The hidden camera rolls inside Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport as a blond-haired young man calmly slips a metal box into a secret pocket sewn into his dress shirt. He strolls through the Transportation Security Administration's high-tech body scanner, grabs the camera off the conveyor belt, and — voila! — takes the box out of his shirt.
Did a 28-year-old from South Beach find a loophole in America's billion-dollar airport security web? So says Jonathan Corbett, who uploaded footage of his feat to YouTube last month (and has since received more than a million views). It's part of his larger war — including a federal lawsuit — against what he says is an inept and invasive agency.
"It can't be that easy to beat the TSA's fleet of body scanners, right?" he asks. "The TSA can't be that stupid, can they? Unfortunately they can, and they are."
Corbett, who travels constantly as a mobile app developer, first became enraged with the TSA in 2010, when the agency placed more than 500 of the $180,000 body scanners in airports. The machines supposedly can detect nonmetal bombs as well as old-fashioned guns and knives.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
But Corbett believed they were flawed. (He also objected to the TSA's new genital-groping pat-downs. He's filed two federal lawsuits over that issue.)
How to beat the machines, though? Simple: The scans show human flesh as white, the background as black, and metal objects as black over the white flesh. But what if the metal isn't on the body? Corbett bet it would disappear into the black background. "It's as simple as sewing on a pocket that doesn't touch your body," he says.
Sure enough, Corbett says, his video shows him sneaking a half-pound metal case through both FLL and later Cleveland's airport. (The TSA responded to his video by calling it "crude" and saying "we can't discuss our technology.")
Now Corbett wants the TSA to go back to metal detectors and bomb-sniffing dogs and to drop the groping and body imaging. "I'm not ready to let the government take nude pictures of me just to fly, especially when the scanners don't even work," he says.