What Israel can teach us about (airport) security
December 31, 2009 9:46 AM   Subscribe

What Israel can teach us about (airport) security. At Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, it’s all about eye contact. Expert: “[T]hey’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... 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.” Oh, and get this: “The goal at Ben Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in 25 minutes tops.”
posted by joeclark (184 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sure, but the El Al security system prevents lawmakers from steering trillions of dollars to manufacturers of fancy almost-nudie cams, so uh, it could never work here.
posted by notyou at 9:49 AM on December 31, 2009 [9 favorites]


There is heavy profiling done at Tel Aviv airport. I had a Jordanian roommate my first year of college and he transited through TA. He said that he was stopped several times while walking around the terminal by security and secret police.
posted by reenum at 9:49 AM on December 31, 2009


See it's a choice between giving up our meaningless civil liberties (the right to carry a Big Gulp) to TSA or giving up our real civil liberties (the right to be assumed an innocent person) to the TSA. Me, I'd rather take off my shoes than have to prove myself trustworthy to get on an airplane.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:52 AM on December 31, 2009 [21 favorites]


Copying whatever works about Israeli security seems to be a good and sensible measure. On the other hand racism is 100% ok there - maybe we shouldn't copy that bit.
posted by Artw at 9:56 AM on December 31, 2009 [29 favorites]


And then there's intelligence. In Israel, Sela said, a coordinated intelligence gathering operation produces a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.

Meaning what, exactly, relating to air travel? This sentence just hangs out there on its own with no further explanation. So let's not talk about it.
posted by zoinks at 9:59 AM on December 31, 2009


Yes, exactly what we need are a bunch of glorified mall cops who think they are magical Jedi ninjas from Israel who can read men's souls by looking in their eyes.
posted by The Straightener at 10:00 AM on December 31, 2009 [98 favorites]


they also screen vehicles at a checkpoint coming into the airport, departing passengers are questioned by security agents, lasting from 5 mins to an hour, before they arrive at the ticketing counter, luggage scans prior to ticketing counter, possible body searches prior to ticketing counter as well, then after ticketing they put baggage in pressure chambers and persons must go though metal detectors and hand baggage x-rays, additional questioning may occur as well.

Note: I am not saying this is bad, just that it is not just about eye contact, although personal interaction is a major part. They do check your stuff quite well, as well.
posted by edgeways at 10:01 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Ben Gurion is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.


Surprisingly, this is pretty much what happens when you pass through a border patrol checkpoint coming out of El Paso, Texas. They're looking, I assume, for illegal aliens and drugs, so they have checkpoints set up on all the main roads leading out of the city. They generally ask you how you are, and if you're a U.S. Citizen. Sometimes I've had them ask me another innocuous question - "Going home for the holidays?" or somesuch. But they've never searched my vehicle, or me, whereas at the airport, my luggage almost always gets searched (both carry-on and checked baggage), and I've been singled out for a pat down more than once.

Interesting that the Border Patrol doesn't share techniques with the TSA. Then again, I guess Border Patrol agents are actual police officers of some sort, whereas TSA employs a lot of minimum wage people with no special training.
posted by fairywench at 10:05 AM on December 31, 2009 [8 favorites]


Yes, exactly what we need are a bunch of glorified mall cops who think they are magical Jedi ninjas from Israel who can read men's souls by looking in their eyes.

This is spot on. Can you imagine what would happen if we encouraged TSA officers to believe that they can tell a terrorist based on hunches and eye contact? Hell, racism might be the least offensive outcome.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:06 AM on December 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


See it's a choice between giving up our meaningless civil liberties (the right to carry a Big Gulp) to TSA or giving up our real civil liberties (the right to be assumed an innocent person) to the TSA. Me, I'd rather take off my shoes than have to prove myself trustworthy to get on an airplane.

Yeah, but it's not a real choice because giving up big gulps and taking off our shoes doesn't really help anything. It's just doing something so you can say you're doing something

Israelification might be more effective, but I doubt it can be implemented in the US, we have many more, and busier airports. Also, paying someone with a gun who can actually make a reasonable visual judgement about people is probably orders of magnitude more expensive than hiring someone with a GED to run a metal detector.

