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Airport security done right

Posted by Richard on January 3, 2010

In the comments to Sensible profiling, I pointed out that the Israelis use profiling and do it right. An excellent story in the Toronto Star details just how different Israel's airport security procedures are from those used in North America:

"It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago," said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He's worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s— from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, 'We're not going to do this. You're going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport."

That, in a nutshell is "Israelification" – a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport employs a multi-layer security strategy. At multiple points — a checkpoint on the approach to the airport, the parking facility and terminal entrances, airline check-in desks, and the security checkpoint — trained  personnel watch passengers and ask simple, innocuous questions (How are you? Where are you coming from? Who packed your luggage?) while looking people directly in the eyes, alert for nervousness, stress, and other tell-tale signs. It's called behavioral profiling.

There are no long lines at the security checkpoint. Passengers don't have to take off their shoes and belts or go through full-body scans. They don't confiscate liquids or GI Joes, and they don't make people put their toiletries in Ziploc bags. The process is quick and convenient. And it's worked well for decades at one of the prime terrorist targets in the world. 

Today, there was a "security breach" at Newark Airport — a man walked into the secure "sterile" side of the terminal without being screened. In reaction, flights were halted and thousands of people evacuated from the terminal for re-screening. As I write this, it's been six hours, and they're still not back to normal. This happens all too often at U.S. airports, and it's usually just a dumb mistake by someone. But it always leads to a terrible mess — costly, inconvenient, frustrating, and stupid. 

At Ben Gurion, they don't even evacuate the terminal if they find a suspected bomb: 

First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain 'bomb boxes'. If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

"This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports," Sela said.

So why hasn't TSA learned from the Israeli example? Why do they foist upon the American traveling public a brain-dead, inefficient, ineffective, and horribly frustrating system? Because they can. We have become sheep. Unlike the Israelis, we'll put up with almost anything to avoid trouble and gain a sense of security.

With one exception. Remember the "flying Imams" and similar incidents? The lawsuits and accusations of racism and Islamophobia? If TSA adopted the Israeli methodology, training security personnel to look people in the eye, ask questions, and make judgments about their behavior, the perpetually aggrieved (and those attempting to test or undermine the system) would be in the courts and in front of the microphones screaming about profiling and discrimination every other day.

So the path of least resistance for TSA personnel is to treat people like cattle and go through the motions, giving us the illusion of security by confiscating shampoo and examining shoes, and selecting people at random for additional screening. It keeps CAIR and the PC crowd off their backs, and the rest of us just suffer in silence. 

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