Friday, January 15, 2010

Do It Like The Israelis Do It

Airport security, that is:

"Let's do things the way the Israelis do." That's the latest buzzword in airline security. It's nice to hear the Israelis being praised for something, but if we don't understand what the Israelis do, we're just going to be adding another layer of bureaucracy to an already overloaded system.

CNN spent an hour interviewing Isaac Yeffet, former head of El Al security, for example, and all it came away with is that the Israelis interview everyone on line while they're waiting to go through security, that the security personnel speak at least two languages, and that the system costs a lot of money. (Hey, let's order up a lot of Rosetta Stones!) According to the Wall Street Journal, "the secret to [the Israelis'] successful airport security is not labor-intensive checkpoints, but a screening system that is frowned upon in many other countries: ethnic profiling."

Can't you just see the ACLU licking its chops at that one? Many people think it was the undisclosed settlement won by the "six flying Imams" against US Airways last October for being "racially profiled" for their erratic behavior at Minneapolis Airport that set the stage for the Christmas bomber incident.

But the Israeli security system is not based on dual language skills or racial and ethnic profiling. The heart of the Israeli strategy is the idea that the most sophisticated scanner in the world is an intelligent, alert human being and that the most important terrorist behavior database is the shared assumptions, memories and life learning we call "common sense." It revolves around a simple principle that no one in the Homeland Security Department does not yet seem capable of grasping: "Look at people, not things."

Personally, I would disagree on the profiling thing, but that's just me.  I guess in reality profiling is little more than an individual applying collective common sense, so maybe it's basically the same thing.  Regardless, this is a very interesting article by Stephanie Gutmann that goes into some detail about exactly what it is that makes Israel's airport security so much more successful than just about anyone else's, and I encourage you to check it all out.  Given that it's pretty long, I'll excerpt it.  The key to their system seems to be this:

As Sela explains, "They're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you. Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes. And that's how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys."

Look 'em in the eye, ask 'em some questions, and apply good judgment?  Cool.  Israel is apparently a lot more concerned with safety than with political correctness.  Sadly, we are not.  Here's an example of how their policy saved lives:

In 1986 the simple question, "Did you pack your bags yourself?" ended up saving hundreds of lives in the following incident, as reported by Neil C. Livingstone and David Halevy in the Washingtonian (hat tip to Daniel Pipes):

"No," a 32-year-old Irish lady bound to Israel for the first time in her life told El Al screeners at Heathrow airport.
And so the screeners pressed on.
"What is the purpose of your trip to Israel?" they asked Ann-Marie Doreen Murphy, a chambermaid at London's Park Lane Hilton Hotel.
"For a vacation," she answered.
"Are you married?"
"Traveling alone?"
"Is this your first trip abroad?"
"Do you have relatives in Israel?"
"Are you going to meet someone in Israel?"
"Has your vacation been planned for a long time?"
"Where will you stay while you're in Israel?"
"The Tel Aviv Hilton."
"How much money do you have with you?"
"Fifty pounds."
Since the Hilton at that time cost at least £70 a night, she was then asked, "Do you have a credit card?"
"Oh, yes," she replied, and showed them a government ID used for cashing checks.

That was one oddity too many. Murphy's bag was sent for hand searching -- where it was discovered to have a false bottom filled with the plasticine explosive Semtex, enough to bring down a plane.

Miss Murphy had been an unwitting mule of a far left Palestinian who met her while she was working as a chamber maid at the Hilton, romanced her, and given her a one way ticket to Israel where he told her they would get married.

Notice how the application of common sense not only prevented a terrorist attack, but it did so by stopping an unwitting and unsuspecting non-terrorist surrogate!  Pretty effective, yes?

Gutmann offers a quick analysis of implementing such a system here that I can't disagree with:

Maybe I'm wrong, but everything I know about American government in the 21st century tells me that even if we try to adopt Israeli methods, we're going to get it wrong. It will end up like those "psy-ops" efforts in Iraq, where Arabic-speaking soldiers stand there reading questions off a checklist rather than engaging the population in casual or even earnest conversation. All our so-called "reforms" and "outreach" in everything from policing to intelligence gathering to government hiring have been about banning the intuitive, the hunch. 

When Richard Reid climbed aboard a trans-Atlantic flight with a British passport issued in Belgium, no luggage, a one-way ticket and a bomb in his shoe, we made everybody take off their shoes. Now that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has gotten past security with no luggage, a one-way ticket and a bomb in his underpants, we're going to check everybody's underpants with body scanners. But no scanner ever invented can look into another person's mind. Only when we start talking to passengers will be able to get into their heads. And that is where the real danger lies.

As long as we value political correctness more than realistic safety measures, we are in far more danger.  Will there be thuggish airport employees who will give certain folks an undeserving hard time?  Undoubtedly.  But that kind of thing can be monitored and kept to an absolute minimum, and it can be duly punished when it occurs.  It should not be a factor in this discussion.  At the end of the day, the tough question which America is currently answering incorrectly is: which would you rather be, offended and alive or unruffled and dead?

Those are the stakes here.

There's my two cents.

No comments: