According to the TSA, screeners at Boston’s Logan International Airport will soon be testing a new screening process modeled after Israel’s airport security. Titled Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT (isn’t the govt. great with acronyms), the new procedure will require screeners to determine if passenger pose a security threat based on their reactions to a set of routine questions. “We’re not looking for the answers necessarily; we’re instead gauging the reaction, the response, to the question,” said George Naccara, TSA federal security director at Logan.
The TSA description indicates they are adopting just some of the Israeli screening procedures, but not necessarily all of them. It is yet to be seen whether that will be enough.
The real difference between the Israeli and American approach is the target. Israel tries to identify and stop the terrorist while the U.S. targets the bomb or other weapon.
The approach is totally void of politics, consistent no matter who the Prime Minister is because the Israeli government realizes the fight against terrorism is a fight for its very survival. Thus her government and citizenry have a view of preventing terrorism that is unencumbered by the political correctness which restrains efforts in the United States.
The ISA (Israeli Security Agency) calls it “human factor.” Some parts of that human factor would cause Al Sharpton to show up to picket the Airport if it was practiced in the US. Ethnic profiling of passengers plays a role in Israel’s multi-level approach, but ethnicity is only one element of the profile, country of origin, religion, general appearance and the most important element, behavior are also part of the information used to profile. And wherever that profile is being made, no matter what country it is being made in, an Israeli doing the profile. Israel does not believe in trusting its security to citizens of other countries.
All passengers traveling to and from Israel are questioned by security staff. For Jewish Israelis, the process takes a couple of minutes at most, with passengers being asked whether they packed their luggage alone, and whether anyone had access to the luggage once it was packed. Jewish tourists also usually pass through security within a few minutes.
When my family entered the El Al terminal at Newark Airport, we were greeted at the entrance by someone who asked where we came from and where were going.
When we got into on the line to check in, an El Al employee asked my son (who was 12 at the time)out of my ear’s range why we were going to Israel. He was asked if we were Jewish and when my son answered yes, the screener followed up by asking him the name of our Synagogue and our Rabbi’s name. The entire time he was asking my son questions he was looking at my wife and me, gauging our reaction to the “interrogation.” The entire process with my son took less than 30 seconds.
When he was done with my son, he came to me and asked me the same questions (plus the typical who packed your luggage-type queries) once again gauging my reaction very closely.
Like the Mossad, tank drivers, and air force pilots, Israeli airport security has that super hero, no-nonsense, get to the point directness and efficiency. “Who packed your bags?” “What was your Bar Mitzvah portion?” “Why are you even here visiting?” This quick-fire interrogation was not bothersome but reassuring. We got the feeling that we were dealing with people who knew what they were doing.
Non-Jewish tourists tend to be questioned a bit more thoroughly, and may be grilled over the purpose of their visit and about their accommodation.
… the procedure for Arabs and Muslims can often be lengthy and irritating, ending with a full body and baggage search. Visitors who have passport stamps from countries hostile to Israel are also questioned intensively in what can be a traumatic experience for the uninitiated.
….Anyone admitting to leaving their luggage at an airport or bus station left-luggage area before check-in will have their suitcases stripped, with each item individually checked and re-packed.
The individual check also happens with “wise-asses” such as the people who were in line in front of me, these security people are serious but polite and expect the same out of the passengers.
Being Muslim or Arab won’t get you the extreme treatment, but it will make the questioners pay a bit more attention to your behavior.
If I had been more attentive when traveling to Israel, I would have noticed that throughout the terminal there were “armed eyes” looking at my family as well as everyone else about to get on a plane. These observers were making the same behavioral profiles as the guy who questioned people on line.
“It is mind-boggling 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.,.
Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of “distress” — behavioral profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.
“The word ‘profiling’ is a political invention by people who don’t want to do security,” he said. “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behavior. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”
Another important difference is that you don’t just come off the street and get a job with the ISA (Israel Security Agency). These security agents are ex-military (as most of the country is) and are selected based on their intelligence and their ability to behavior profile. The agents are rotated out of the airports every few months to keep them sharp.
Shlomo Harnoy, vice president of the Sdema group, an Israeli security consultancy firm which specializes in aviation security, believes Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who tried to blow up the Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines aircraft on Christmas Day, would have been detained “within seconds ” at Ben Gurion airport. According to Harnoy, a young Muslim traveling alone, on a one-way ticket, with no luggage, was an obvious suspect.
Harnoy, who once headed the Israel Security Agency’s aviation security department, believes investing millions in new technology is not the answer. “Whoever is concentrating on stopping old ladies bringing a bottle of mineral water on to the plane will not find the terrorist, or the bomb. The old lady is not a suicide bomber and the bottle of water is not a bomb component.”
Not only do most Israeli security selectors have degree-level education, they are trained to the highest standards. The most important element in the “human factor” is that security guards understand the threat to the country.
Additionally on every El Al flight there are armed air marshals. You won’t know who they are, and I don’t recommend you make a fuss mid-air just to find out.
As for my families first brush with Israeli Airport Security, we arrived in Ben Gurion Airport twelve hours later, tired but not even realizing that we went through a more extensive security process than we ever had before.
The fact that the TSA is testing some of the Israeli tactics is interesting, but for it to be successful, the TSA needs to adapt the entire process; not just the behavioral screening but the ethnic elements; not just the screening at the gates, but throughout the terminal and on the plane
During her 62 year fight against terror, Israel has achieved a balance between protection of civil liberties and the prevention of violence. Her decision was that the sanctity of saving human lives and preserving personal dignity outweighs possible targeting and inconvenience of the extra questioning of a few. It is yet to be seen whether the United States will adopt those priorities.
Or in the words of that great philosopher from the band KISS, Gene Simmons ;
I think we should be racially profiling anybody from the Middle East … and as an Israeli; I want you to look at me first. I want you to search my anal cavity and look at my tax records. I want you to look at me first, and then at every guy named Muhammad.