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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Israeli airport security could be implemented in the US

Claire Berlinski decries the state of airport security in the United States, but dismisses the possibility of implementing Israeli-style security there (Hat Tip: Instapundit).
What the Israelis do is effective, but it's not scaleable. Israel is a minuscule country. You could probably fit the whole Zionist Entity inside of Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. (That may even be literally true: I leave it to you to check.) It has exactly one major international airport, which handles maybe ten million passengers a year. In America, you've got about two million people flying every single day, 86 airports that carry more than a million passengers per year, and 25 that carry more than ten million--each one, in other words, handling the volume of traffic handled by the entire State of Israel. If you think the lines move quickly in Israel, think again. Implement those kinds of procedures and you'd grind what's left of the US economy to a halt.

The Israelis aren't using some racial or religious algorithm to screen passengers. If they were, I wouldn't get stuck at security at Ben Gurion for hours every time I fly there, would I? I assure you they don't take a look at my passport and say, "Well, she's an American, and 'Berlinski' sounds kind-of Jewish, so she's probably fine." Every single time, they interrogate me for hours.
She's largely right except in her assumption that Israeli security cannot be implemented in the US. Berlinski talks about Israeli security as if it takes hours. Unless you're one of the people who is pulled over, it does not. I go through security at Ben Gurion at least twice a year and I go through security in the US (Boston, JFK or both) at least twice a year. I am through security in Ben Gurion in about half an hour - as fast or faster than I get through security in the US during periods in which I don't have the right to go through faster as a result of my frequent flier status (there's no such thing here). I get through security faster in both countries than I do if I have to make a morning connection in London Heathrow, where you can stand on line for an hour and a half.

I get through security in Ben Gurion faster than Berlinski does because I don't live in Istanbul (something that might arouse suspicion these days), I don't take trips to Israel to check out Hezbullah installations on the border (and I would never put it that way to security) and because I carry an Israeli passport. Berlinski links to this article, but I've flown through Ben Gurion three times since then, and my most recent trip was the only time there were serious lines and even then we found out later that it was because an El Al jet had made an emergency landing a few hours before, after discovering a problem with its landing gear shortly after takeoff. Knowing how things work at Ben Gurion, that probably meant that no one was allowed to go through security until after that plane had landed in order to keep people out of the gate areas in case emergency crews were needed.

There are two obstacles to implementing Israeli-style security in the US. One is its cost, to which Berlinski alludes when she talks about scalability. But we know exactly what it would cost (or almost exactly) because we know what the US spends on airline security per passenger and what Israel spends per passenger. We know that it's not more than $50 per passenger and probably less because some of the Israeli costs are for Israeli-style security for El Al (and probably Arkia and Israeli charter) passengers around the world. Most Americans with whom I spoke in the airports in the US felt the security was a joke (it is) and they were just being harassed without gaining any safety. Would they pay $50 per ticket for better security? Well, I would. And the high price of tickets right now during a period when air traffic is at full capacity in the US shows that people don't necessarily decide to travel based on the price of a ticket.

The other obstacle to implementing Israeli-style security in the US is a mindset. No one in Israel aside from the people who work at the airport knows precisely what the security is going to be looking for on any given day. You know you'll be asked if you packed your own bags, whether they were under your supervision at all times since they were packed, whether anyone gave you anything to take with you, and whether you know why you're being asked those questions. But no one knows what they're looking for. I'm sometimes asked to name my children. Other times, I'm asked where in Jerusalem I live. Americans like to know what security is seeking. The Israeli system cannot work if everyone knows the correct answers to the questions.

When I say that Berlinski was stopped because she lives in Istanbul or because she says she came to Israel to check out Hezbullah installations on the Lebanese border, I'm making an educated guess because those are things that would make me feel insecure. But I can't tell you for sure that's why she was subjected to lengthy interrogations. And that, more than anything else is the genius of the Israeli system.

I'd love to see it implemented elsewhere. It sure beats strip or grope.

Read the whole thing.

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At 9:36 AM, Blogger Captain.H said...

And if I were flying anywhere where flying El Al was an option, I'd do so. That's due to El Al's well-known reputation for having the world's best airline security. I'm a 60-ish Scandinavian-looking Yankee goy, but if El Al security chose to check the h*ll out of my luggage and take me aside for an interview, that'd be OK with me.

"Why are you flying El Al today?"

"Because this cautious conversation is taking place. I want to arrive safely at my destination."

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Thermblog said...

In the comments Berlinski says she has had the same problem (lengthy interrogations at B.G.) since she was 18, when her profession and place of residence were different. Perhaps the poor girl's eye are too close together.

I think her comment about scalability is valid though - at least to some extent. The US has about 60% more passengers than Israel, annually on a per capita basis. I suspect Israel also has easier access to quality screeners because of its compulsory military service. My last time through (YEARS ago - must visit soon) I didn't get checked at all; I was traveling with a friend who had just completed his service in the same unit as the screener.

At 3:53 PM, Blogger Chana said...

My husband and I have lived in Israel for over 25 years, and all our children were born here. Six years ago, we all made the trek to America to visit relatives, especially my ailing mother.

My Israeli kids shtought American airport security hilariously funny and incompetent. For some reasn no one could fathom, my son, then aged 10, was usually exempt from the detailed frisking the rest of us, including his blonde, dimpled 8-year-old sister got.

When we finally left the US, getting a familiar peremptory chat with the El Al security personnel at O'Hare, my son commented tht he only really felt safe flying El Al and that it was obvious the FSA had no idea what they were looking for, let alone how to find it.

Since then, his big brother, now post- combat service, has worked security details in a number of countries. They all laugh at what they perceive as the cluelessness of American airport security.


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