Also, I kinda wondered at all the talk about looking people in the eyes. Man, not much makes me more uncomfortable and shifty than some dude with a gun staring at me, and I'm not a terrorist.
posted by ghharr at 10:06 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


After 9/11 Boston's Logan International Airport hired Rafi Ron who was one of the original El Al sky marshals and later director of security for Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport and the Israeli Airport Authority.

Since 2002, security procedures at Logan are based on those in Israel, including being the first U.S. airport "...with an innovative behavior pattern recognition program based on 30 years of Israeli airport experience."
posted by ericb at 10:09 AM on December 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yes, exactly what we need are a bunch of glorified mall cops who think they are magical Jedi ninjas from Israel who can read men's souls by looking in their eyes.

Seriously. This sort of "looks like a criminal" bullshit is already a prominent feature of our law enforcement, with such delightful consequences as lie detectors, racial profiling, and that horrible Law & Order spinoff where the guy licks things. I realize that airport security is already a morass of nonsense and tedium, but this sort of thing only plays into the most demented Jack Bauer fantasies of the TSA.
posted by Copronymus at 10:09 AM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


whereas TSA employs a lot of minimum wage people with no special training.

And I'm guessing that Israeli airport security types are all ex-military, veterans of at least one genuine tour of duty. That is, they're the definition of professional, fully cognizant of the fact that good, active security is as much about "reading" your foe as it is about weaponry and technology.
posted by philip-random at 10:10 AM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


BTW -- the "behavior pattern recognition program" at Logan is conducted by trained members of the Massachusetts State Police and not the TSA.
posted by ericb at 10:12 AM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's a well-kept secret discovered long ago by Israeli security forces that terrorists always have hazel eyes.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 10:14 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


The crux of the article is that we should replace TSA agents with psychic screeners who can look into your soul and know if you are a terrorist or not.

Come on. What do you think, this guy is an American, with a U.S. accent. Do you really think airport security guards in Israel are going to think he's a threat? Most likely what they are doing is checking to see if someone "Looks/sounds Palestinian" If they're doing ethnic profiling it seems like it would work pretty well for their specific situation.

That wouldn't work at all in the U.S. where you have people coming from all over the world, and where Al Quaeda can and does recruit people from all corners of the globe, not just the west bank and Gaza. There is going to be far more variation, and we do have right-wing Tim McVeigh types too.

Plus how difficult would it be for AQ to train people to seem relaxed and jovial when carrying bombs? Maybe it would be difficult, after all these guys don't seem all that competent but at the same time, the US does try to use behavioral profiling, and it obviously didn't catch the underwear bomber.

A lot of the whining on the right wing is basically a desire for Arabs and other Muslims to get worked over they so they don't need to be inconvenienced. It's actually fairly transparent. They want racial profiling but (like Josh Marshal at TPM pointed out) they're not advocating those full body X-Ray backscatter scans. They're not that worried.

Oh, and this article was brought up In This thread on Bruce Schneier essay on security theater.
posted by delmoi at 10:15 AM on December 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


I'll admit to being a bit tired of those so-called randomly selected baggage checks done at some airports where they pull people out of the line. Somehow, I, a dark male, have been randomly selected 5 times now. My wife, a white woman, has never been randomly selected.

As others have said, giving more arbitrary power to those TSA people is so not the answer.
posted by vacapinta at 10:16 AM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind is once again urging the TSA to begin profiling passengers by race. He had tried and failed to get the NYPD to profile subway passengers here after 9/11.

I've seen him speak on the subject on local news programs. He uses El Al's security measures as an example of the way we should do things here.

Hikind is an Orthodox Jew and reps one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities in the world outside of Israel. Considering his track record, I have always wondered just how loudly he would be screaming in outrage if the proposed group being profiled was Jewish, rather than Muslim.

