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?