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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Why Israeli security doesn't need to touch your 'junk'

Jeff Dunetz describes Israeli airline security blow by blow for those of you who have never been through it before. I suggest that you read it. Yes, they do discriminate. In general, Jews get through more quickly. What Jeff's describing goes for every El Al flight anywhere in the World and for all flights that depart from Ben Gurion Airport. I have also told you in the past that if you fly from North America to Israel via Europe and connect to El Al in Europe, you almost always have to go identify your bag, open it up and make sure that no one has put anything inside (they are not particularly enamored of the notes from TSA that say "we went through your bag;" I once pointed out one of those in London and they had me go through the entire bag again). Here are some highlights and then I'll tell you a couple of stories.
The ISA (Israeli Security Agency) calls it “human factor.” Some part 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 central role in Israel’s multi-level approach. Not just ethnicity is profile, race religion, general appearance and 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, it is an Israeli doing the profile.
All passengers travelling 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.
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.

In 2008, Israel’s supreme court rejected a petition presented by a group of disgruntled Israeli Arab citizens, backed by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, demanding an end to ethnic profiling as discriminatory and illegal.
“It is mindboggling 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?”
There are other differences, most importantly is that you don’t just come off the street and get a job with the ISA (Israel Security Agency). These security agents are all ex-military (as most of the country is) and they are selected based on their intelligence and their ability to behavior profile.
Shlomo Harnoy, vice president of the Sdema group, an Israeli security consultancy firm which specialises 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 the security guards understand the threat.
And of course, on every El Al flight there are armed air marshals. You won’t know who they are, but I do not recommended you making a fuss mid-air just to find out.
Read the whole thing.

Two quick stories. When I first came on aliya, my boss had a Jewish Austrian client, who had a non-Jewish Austrian assistant. Once, the client sent the assistant back to Vienna early. In Israel, businesspeople routinely prepare 'To Whom It May Concern' letters for their visiting, non-Jewish counterparts, to make security go a little more smoothly, and we prepared such a letter for this woman. She called us from the airport in tears - she had been raked over the coals by security but was going to make her flight (this was 1991 and most people did not have cell phones, so she took the trouble of going to a payphone, which required a token at the time, to call us). When we told her boss what had happened, he snapped, "she's a fool. If she would just answer their questions, they would let her go."

I have two more Israeli security stories here:
Three years ago, I flew Tel Aviv - London - Boston and back with one of my children. Tel Aviv - London - Tel Aviv was El Al. On the way back, I had to go downstairs in London, identify my bags, open them, and ensure that nothing had been added during the courst of my first flight. They even made me open the box with my brand new computer (on which I am typing this post) because Homeland Security had put tape around the box indicating that they inspected it. When I asked the security personnel why I had to open the computer, she reminded me that "the people who blew up Mike's Place worked at Heathrow." She was right. But the Brits still haven't figured that out: Two weeks ago, it was reported that one of the terrorists who was arrested in connection with the plot to blow up planes flying between London and the US was a Heathrow employee with an all-area access pass.

The second story is a classic ait El Al, and will show you that while they profile terrorists and that helps, they also think. On 17 April 1986, semtex explosives were found in the bag of a pregnant Irishwoman attempting to board an El Al flight. The explosives had been given to her by her Jordanian boyfriend and father of their unborn child Nizar Hindawi, and the incident became known as the Hindawi Affair. The pregnant Irishwoman was obviously not an Arab and the Jordanian boyfriend was not with her on the flight.
Israeli security doesn't need to touch your 'junk' because they have far better methods. Maybe it's time for other countries to learn them.

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At 10:39 PM, Blogger Grady A Emmons MS, CPS said...

Great post!! I can tell you first hand that Behavioral Profiling works. I've used in many capacities myself to weed out suspicious persons. Any student of interrogation and human behavior can tell you that all but the most hardened criminals/terrorists will begin to show signs of nervousness when questioned by security.

Perhaps racial/ethnic profiling does inconvenience some. However, when the statistics are examined and a certain segment of a population (a profile) is most likely to commit a terrorist attack, its only good sense for security to focus on that segment.

The TSA could take some lessons from the Israelis. Personally, I'd rather be briefly questioned than felt up when trying to get on a plane.


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