My wife has flown to Israel a number of times, both as a single traveller and with groups. El Al's security is legendary. But most folks traveling to and from Israel already recognize that such measures are necessary and effective. I doubt many Americans believe there are immediate terrorist threats facing us that would make such a severe invasion of privacy worth stomaching.
posted by zarq at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

We went to the Bonneville Dam last summer, and in order to get to the visitors center you have to stop at a guard shack. I was surprised at the guard's unexpected (to me) chattiness: Hi, how are you? Where are you visiting from? Ah, San Francisco? Must be a rental you're driving [it was] - I thought you all drove hybrids there [we do!]!

He looked at us both, closely. Not in a hostile or suspicious way, but in a way that most people just don't look at other people, mostly. It was interesting, and completely unlike any other security checkpoint experience I've ever had.
posted by rtha at 10:17 AM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.

OK, granted that this makes sense in theory, how would it be implemented given that plenty of people flying out of US airports don't speak fluent English? Also, terrorists might be more likely to not speak fluent English since terrorism in America tends to not be of the home-grown variety. I've actually been through such questioning in a French airport, but they happened to have someone who spoke English. That wasn't surprising in France, but it'd seem very costly to hire the kind of multilingual TSA staff that could effectively use this technique. (BTW, I didn't find the experience to be a hassle at all -- I was happy to know that the passengers were being questioned like this.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:22 AM on December 31, 2009


If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. The TSA does not do it right.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:23 AM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


CBS News: The Safest Airline:
"....We have a list of names, people who are involved in terrorist action," he explains, "and, of course, we are checking all the names... We are running them through the computer."

They run every name through. Every person who goes to the airport, they have already checked that name. "The moment that you buy the ticket, we have your name, we have your passport number, and we can check it," Dror says.

They check you again when you drive to the airport in Tel Aviv. What looks like a tollbooth is actually a security gate. Guards with automatic weapons eyeball everyone. If you drive through too quickly, there’s another guard further down the road. And the rings of security tighten as you arrive.

Before you even enter the terminal, you’ve been through three rings of security. The minute you buy your ticket, your name is sent to Israeli intelligence and to Interpol, so they know quite a bit about you before you even get to the airport.

The second ring is a gate with armed guards inspecting your car.

The third ring: Men with jackets and sweaters, concealing their weapons, who will watch you come in.

Three checks, and you haven’t even entered the terminal yet – which is where the real security begins.

Security there is a far cry from American airports, like LaGuardia in New York. There is no curbside check-in in Israel. You can’t run to the counter at the last minute, or pay for your ticket in cash, unless you want to be questioned for hours.

In the States, the National Guard is everywhere. In Israel, the security is almost invisible. You won't see anyone with a uniform.

"Why should we? It is not a fighting place," says Efraim Sneh, Israel’s minister of transportation.

But that doesn't mean nobody there has a weapon. In fact, about 50 percent of the people working at the airport are involved in security, and many of them are very well armed. Some of them, you can spot, like the guys looking for bombs behind vending machines and in trash cans every few minutes. Others, you’d never spot unless they have reaon to spot you.

But more likely than not, the first security official you will encounter is a young woman in her early 20s, a student probably, fresh out of the army. She will want to ask you a few questions. Merav Rosen is a supervisor. She’s 28 and has worked at Ben Gurion seven years.

What is she looking for?

"Anything out of the ordinary, anything that does not fit," she says. "People that ask too many questions, people who seem to be lying, to be hiding something from us. We look for the extraordinary, what is not normal, what we don’t know as normal."

Before she started working at the airport, Rosen was in the Israeli army, in intelligence. She and the people working under her are profilers. That’s what they’re called. They question passengers, sometimes extensively, to see if they match secret profiles of suspected terrorists.

"Profile" may be a dirty word in the United States. But Sneh's reaction is: "We have to secure our passengers, our airplanes, and words do not scare us. Bombs do."

..."It is quite intrusive, the questions we ask," explains Rosen. "And, sometimes, people are not happy to answer them. But we try to explain that this is the situation, and in Israel, we can’t afford to miss." ...
posted by ericb at 10:24 AM on December 31, 2009 [8 favorites]


I see two main problems with this.

