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TSA Argues Body Scanners are “Worth It” — I Disagree. Can Israel Provide a Solution?

Ben Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv.

Ben Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog calling body scanners a “joke” and I was quite harsh on the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) decision to move forward with them.

Don’t get me wrong. I fly a lot. I like my life. I am all about protecting it and those who fly with me. But, I am not about the TSA wasting money for “security theater.”

After I posted my thoughts, the TSA posted a blog titled, “Advanced Imaging Technology – Yes, It’s Worth It.” It seem to be a rebuttal to those of us who have voiced concern about the TSA moving forward with the body scanners. However, TSA’s explanation is short on actual specifics of how the body scanners will stop someone from doing harm to airlines and passengers.

In my previous blog, my biggest issue was people could choose to avoid the scanners. If you didn’t want to be scanned, you could opt to get a pat down. For privacy reasons, it is great they offer this alternative, but for safety reasons it makes no sense. Why use all this pricey equipment, if someone who wants to do harm can just avoid it?

Their blog does a wonderful job explaining how these high-tech body scanners can pick up the smallest illegal items, but nothing about how scanners can be avoided or steps that are being taken to stop more privacy violations. I posted the question directly to the folks at TSA Blog, but never got a response, even though they did answer other people’s questions.

Over on my Seattle PI syndication I currently have 45 comments from readers who feel strongly (on both sides) about the body scanners. This shows me there are quite a few other people out there that have grave concerns about these scanners. I have been told a few times, “okay smart guy, how about stop just complaining and provide a solution” (okay, maybe not exactly like that, but you get the idea).

I would really hope someone out there with experience in air safety, could find a better solution. Talking to people about airport security I kept being told to check out out how Israel works their airport and airline security. So, I did and what I found looks like they might be on to something.

Isreal’s security allows for greater security, but less inconvience for travellers. And it must work. Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s larget hub, has not had a security breach since 2002.

“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, in an interview with TheStar.com. He’s worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world. “Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don’t take shit from anybody. When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

Their security is a multi-layer system:

LAYER 0: Intelligence
Before anyone even leaves for the airport, Isreal has strong intelligence network, trying to determine particular threats and dispose of them before they even reach the first layer.

LAYER 1: Roadside Check
Before you can even get to the airport, security stops every car and asks two questions, “How are you? Where are you coming from?” The answers aren’t nearly important, but more of how the person responds. Security officers are trained to detect nervousness and distress. Not the amount that a lot of people feel from flying, but those that occur when you are about ready to kill yourself and many others.

LAYER 2: Outside Guards
Armed guards are stationed outside the terminal and are trained to observe passengers. Any sort of odd behavior or strange baggage, you will be pulled aside for additional questioning and possible searches.

LAYER 3: Bag Inspections
Passengers that look suspicious or are just random will be pulled aside to be scanned by a metal detector and have their bags scanned.

LAYER 4: Ticket Agent Questions
Now, you have fully made it into the terminal. The ticket agent will take your documents and ask you a series of questions, the whole time, looking directly into your eyes, “which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela. Again, they are specially trained to detect body language that would show the person means to do harm. Also, passengers are not allowed to group up, which would provide a group target for a terrorist.

LAYER 5: Bag Termination
Let’s say a terrorist has made it through the first four layers of security and still is able to get his bomb to the ticket agent. Every bag is screened right away. If a bomb or suspicious material is found, they do not evacuate the whole terminal, like you would see in America. Evacuation causes panic, more targets, and a huge delay. Instead, scanners have bomb boxes near by and a suspected bag is put into the box, which can contain an explosion of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosives. People within a few meters of the suspected bomb need to be cleared and the rest of the airport is able to go through its normal business. “This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports,” Sela said.

LAYER 6: Body and Luggage Check
You would think this is like America’s security check, but Sela says, “Here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America. First, it’s fast — there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you.”

