Airport body-scanner manufacturers armed for K Street battle

Companies manufacturing the airport body scanners at the center of a national controversy are well-armed on K Street to battle legislative restrictions on their technologies. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has received more than 600 complaints about the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) pat-downs and scanners, which were deemed “a virtual strip search” by Laura W. Murphy, the director of the group’s Washington legislative office. 

“People are concerned about the radiation, the abuse and the lack of training,” said Murphy, who wants Congress to “engage in aggressive oversight.”

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The ACLU is supporting legislation proposed in April 2009 by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) that would limit the use of the body scanners while banning storage of images they take. Murphy said the ACLU is also considering litigation against the new screening procedures.

Lobbyists for the body-scanner companies are also keeping an eye on a bill introduced last week by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) that could stop the new screening procedures.

Companies like L-3 Communications, the defense contractor, are providing several of the scanners under a nearly $165 million TSA contract won earlier this year, are well-prepared for the fight.

Linda Hall Daschle, a former administrator for the Federal Aviation Administration and wife of ex-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), is one of L-3’s best-connected lobbyists.

The president of LHD Associates, Daschle has earned $100,000 in lobbying fees so far this year working on “matters related to advanced imaging technology” — body scanners — among other air-travel issues, according to lobbying disclosure documents.

“Lobbyists are not the problem. Terrorists are the ones who can do harm to innocent victims,” Daschle told The Hill.

Complaints about the scanners have intensified ahead of the busiest travel day of the year on Wednesday, Thanksgiving’s eve. They have centered on revealing images taken by the body scanners, while pat-downs performed by TSA agents have been met by a public outcry due to their invasiveness.

Daschle said L-3 is continuing to improve its body scanners. She noted that the company has developed new computer software that will take only stick-figure representations of passengers, not body images, during screening. The new software is already in use at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport and is being tested here in the United States.

“We obviously want to protect everyone’s privacy and civil rights. L-3 has invested its own money to develop software to help with that,” Daschle said.

L-3 has other lobbyists in its employ, but unlike Daschle, they are focused more on defense issues than transportation. Along with LHD, Park Strategies, including former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), and PRASAM are registered to lobby for the company.

Overall, L-3 has spent more than $1.4 million on lobbying since 2004, according to disclosure records. It also has a large political action committee, which made more than $460,000 in political contributions to candidates and other committees during the 2010 election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) records.

TSA’s other body-scanner contractor is Rapiscan Systems Inc. In 2009, the company was awarded an agreement that could be worth up to $173 million. And like L-3, Rapiscan has a notable K Street presence.

Holland & Knight, Rapiscan’s outside lobbying firm, has earned $480,000 in fees from the company since May 2008, according to lobbying disclosure records. David Whitestone, a former aide to Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), and John Buscher, once the chief lobbyist for United Airlines, are lobbying for the company.

Overall, Rapiscan has spent close to $3.6 million on lobbying since 2007, according to records.

Rapiscan attracted attention earlier this year when it was revealed that former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a vocal proponent of body scanners, had consulted for the company. Peter Kant, Rapsican’s executive vice president, said Chertoff was no longer working for the company.

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“In 2009, Rapiscan Systems briefly engaged Chertoff Group, led by Michael Chertoff, as a consultant,” Kant said in a statement to The Hill. “In that engagement, Mr. Chertoff and his staff of experts provided Rapiscan with advice and analysis with respect to a limited set of well-defined subjects unrelated to aviation security. Chertoff Group’s activities in that engagement were advisory, and neither Mr. Chertoff nor his staff has ever represented Rapiscan in any communications with the U.S. government.”

Rapiscan’s parent company, OSI Systems Inc., has an active political action committee. During the 2010 campaign, it made more than $60,000 in campaign contributions to candidates and committees, according to FEC records.

Lobbyists for both companies stressed that their clients had to go through a lengthy certification process run by the agency to win the hefty body-scanner contracts. They also dismissed allegations that the body scanners pose health risks due to radiation.

"We don’t believe there is any health risk at all," Daschle said about L-3's millimeter wave body scanners. 

Despite the public outcry, several lobbyists said the body scanners are here to stay — there are already 385 body scanners at 68 airports, according to TSA.

There could even be growth for the industry because of widening security concerns.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, introduced legislation this past September that would authorize testing of body scanners at some federal buildings.

A clarification was added to this story on Nov. 23 at 11:26 a.m.