, would cause backlash over privacy concerns, Wattenburg says, "What's too bad is that I think 99 percent of the protests would not have happened, had they done this in the beginning." But he adds that any machine that creates images likely stores them somewhere, whether they are fun-house-style pictures or not. "They might say we always throw them away," he says, but "everything gets posted and archived."