All these layers have solid security, but they also get passengers from the parking lot to their gate in less than 25 minutes. Now, that is impressive. Sela feels the TSA could move in this direction, but they are on the wrong path. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”

Yes, this is profiling, but I think it is the good kind of profiling. Racial profiling = wrong, behavior profiling = right. Sela said, “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”

Do the Israelis have a good security system? I think so, but I don’t think it could easily be used the exact same way in America. We definitely don’t do well with seeing people with large guns walking around and this system would be vulnerable to racial profiling. I do think looking at behavior profiling would be a better use of resources than spending money on machines that people can skip all together.

Sources: TheStar.com & Vancouver Sun Image: iamxande

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8 comments to TSA Argues Body Scanners are “Worth It” — I Disagree. Can Israel Provide a Solution?

  • Ben

    Are you crazy? This would add tens of minutes if not an hour or more to check in during peak travel times. If only for Level 1 alone. How is this going to be accomplished. They will have to stop every car and every Transport bus coming from airport parking structures and nearby airport hotels. Thousands of people fly through a single airport everyday. They will need to stop every car claiming to come in for departure or arrival cause once at the airport from either section you can get to the ticket counter. So there is going to be a huge bottle neck even if it is set up like a border crossing with multiple lanes and multiple security officers. And how do they handle buses with 30+ people on it. Some one who is planning to cause harm can just ride in the middle of one of those buses and the driver that gets questioned would have no idea, if every one on the shuttles have to get question independently that will add lots of time as well.

    Step 2/3 – Armed outside guards Pulling people at random for bag checks. While not adding time to most of our journeys will most certainly lead to cases of racial profiling.

    Step 4 – With how many thousands of people who check in via e-ticket and don’t check bags at each airport everyday adding 30 seconds to each of each of them will add lots of time and lines for those who are checking bags and those who are not.

    Step 5 – The terrorist who isn’t a crazy uni bomber style and has trained for the questions and made it this far may be foiled here. But more likely they will be exploding peoples bags because of alarm clocks and blocks of cheese. How often do TSA people currently search bags they question. Now they just quietly blow them up? Also this only counts for things people check.

    All of the steps listed in your blog also rely on humans ability alone to recognize human behavior which a terrorist can train to act normal.

    If given the choice I would rather just step into a body scanner, let them check me out and be on my way. Maybe I’m not embarrassed about the size of my penis. Or I realize that the people who operate the scanners will be looking at hundreds if not thousands of people a day and 2 minutes after I step out of the scanner they will not even remember what they saw on me. What rights or privacies will these scanners violate. Why are people worried about it?

  • Steve

    Body scanners might improve our odds from 1/16,000,000 to maybe 1/20,000,000, maybe not. Checkpoints will continue to miss things as they always have. Federal Red teams get 60% of their contraband through the checkpoints as it is. I think we are safe enough (2009 levels), that they need to concentrate on things like baggage screening (only 40-60% as of now). Like Rep Chaffitz (UT) said: Does strip-searching my mother or 8 year old daughter make flying safer?

    It’s so important to keep reminding people that the government’s most important priority is to protect our freedoms, not Keep Us Safe(tm). Over the years many thousands of Americans have given their lives to secure those freedoms, and to simply hand them over now in exchange for a dubious promise to Keep Us Safe(tm) is a disgusting insult to their sacrifice.

  • Adopting an Israeli model is difficult on the scale that would be required in the United States. Intelligence is necessary LONG BEFORE a person of interest arrives at an airport. Once at an airport, the focus should be on people, rather than shoes or the size of your shampoo bottle, both of which are a tombstone mentality, of focusing efforts on the last threat.

    Government is supposed to protect our freedoms AND keep us safe…remember the preamble to the constitution from your high school civics class? We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. The challenge, of course is to strike a balance so that one does not trample over the other.