First, I suspect that many of Israel's most effective security practices would be illegal in the US due to differing constitutional protections and tolerance for authority. Police and security officers are generally not allowed to stop anyone they, in their sole discretion, consider to be suspicious. The standards for probable cause are higher. It's okay if you subject everyone to a screening procedure, but it's not okay to subject some people to it, particularly if those persons are characterized by any recognizable demographic identifier. Extending the security protocols surrounding air travel much beyond the terminal itself is going to be constitutionally problematic due to the Fourth Amendment.

Second, I'm having a hard time believing that America can come up with sufficiently large numbers of highly-trained security officers. Israel's largest airport serves about 11.5 million passengers annually, 1/4 the traffic of JFK, which is not the busiest airport in the US. American airports serve 710 million passengers a year, sixty-fold increase. All of which need to be screened. And the kind of screening discussed in this article requires far more highly trained personnel than the TSA uses. Currently, our security forces exercise approximately zero discretion--see point one above--which means that adding new personnel represents a pretty trivial investment in training. The TSA was basically created out of whole cloth less than a decade ago, yes? Israel's security forces are highly competent professionals. This is expensive, but it's far more feasible on the scale Israel has to deal with than the scale of the US.

Basically, the deal is that citizens are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. The only reason we can be searched in airports at all is because the courts have considered that reasonable to do. But the farther you get from the bag check or the gate, the less "reasonable" it gets. Screening everyone who shows up at the airport, whether or not they attempt to board a plane, would probably not survive a legal challenge.

So yeah, security can in theory be done more efficiently than it is now. Heck, having traveled by air this Christmas season, I have to believe that there's a better way to do this. I was almost not permitted through security because the TSA officer didn't recognize the boarding pass printed for me by the Delta agent five minutes before. But I'm not at all convinced that substituting our glorified mall cops for well-armed, highly-trained professionals is a viable option, as attractive as it sounds.

Oh, and one other thing. The article seems to underplay how long it takes to get through security. Yes, you spend very little time getting into the terminal as such, but that's because you've already passed through three or for other security layers by then, all of which take time. Stopping every car and asking two questions sounds great, but it does take time. All told, the Israeli system isn't quite as painless as it's made out to be. Granted, they handle threats a lot better than we do--there's no need to evacuate the entire terminal for a single suspicious bag--but the fact that many of their security protocols are completed before you get to the airport should be accounted for somehow.
posted by valkyryn at 10:24 AM on December 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


philip-random: And I'm guessing that Israeli airport security types are all ex-military, veterans of at least one genuine tour of duty.

That's a safe bet since Israel has mandatory military service for most of their citizens.
posted by ghharr at 10:28 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Somehow, I, a dark male, have been randomly selected 5 times now. My wife, a white woman, has never been randomly selected.

I'm a (very) white woman, very all-American looking (think Marie Osmond), but I and/or my luggage get "randomly selected" every time I fly. (This even happened when I was regularly flying on those free passes that you get when your daughter is a flight attendant.)

I've been felt up by more strange women than any college girl who's "exploring her sexuality". My luggage has been pawed through, sniffed, dusted, and who knows what else. Doesn't matter if I'm flying to Chicago or Houston or Miami. Doesn't matter if I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or office casual.

I don't know what method they use to select people, but I don't think skin tone has much to do with it.
posted by fairywench at 10:28 AM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


We have long known about the El Al methods. What needs elaboration (and not the smart ass remarks) is
1. the difference in sheer numbers of passengers at Am airports compared to Israeli lines.
2. how to ensure protection for planes coming into America from foreign places...say, Dutch plane that got passengers from Yemen.
3. full body screening: it works. The Dutch stated that Am refused to allow it and so the bad guy boarded a place.
4. full body scanning a no no because lobbyists in Am influenced our congress! ACLU and airlines etc--money and privacy first, they said.
5. full body scanning will not work unless those covered privacy parts not allowed. (I post at my site a semi secret that showed Al Qaeda aware of this too).
6. Airline need all agree: full body scan or don't use our plane.
7. station trained Am at foreign airports for those using any plane coming to our country if we feel security at that airport not sufficiently adequate.
posted by Postroad at 10:29 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


"But you have to completely change the way you go about doing airport security. And that is something that the bureaucrats have a problem with. They are very well enclosed in their own concept."

