Reporting from Denver — A Colorado man thinks he's found a way to protect your private parts from unwanted radiation and government peeping at airports.
Jeff Buske of Larkspur is selling tungsten-lined underwear online, with fibers of the X-ray-repelling material strategically placed over the crotch. He says he's seen his sales skyrocket in the last week, since the Transportation Security Administration began rolling out full-body scanners at several airports and conducting aggressive pat-downs of people who refuse to use them.
"You shouldn't have to be digitally strip-searched or doused with radiation to visit your grandmother," Buske, a 52-year-old electrical engineer, said by phone Monday from New Jersey, where he was trying to find facilities to manufacture more of his undergarments.
Buske hit upon the idea in January after authorities said a Nigerian air passenger unsuccessfully tried to detonate a bomb in his underpants. That led the TSA to speed its deployment of full-body imaging machines across the country. Buske anticipated an inevitable backlash.
He began selling the undergarments in March. The opaque parts are shaped like fig leaves or other designs and positioned over the crotch or, on brassieres, the nipples. Buske peddled them through an ad on the website infowars.com, which tracks the intelligence community, and got so many orders that the servers crashed. He sold the undergarments, which retail for up to $35, at street fairs and to friends.
After a local television station reported on his product last week, sales jumped. Buske said his total orders were in the thousands.
Nonetheless, a TSA spokesman said Monday the agency had yet to hear from any screeners foiled by the underwear. Buske has traveled wearing the special-made shorts, but when he approached a full-body imaging device last week, it was out of order.
He said he had tested the product at Denver-area hospitals and determined that it did repel X-rays.
The TSA has said repeatedly that the scanners are safe and do not dose passengers with excessive radiation. But Buske, who used to design X-ray devices for General Electric Co., doesn't believe the government. He said he designed the undergarments with safety in mind.
"Short of wearing an actual radiation suit, which would be impractical, you protect what you can," he said.
Lawrence Johnston, from the Denver suburb of Littleton, said he bought 10 pairs of Buske's underwear this year but hadn't worn them.
Johnston, a friend of Buske through an activist group called We Are Change — which is skeptical that the Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by Al Qaeda terrorists — said he too was primarily motivated by fear of radiation exposure but added that he hoped they would preserve a semblance of privacy when his family flew.
"I don't want pictures of my wife on the Internet," said Johnston, 42, referring to the possibility that unclad images could find their way online.
Buske said although the patches would mask key parts of passengers' bodies, the TSA shouldn't worry because little could be stuffed inside.
But if screeners can't see what's going on, they may have to take more physical measures.
"If there is an anomaly that needs to be resolved," said TSA spokesman Nico Melendez, "a pat-down would occur."