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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Israel: Doing airport security right (Michael Totten)

From Michael Totten in the New York Post (h/t Daled Amos, who has more):
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.

Because I fit one of their profiles, it takes me 15 or 20 minutes longer to get through the first wave of security than it does for most people. The agents make up for it, though, by escorting me to the front of the line at the metal detector. They don't put anyone into a "porn machine." There's no point. Terrorists can't penetrate that deeply into the airport.

The Israeli experience isn't pleasant, exactly, and there's a lot not to like about it. It can be exasperating for those of us who are interrogated more thoroughly.

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.