I can agree with this statement 100% without agreeing that Israelification of airport security is an appropriate solution for a country that is vastly larger and much more heterogeneous than Israel.
posted by blucevalo at 10:29 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm all for a new way of doing things. Our way is too complicated and it still doesn't work. If they say focus more on the person instead of the items then that might work. Train people to read body language and have common sense. But NOOO instead we get security agents that are poorly trained who target a grandma for having a pair of nail clippers in her carry on. And yet don't/cannot target a person for looking suspicious or doing strange and suspicious things. (Now I'm not saying strip search every strange person they come across but if something doesn't feel right investigate it). I'm sure explosive underwear man was doing some strange movements or being evasive. If someone would have been trained to pick up on those things that situation could have been ended a lot sooner.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 10:33 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think we need a Sniffex and a guy staring into your soul. Between those two things, only a handful of terrorists will slip through.

Seriously, what does this mean for people with really bad social skills? If a person makes funny eye contact, they're either nervous about something dangerous (planning an attack), nervous about something else (will my wife leave me? am I running late?), or they have a neurological condition (say, Aspergers). I'd frankly feel much safer and less inconvenienced with a machine. I don't like a person screening me based on how "normal" I look, and I'm sure anyone of Indian or Middle Eastern descent will hate the racial profiling that comes along with this technique. And can you really teach someone to get a good gut feeling about people?

It's like if Stephen Colbert or Malcolm Gladwell were in charge of the TSA.

And, obviously, once you implement this, Al Qaeda just sends out their best Caucasian actors. It changes from a technology game to a confidence game. Policy is terrible at fighting con games, but technology is black and white. Just standardize the equipment and demand every airport upgrade to at least the bare minimum.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:34 AM on December 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


From ericb's link:

"A key component of this program is that it treats the passengers with respect and not as suspects. Everyone is assumed innocent and to have reasonable explanations..."


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?
posted by lysdexic at 10:34 AM on December 31, 2009


Shipol works in a similar way. The young guard asked me the question about whether the luggage had left my side, and I said yes, it had been briefly left with a couple of friends. He asked me if it was possible that they had put something into my luggage, and when I said no he asked why not. I said, "These are elderly people." He was looking right into my eyes, and no doubt saw my pained and offended look. End of interview. It isn't exactly rocket science, you know, to gauge somebody by talking directly to them.
posted by No Robots at 10:36 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Warning: Longish reply here.

I travel in and out of Israel frequently (am an overseas student in an MA program at an Israeli university). My security checks at BG airport have ranged from cursory wave-throughs no worse than Newark to full-on interrogations, depending on the day.

On my last trip, I hadn't returned to the States in 10 months and had extremely heavy luggage as a result. While I was in Israel, my airline had changed the maximum weight for oversize luggage (non-freight) without my knowledge. As a result, after I finished my initial security check, I had to open my luggage at the ticket counter and put my things into two extra bags the airline provided for me for checked luggage.

Now, the way it works at Ben-Gurion airport is that all bags that go through the airport require an inspection sticker... since these new bags didn't have the sticker, I needed to obtain them from the security counter.

While getting the new sticker, the security guards informed me that juggling my luggage into smaller bags seemed suspicious - fair enough. As a result, I got a thorough security inspection that included a full-body patdown and four security guards rifling through everything in my bags - including the bags that had been searched and stickered before. All in all, I spent 90 minutes in various security checks, interrogations and questioning. I was able to make the flight on time, though.

At the time I was livid about it, but looking back I can understand where they're coming from.

BUT: Here's the thing. At all times, the Israeli security personnel were professional - if not friendly - and did their job thoroughly and efficiently. Even if I didn't like it, they did their thing with dedication and intelligence. In all my many experiences with the TSA, most guards lacked professionalism, thoroughness and effectiveness.

