Let me preface this rambling by saying not only am I not an airline expert, I most certainly am not an airline security expert either. Rather, I am just a frequent flier who spends a lot of time in airports and these are my thoughts.
It seems that the ire of the flying public has once been raised by a new TSA imposition. This time it has to do with body scanners and pat downs. Now, I’m not exactly sure what they can see in the scans or who sees it or what they are hoping to find by doing a fairly cursory, if not invasive, pat down. What I am very certain of though is that these actions aren’t really doing anything to strengthen security efforts at airports.
After all, we’ve seen this before, haven’t we? First it was taking off our shoes, then limitations on liquids and printer cartridges (I still don’t understand that one) and now this. Pretty soon it’ll be easier just to show up naked with no luggage.
The truth is, this is all for show. Nothing is really being accomplished through many of these measures. Yes, terrorists once tried to use a shoe bomb and yes there was an underwear bomber, but I am pretty sure that after getting caught the bad guys won’t be trying these same techniques twice. Rather, they are unfortunately already thinking of new ways to circumvent current security precautions. And that’s the problem, our airport security measures look backwards and not forwards.
If you read my site then you know that I was recently in Israel. Israel is of course famous for its tough security measures, particularly when it comes to securing air travel in and out of Israel. Their track record would also indicate that what they do is incredibly effective as there has never been a successful terrorist event on any plane leaving the country.
My experience with Israeli airport security began as soon as I entered the airport. Rather than proceed right away to the ticket agent, I first had to stand in line to be questioned. During this first line of defense, the official examined my passport and asked me a lot of detailed questions about my travels. As a side note, they really didn’t seem to like the fact I was in Morocco earlier this year. After that, I proceeded to have my luggage sent through an x-ray machine after which I received a special tag indicating that I had been selected for more in depth screening. That’s what took some time.
First came the queue. I joined the other “flagged” individuals, all of us wondering what we had done to warrant the full examination by Israeli security. After about an hour or so, my turn had finally come. They went through my suitcase and carryon bags item by item, asked more questions, sent me through a metal detector and I was done. From start to finish it took almost two hours, and I still hadn’t made it to the ticket agent yet.
But you know what? I was never patted down. I never had to take off my shoes. They did take my Diet Coke, but that was my fault for forgetting about it. My experience though demonstrates why Israeli security is so successful.
One, the traveling public doesn’t really know the full width and breadth of their screening process. What I saw during my experience was the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the various checks the security personal run on the flying public. And that’s good. We shouldn’t know everything that they do, that’s what keeps the bad guys guessing. Second, their personnel were professional and competent and had obviously been well trained. Rather than learning how to sort bins for passengers’ shoes, the Israeli officials knew which key questions to ask in order to illicit the information they needed. Lastly, there were no theatrics. There was no rubber gloved pat downs or other ridiculous bits of security theater. Everything they did and everything they asked was well thought out and with reason.
Simply said, Israel is effective because they use behavioral screening and aggressive questioning.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that we need to have strong airport security and I want strong airport security. Israel is a perfect example of how effective having a strong and dynamic program can be. Even though the process in Tel Aviv took forever and really annoyed me, I understand the need for it and appreciate their commitment to my safety. I just don’t feel that many of the TSA policies are really for our security and while that was fine in the past, these theatrics are now becoming a hindrance to travel.
What do you think? Am I just cranky about being touched in personal ways by civil servants? Are scanners and pat downs effective tools?