Securing our airplanes


Americans are making it pretty clear that digital strip-searches and intimate groping as the first line of defense is simply going too far. We need to be more effective and less invasive.

There are several possible alternatives.

A recent report from the Pentagon showed that dogs are the BEST at detecting bombs. After spending $19 billion and trying to create mechanical “sniffers”, the bottom line is that dogs detect the presence of explosives far more reliably than machinery. An article in “Wired” starts this way:

Drones, metal detectors, chemical sniffers, and super spycams — forget ‘em. The leader of the Pentagon’s multibillion military task force to stop improvised bombs says there’s nothing in the U.S. arsenal for bomb detection more powerful than a dog’s nose.

Next, we need to use intelligence to screen, well, more intelligently. Let’s get past the political correctness that prevents us from doing the best job possible and actually learn from the people with the safest airline and the safest airport in the world – the Israelis.

A 2006 Boston Globe article outlined some of their security practices:

The safest airline in the world, it is widely agreed, is El Al, Israel’s national carrier. The safest airport is Ben Gurion International, in Tel Aviv. No El Al plane has been attacked by terrorists in more than three decades, and no flight leaving Ben Gurion has ever been hijacked.

The Israelis check for bombs and weapons too, but always with the understanding that things don’t hijack planes, terrorists do — and that the best way to detect terrorists is to focus on intercepting not bad things, but bad people. To a much greater degree than in the United States, security at El Al and Ben Gurion depends on intelligence and intuition — what Rafi Ron, the former director of security at Ben Gurion, calls the human factor.

Israeli airport security, much of it invisible to the untrained eye, begins before passengers even enter the terminal. Officials constantly monitor behavior, alert to clues that may hint at danger: bulky clothing, say, or a nervous manner. Profilers — that’s what they’re called — make a point of interviewing travelers, sometimes at length. They probe, as one profiling supervisor told CBS, for “anything out of the ordinary, anything that does not fit.” Their questions can seem odd or intrusive, especially if your only previous experience with an airport interrogation was being asked whether you packed your bags yourself.

Unlike in US airports, where passengers go through security after checking in for their flights and submitting their luggage, security at Ben Gurion comes first. Only when the profiler is satisfied that a passenger poses no risk is he or she allowed to proceed to the check-in counter. By that point, there is no need to make him remove his shoes, or to confiscate his bottle of water

They also put all checked baggage in a pressure chamber that will trigger any possible explosive devices and they pay particular attention to passengers from countries at war with Israel. We should learn from that. Mr. Shoe Bomber and Mr. Panty Bomber both got on flights originating outside of the US, where multiple red flags were ignored.

Last week, Michael J Totten, an independent foreign correspondent, wrote about the TSA and Israeli security:

Terrorists have yet to use the same weapon twice, and the TSA isn’t even looking for whatever they’ll try to use next. I can think of all sorts of things a person could use to wreak havoc on a plane that aren’t banned. Security officials should pay less attention to objects, and more attention to people.

The Israelis do. They are, out of dreadful necessity, the world’s foremost experts in counterterrorism. And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport — almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq — I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them….They don’t put anyone into a “porn machine.” There’s no point. Terrorists can’t penetrate that deeply into the airport.

The system has its advantages, though, aside from the fact that no one looks or reaches into anyone’s pants. Israelis don’t use security theater to make passengers feel like they’re safe. They use real security measures to ensure that travelers actually are safe. Even when suicide bombers exploded themselves almost daily in Israeli cities, not a single one managed to get through that airport.

Isn’t it time that we started working smarter and stop treating everyone as suspects?


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14 Responses to “Securing our airplanes”

  1. Rod Arquette Says:

    Nice rundown. I may use some of these points on my show today.

  2. hollyonthehill Says:

    Thanks, Rod – and feel free. The more people know about real options, the better!

  3. Jared Says:

    Reposted to my fb status. Excellent summary. Solutions!

  4. rmwarnick Says:

    Of course, the “profiling” used by El Al consists of having well-paid, highly trained people interview every passenger, without exception. This is not what right-wingers mean by profiling.

  5. reffaree Says:

    Profiling means NO kids, pilots/attendants, Frequent Fliers and elderly. I think you Loonie Lefties need to stand down and respect your fellow AMERICANS. (since you started the nane calling and im giving you some of your own medicine. HOW YOU LIKE IT?) Bem Adel Bendal Baghbahm, who just bought a one way ticket with cash DESERVES the “Grope a dope.” The above mentioned group and general traveling public does not deserve these invasions of privacy, unless you want them and I know some of your types get off on that type of activity, but NOT IN MY AIRPORT. Get a room perverts. (see hurts doesent it? – so stop with the WINGER STUFF. k?) We the People are tired of the name calling.

  6. Says:

    Great post, Holly. I spoke to a TSA official today, asking him why they don’t use dogs, and he suggested there just aren’t enough of them. He said with TSA operating at 429 airports, and dogs only able to work (did he say an hour or two?) for short periods, there just aren’t enough dogs to go around. I think they should work on getting more dogs in place.
    Ben Gurion the safest airport? El Al the safest airline? Wow! It seems there probably would be no other airport or airline where the terrorists would seek to take their bombs, so that is impressive.

  7. rmwarnick Says:

    Sorry, I should have said “right-wing extremists.”

  8. rmwarnick Says:

    What the Israelis do is called “behavioral profiling.” It’s completely different from the type of profiling they advocate on Faux News Channel.

    The profiling done by Israel, however, is not based on race or ethnicity, but is based more on behavior and other cues that highly trained Israeli security personnel are trained to pick up.

  9. Pops Says:

    The current security measures would not be attempted except for the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It seems curious that the same circumstances aren’t used to justify profiling of passengers instead. It appears that the sole purpose of the TSA is to create the illusion of security.

    rmwarnick seems to believe that profiling as proposed by anyone to the right of Harry Reid on the political spectrum would consist of simply targeting anyone of Arab descent – rather curious as a comment on a blog post clearly demonstrating that not to be the case.

  10. Fred Says:

    I would rather have some cute beagle sniffing people as they go by the metal detector.

    “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

    The US Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, takes precedence over any State or Federal Law, and/or any government agency set of rules. It is time that TSA have their wings clipped.

  11. John Cheshire Says:

    The reason they don’t use dogs is because the dogs can’t contribute sacks full of cash to democrats campaign coffers like the company that makes the full body scanner. The CEO, Deepak Chopra, is a democratic ally and doner. So is George Soros who has a financial stake in the company. Deepak was even invited to India with Obama on his recent trip…fairly close relationship would’t you say?

    These full body scanners have nothing to do with security and everything to do with political paybacks to doners and allies.

  12. Jared Says:

    @Pops: well said.

  13. JBT Says:

    DONER – a Turkish dish made of lamb meat cooked on a vertical spit and sliced off to order. …

    BONER – an embarrassing mistake

    DONOR – a person who makes a gift of money or property

  14. Pops Says:

    That was either hilarious or loharious, not sure which.

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