Scanning Us Darkly

This was an interesting article in today’s Jordan Times outlining the Jordan-Iraqi border check procedures that include radiation scans:

The most common products containing radioactive elements that enter the border are agricultural goods, as years of warfare have contaminated Iraqi soil. Border officials had to deny entry to Iraqi trucks carrying dates, as their radiation levels were too high, he noted.

“You can’t even trust the food coming out of Iraq – it also poses a danger,” Abu Tareq remarked.

After the radiation scan, border personnel gauge the vehicles’ tyre pressure, because if it is abnormal, there is most likely something hidden in them such as explosives or drugs. For the second phase of inspection, officers with drug and bomb-sniffing dogs examine the vehicle, and inspect the car and all the driver’s belongings.

While trucks and vehicles are given a full scan in a warehouse during the third stage, the final, perhaps toughest, test is at the immigration counter. Here, where 80 per cent of the travellers entering the Kingdom are Iraqis, people anxiously wait as their passports and documents are meticulously examined.

According to passport official Abu Salam, in his 20 years of experience, Iraqi passports prove to be the most difficult to process. A common problem is the pictures on older passports, which can easily be dissolved with chemicals and replaced with new ones. The worst, according to him, are the handwritten ‘S’ series passports, which were introduced following the US-led invasion in March 2003.

This model was deemed invalid by many countries due to substandard features that make it vulnerable to alteration, such as lack of bar codes and digital encoding. Many of these “valid” passports can be bought off the streets in Baghdad for $20, Abu Salam remarked.

It’s kind of fascinating just how much security measures have changed at the borders since 2003 and specifically, as this article seeks to point out, after the bombings in 2005. Security checks at border crossings have always been an inconvenience, pretty much every where in the world, but with what’s happening next door I expect them to be extra-annoying at a border crossing like Karamah.

In Amman, everyone seems to have gotten used to getting scanned, where it’s become a modern faucet of life, from supermarkets to malls, hotels and some restaurants. But I wonder some times, to what extent they are efficient. I used to think it was fear tactics but now I figure its more along the lines of giving people a false sense of security. City Mall has just replaced checking everyone’s car trunk with a more convenient and quicker radiation scanning device, but at the doors you have to walk through a metal detector and put your cell phone on the table. The alarm will still go off, as they’ve long stopped asking people to completely empty their pockets, like they used to about a year ago when they first opened. The same scenario is evident in supermarkets like Cosmos and Safeway. Only hotels seem to take it more seriously (for obvious reasons), with most of them covering their main doors like a bunker or a foxhole, armed with metal detectors and the large airport luggage scanners.

In my opinion, if you’re going to have these checks then do it right or don’t do it at all. In reality, the security checks have only created just another industry of private sector security. This is security who think that for some odd reason they have the legal powers of ordinary policemen. This is also security that is made up of mostly out of shape women and old men, or generally a staff that could easily be overpowered by an ordinary person and perhaps a small group of children.

When it comes to this particular topic a lot of people like to quote Benjamin Franklin’s famous “those who trade freedom for security…” et cetera, et cetera. But this reminded of a much more interesting quote from a much more interesting writer:

“What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner … see into me — into us — clearly or darkly?”Philip K. Dick


  • the security checks everywhere means that
    بلد الأمان والاطمئنان
    was deliberately replaced with “remember we are targeted” and the regime is here watching after you…be grateful.

    As for the radiation screening, it reminds me of the radioactive scrape that was imported from Iraq a few years back, and of course who can forget the lands of the Jordanian desserts rented by who knows who as nuclear dumpsters.
    Good times.

  • “What does a scanner see? I mean, really see? Into the head? Down into the heart? Does a passive infrared scanner … see into me — into us — clearly or darkly?” – Philip K. Dick

    Nas, this is a great quote. thank you for sharing. this reminded me of one of the best movies ever, ‘Al Maseer’ by Yousef Shaheen; that ideas fly between the minds of people without wings, no matter how you try to destroy their tangible form.

    Meanwhile, some of our products in Jordan that we consume and use on a daily basis, still contain lead, mercury and potential health hazards. Scanning for radiation is definitely the right thing to do, but maybe they need to scan other products far more important than ‘dates’.

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