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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Still chasing yesterday's terrorists

Three years ago, while on a trip to the US shortly after the plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners using liquids, I wrote the following:
I'm very nervous about being in the US. Maybe not for the reasons you think. You see, the state of security here in the US is such that you are always chasing yesterday's terrorists. The 9/11 hijackers used box cutters, so you cannot carry sharp objects onto planes. Richard Reid tried to put explosives in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight to the US a few years back, so now you all dutifully remove your shoes when you get to the security check. Suicide bombers walk around with heavy coats in warm weather, so you all take your coats off at the security check. Some belt buckles set off the metal detectors, so you take off your belts at the security check. Do you really think the terrorists are that stupid? Do you think they aren't thinking of new ways to carry out terror attacks?

In Israel, I was warned to check the toothpaste rather than have it in my carry-on bag, "because they will give you a hard time about it in the US." My 'security check' consisted of a trained guard asking me (before they let me get near the counter to check my bags) where I came from in Jerusalem, what neighborhood, who packed my bags, did anyone give me something to take on the plane (and did I know why he was asking me) and what where the names of my children. I didn't have to take off my shoes nor my belt nor my jacket nor my hat. But the Arabs were invited to a side table where they had to open their suitcases and take every single item out. Then the suitcases were taken away and checked for false bottoms and compartments. And you can bet that they were searched before they left that table. That's why there has never been a successful hijacking from Ben Gurion Airport. Bli ayin hara!

What's worse: if a certain type of terror attack hasn't happened outside of Israel, for the most part, no one is prepared for it. So yes, my Red Sox tickets for next week say "No bags or items larger than 16 x 16 x 8, coolers, cans, bottles, flagpoles, firearms or fireworks will be permitted into the ballpark." (So much for the days of the picnic lunch in the bleachers). And the ticket says that you are subject to search: but they'll search my father and me, and they won't search a 21-year old Muslim because that would be 'profiling'. And I will still walk into shopping malls or large stores tomorrow, and no one will search my bags - or anyone else's - because no American shopping mall has ever been attacked by a suicide bomber. No one will search me on my way into a movie theater until the first time someone with a political agenda shoots up a movie theater. And no one will search me going into Sbarros (which I cannot do here because they are not Kosher) or any other restaurant until a suicide bomber blows up a restaurant. In Israel, you cannot walk into an enclosed public space without being searched.

Moreover, who works in security? At Ben Gurion Airport, the youngest security people are post-army university students, many of them psychology majors. It's one of the toughest security jobs in the country to get (I had a friend who worked there in the early 80's, and I know someone else who worked there in the late 80's). Other security positions in Israel are also filled by post-army people. Until recently, when a plethora of security guards were required as a result of the Oslo War, nearly all of the security guards in Israel had served in combat units. I can no longer tell you for certain that is the case, although most of the ads you see in the papers for security guards still ask for 'bogrei yechidot kraviyot' (combat unit graduates). At least in Israel, the security guards know what they are looking for. Many security guards in North America barely speak English. Many probably never finished high school. And they are told to search people randomly.... That's why I don't feel safe here - my safety is in the hands of high school dropouts who don't speak the language and aren't being told what to look for.

As one person in Toronto said to me today, "once you get on the plane, the passengers are the security guards." That may be true, but let's at least give them a head start. By refusing to profile, by focusing on things rather than terrorists, all of your lives - all of our lives - are being endangered. Are you willing to endanger your life for political correctness?
What was true three years ago continues to be true today. A Nigerian Muslim got on a plane in Lagos - an airport known to have security issues. He changes planes in Europe, where after 9/11 the United States had joined Israel in conducting its own security checks because the airport staff are often Islamists, but where the US has long since turned things back over to the Europeans. And when this Nigerian Muslim tried to blow up his underwear 20 minutes out of Detroit, TSA's response is to latch passengers to their seats for the last hour of the flight as if that is going to stop this sort of thing.

I should interrupt to tell you that ALL flights into Israel have passengers latched to their seats for the last 45-60 minutes to avoid a 9/11 scenario where someone tries to crash a plane into a building, but that only helps if the flight is over the ocean during that time (flights into Israel always are) and if the passengers obey the rules, which they frequently don't. The terrorist on Northwest 253 could as easily have gotten out of his seat and violated the rule.

The real issue is why wasn't the terrorist stopped before he got on the plane. Why was he allowed to board the plane at all? He appeared on watch lists for two years, why did he have a visa and why was he allowed to board the flight? Ed Morrissey reports that the guy got on the plane without a passport. Unbelievable!

The problem can be summed up in two words: "racial profiling." What does every hijacker since 1970 have in common? What does every person who has blown up a commercial airliner have in common? Answer: Male Muslim between the ages of 18-50. This guy should have been taken into a room and strip-searched including body cavities - that's what El Al security would have done with him. And I'll guarantee you he would not have gotten onto that flight if El Al were running security. But the US doesn't want to discriminate ('profile') and the Europeans are even worse, because the Europeans allow the terrorists to work in their airport security. That's why El Al runs its own security wherever it flies. It's time for the US to wise up and run its own security too (at least everywhere outside of Israel) and to start profiling.

Discriminate or die.


At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's how the security world can save a lot of time and money.

At the entrance to all terminals, install the latest lie detector technology. Ask each passenger just one question: "Is Mohamed allah's prophet?"

Anyone answering in the affirmative or caught lying is escorted out.

When it catches on, apply it to trains, buses and overseas immigration applications.

Enough already.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - the US is not going to do it even though they should. The biggest problem is the "no fly" list is useless. Terrorists will always be able to find sleepers who are "clean" and whom no one suspects. When it comes to carrying out an attack its the terrorists have the advantage of knowing what the authorities are prepared for. That is what makes them so dangerous. They didn't succeed this time. They will may well get it done next time.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Akiva said...

Shy Guy, lie detector tech isn't so straightforward and clear - it requires a series of questions and a series of sensors to be truly effective.

Normal, the conflict of personal liberty versus government intrusiveness and things such as the no-fly list is a valid concern. Note that Israeli security works without that intrusiveness (profiling). Of course, once you're under suspicion in Israel - they watch and watch closely.


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