Trying to bring "Israeli" methods to the States wouldn't work - the TSA minimum wage types just don't the training and job dedication to pull it off.
posted by huskerdont at 10:36 AM on December 31, 2009 [8 favorites]


What's the over/under on when we'll get the first story of a TSA guy getting busted photographing the full body scans in the room they're not supposed to bring recording devices into?
posted by Joe Beese at 10:38 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?

I've been through Logan many many times. I seem to get extra screening slightly more often. That could be due to the fact that when I lived in Boston I made more impromptu flights booked mere hours before takeoff. When I have on occasion had a forgotten-about water bottle in a side compartment of my backpack, Logan people are stricter than, e.g., O'Hare people, about my options. Typically along the lines of "No, I cannot throw it out for you. We do not take bottles of liquids from passengers and keep them near security checkpoints. If you want to throw it out, you will have to exit the line, find another trash receptacle, and return."
posted by jock@law at 10:47 AM on December 31, 2009


Goddamn but I'm tired of this cynicism. I understand what you're saying, Joe, but would you turn down a TSA job in this economy if that was all you could get?

The biggest problem I'm seeing all over the place is the depersonalization of everyone around us, from people getting all ZOMG, MUSLIM = TERRIST, and TSA = STOOPID and POLICE = PIGS and LIBERULZ = TRAITORS and I could go on but I'd just get more disgusted.

It's got to stop somewhere. I think it's time for a change in attitude.

</derail>
posted by lysdexic at 10:50 AM on December 31, 2009 [14 favorites]


I think there's some confusion in this thread about what happens in Israel. The Israelis are not picking out people who look Palestinian, or using ethnic profiling. They put absolutely everyone though this process. I have friends who are Canadian/New Zealanders, blond and blue-eyed. One was in Israel for work and had a letter of introduction from the company she was working with. They still got the full screening, intensive interviews about what they were doing, where they would be going, everything like that.

The second time they were at the airport, things were a bit more relaxed, but the first time they certainly got the third degree. As I understand it, the idea is how people react to the interrogation, not what they look like.

That said, I don't think it's practical in a larger country: as others have mentioned above, it surely wouldn't scale and you couldn't find enough skilled people to carry out the screening.

mccarty.tim: I get fairly anxious going through security, and I often get the 'innocuous' questions (even coming into my own country - like being asked what my occupation was and where I worked). Your basic socially anxious person will still be able to answer those questions, and will be fine.
posted by Infinite Jest at 10:50 AM on December 31, 2009


Sometimes I've had them ask me another innocuous question - "Going home for the holidays?" or somesuch. But they've never searched my vehicle, or me, whereas at the airport, my luggage almost always gets searched (both carry-on and checked baggage), and I've been singled out for a pat down more than once.

I don't know about how things work in El Paso, and I don't know anything about your personal circumstances. But I'll trade you anecdotes: when I cross the border in Detroit or upstate NY, this sort of thing only happens when I'm driving a decent car and don't have any black passengers.

Yeah, just me in my upper-middle-class costume, I love how smoothly the border crossing goes. But I'm not about to hold up Border Patrol as an example of fair and courteous security work because I know there's another side to their procedure that some people have to face a lot more often than I do.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:50 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?

I travel in-and-out of Logan very often. I have never had a difficult time with anyone (uniformed state police, TSA, etc.).

Like others above I still get pulled over for secondary screening. (Note the code -- SSSS -- on the bottom of your boarding pass). I suspect it has to do with my past travel patterns, especially to/from the Middle East starting in the summer of 2001.

And, occasionally, I am prohibited from getting my boarding pass from a kiosk and have to "see a desk agent." The agent makes a phone call, reads off details from my driver's license or passport; gives his/her name and a numeric code AND then gets a supervisor to confirm the info and he/she also gives his/her name and a numeric code.

Hey, even the late Senator Ted Kennedy was on a No-Fly list!
posted by ericb at 10:51 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm a pale-skinned, brown-haired, white, 28-year-old man, and I've been stopped for extra screening at least 5 times. I have no idea if it's about race or gender or age or what, but I respect the job they're doing. The fact that I even fly enough to say I've been heavily screened 5 times shows how privileged I am, and I'm fine with the fact that there are burdens that accompany this privilege. Even if the screening is the result of profiling, I don't see how I could fault that. As a 28-year-old man, I'm more likely than the average flyer to be a terrorist. Complaining about this is like complaining about women crossing the street when I'm walking near them alone in a dimly lit area with not many people around. I know I'm not going to attack anyone, but I can't blame them for not knowing that. I only blame men for creating the stereotype in the first place.

