Super-secret “backscatter X-Ray” vans are cruising the streets of America peering through walls, doors, and autos
// October 19th, 2015 // News
What are backscatter X-Ray vans?
They may look innocuous enough – large gray or white unmarked vans driving through neighborhoods or downtown cityscapes. But these super-secret vans, known as Z Backscatter Vans, may be not only invading your privacy, they may be endangering your health as they spray military-grade wide-reaching backscatter X-rays to pierce walls, doors, and steel truck and car bodies allowing authorities to peer straight through protective privacy barriers (e.g. walls) while on the move. Yes, the invasive scanning technology we love to hate has made its way from U.S. airports onto America’s streets – in droves.
At this time, the vans are known to be employed by US Customs and Border Protection, Department of Homeland Security, various branches of the U.S military, local law enforcement agencies, and presumably government intelligence agencies. This week, the NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union) filed a brief requesting records about the X-Ray vans used in New York City. NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said,
“People should be informed if military-grade X-ray vans are damaging their health with radiation or peering inside their homes or cars.”
Thus far, New York City officials refuse to discuss the mysterious million-dollar vans (they’re estimated to cost between $729,000 and $850,000) claiming their use falls with the range of “security and counter-terrorism” activities.
About backscatter X-Ray technology
The backscatter X-ray technology used, similar to that of airport scanners, allows the Z Backscatter Van (ZBV) operator to see through the body of a vehicle as it drives past as well as through the walls of buildings and houses and of course, people’s clothes. The X-Ray mechanism used is unique in that it does not require a “detector” on the far side of the object allowing it to behave more like a radar return signal. A scan typically takes less than 15 seconds and can be operated remotely from more than 1,500 feet away from the target.
The safety of backscatter X-Rays is questioned
Unlike cell phone signals, or millimeter-wave scanners, the energy being emitted by a backscatter X-ray is a type of ionizing radiation that damages chemical bonds. Ionizing radiation is considered carcinogenic even in very small doses. Arizona State University professor Peter Rez, an expert in radiation physics, told Fox News:
“So long as a person is somewhere away, like tens of feet, the dose isn’t that high, it’s very, very low indeed. But if a person were to walk next to the van while it was scanning, then I would start getting worried.”
Rez also says a former student recalled using a ZBV while serving in the military:
“It was a secondary screening mechanism for trucks going into a loading dock, but it was on a public street and they were just scanning people and nobody was being told this was going on. That kind of shocked me. …I think they’re being used in a more widespread manner than people would have one believe.”
The van manufacturer, AS&E (American Science and Engineering) will not disclose the identity of buyers but says that more than 500 vans have been sold to date.
Here’s a collection of photos of ZBV’s cruising the streets (if you capture a picture of one on your street, send it my way and I’ll post it here).
Sources: Fox News, CNN, American Science and Engineering
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