    Anyone hell bent on causing damage probably isn’t above using a grandmother or an 8-year old to perhaps unknowingly ferry an explosive onto an aircraft. It was tried on a flight to Israel from the UK where an Irish woman heading to Israel carried a parcel for her “boyfriend” that turned out to be an explosive. But, I do see what Rep. Chaffitz is concerned about. On the other hand, if such machines catch things that standard magnetometers do not, then I don’t have too much of an issue with them until something better is found. Perhaps this will improve contraband getting through checkpoints, but part of me thinks that if 60% get contraband through, I’m curious as to what those tests actually are (though I’m sure that’s considered classified), and if they’re truly challenging rather than just an inert gun tossed into a briefcase.

  • [...] oops). I was a little nervous since I have my AirlineReporter.com tags on my bags and did a pretty critical blog on the TSA yesterday — didn’t want to get a full pat-down (and luckily didn’t get [...]

  • Damn, Israel is really going nazi with population control, what a flip-flop. I agree that the only security that has any relevance is behavioral. I also believe that life must not be sacrificed for security. It is wrong to delay people because time is the only natural resource they own. Anyone living in USA is naturally assuming the risk of untimely death, every day. The goverment should stay the hell out of people’s lives and certainly let airports have private security guards. Then the airports can compete based on security delays. I would not be uncomfortable around armed security guards because it is the moral responsibility of every american male to have a gun for self-defense, or at least to be trained in shooting one. Freedom is always most important.

  • Sandy D.

    It’s about indoctrinating us into slavery. Lots of people have seen Al Gore walking around securityat international and US airports. Probably with his global Banker affiliate KMA(kiss my ass) card (as explained by Rockerfeller to Aaron Russo on UTube. He didn’t even have to go through security who should if anyone has to if you know about his global Govmt. involvement. Body Scanners are just another invasive, dangerous (some have 50, others have 20 units of radiation) or they make you be patted down for public humiliation just to get you accustomed to being treated like a prisoner. The top Al Queda operatives are CIA working for the FED Govmnt. who are bringing down America for their Global Govmnt. control. Wake up and take back our country! Contact your airlines and representatives and tell them “No more!” They are soon to be mandatory of course. Homeland Security is a false front for Fed.Gestapo for training to turn us into sheep. Like the Stanford psychological prison study they take away your freedoms incrimentally to dumb you down so you don’t wake up and revolt until its too late and your in a communist country. Same old story. Same method they used in Germany. What is the governnment going to do with these biometrical body identification scans? Play lets spy on who with their even more dangerous radiation rays that they shoot from the new big black police vans?

  • James T

    I am stopped often at the TSA security checkpoint. I have a VERY common name, and I am almost always checked..

    1. I pass through the metal detector with NO problem;
    2. I’m sent to be “wanded;”
    3. I’m cleared by the wand;
    4. I’m told a small pat-down will be required;
    5. I ask where is the reasonable suspicion?;
    6. They say they don’t have to have one since I waived that right when I bought the ticket…
    7. I am cleared after the pat-down to fly.

    Why can’t they take my picture and add it to their database so I don’t have to go through that process each time–wasting my time and TSA’s time? Don’t they have a picture of the person with my name that is on the do-not-fly-list? If not, why not?!

    We could make the airlines and the airport organization partly responsible for security… Might be expensive, but I bet it would add to business if security was improved and was more efficient.

    As to the Israel process not being available here, I don’t see why it isn’t. As a matter of scale, if the process doesn’t delay the process in Israel, I don’t see why it would delay the process here…

    Your mileage may vary, but I don’t recall having to give up my right to unreasonable searches just because I want to fly. If that is the case, I’ll be taking the train or my car. That reaction is why the airlines and the airport organizations need to step up–they stand to lose profits if people decide to stop flying due to the hassle…

  • Thromby Air has developed a new passenger screening device intended to enhance your airport experience, and relieve airport security personnel of the onerous task of “touching your junk”…
    Thromby Air – In Touch With Security

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