By the way, the one time I flew while wearing a white T-shirt with conspicuous Arabic lettering and Middle Eastern imagery (a man riding a camel, etc.), I was not selected for special screening. On the other hand, at times when I've grown a bit of stubble, I've been more likely to be screened than when I'm clean-shaven. Oh well.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:52 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


And of course, this is orthogonal to what El Al does. I've got no experience there, and for all I know they've got no racial profiling problem at all. If they can pull this look-into-your-soul business off in a way that disregards language, class and color, then more power to them. I'm just skeptical is all.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:52 AM on December 31, 2009


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?

Logan is slow and most of the workers are Boston-style brusque, which means that they act really annoyed at your existence whether or not they search you. When you arrive from an international flight, you're basically herded like cattle into different lines by nationality, where they kind of bark at you. At Schipol and Charles de Gaulle international arrivals, I found the workers to be much more polite and quiet. I've never been to Israel, so I can't compare there.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:54 AM on December 31, 2009


Surprisingly, this is pretty much what happens when you pass through a border patrol checkpoint coming out of El Paso, Texas. They're looking, I assume, for illegal aliens and drugs, so they have checkpoints set up on all the main roads leading out of the city.
The Border Patrol can afford to screw up a few times: if a few people sneak in with drugs and illegal aliens, it's not the end of the world: they are just there to create enough of a threat to smugglers to deter a flood of smuggling into the country. On the other hand, airport security must have a 100% prevention rate.

Also, Ben Gurion airport has a bit over 11 million annual passengers. The United States has dozens of airports that handle double that. Atlanta handles six times that many passengers per year. Can we really expect Israeli methods to scale? El Al has famously secure methods, but they have a fleet of 36 airplanes and functions basically as a small-scale armored transport service.
posted by deanc at 10:55 AM on December 31, 2009 [4 favorites]


But NOOO instead we get security agents that are poorly trained who target a grandma for having a pair of nail clippers in her carry on.

I agree that the TSA needs to focus more sharply on body language, behavior and increased professionalism. But don't discount the grandmothers. They can be terrorists too.

The jury's still out on Samira Al Jaseem, though.
posted by zarq at 10:58 AM on December 31, 2009


Logan has been extremely "touchy" since 9/11, as its security failed miserably with the two planes that left that morning and took down the twin towers. There are layers-and-layers of security ... some seen; others not. It has become the testing ground for new technologies, etc. They've tested facial recognition software (two of which have failed), etc.

Other interesting technologies: once you enter any of the garages at Logan your car's license plate is scanned. They even know which spot you've parked in. Handy, if you forget where you parked after returning to Boston.
posted by ericb at 11:00 AM on December 31, 2009


when I cross the border in Detroit or upstate NY, this sort of thing only happens when I'm driving a decent car and don't have any black passengers.

I see your point, but actually, it worked the same way in 1970's, when I and a bunch of other scruffy teenaged hippies used to go through the checkpoints in our crappy cars. We probably should have been searched for drugs, but never were.

Then again, if we looked like that nowadays, maybe we would be searched.
posted by fairywench at 11:03 AM on December 31, 2009


lysdexic: "I understand what you're saying, Joe, but would you turn down a TSA job in this economy if that was all you could get?"

It's got nothing to do with the economic situation or intelligence level of TSA employees. It has to do with the inevitability of government surveillance powers being abused - either for power or for jollies.

The guys busted at the NSA for doing shit like this were presumably not morons or facing food stamps. They were just assholes.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:03 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think art was trolling. From what I understand, Israeli security techniques rely heavily on racial profiling -- or, I guess, ethnic and cultural profiling, which is awefully similar. Statistically, it might work just fine -- a bomber probably is more likely to be Palestinian or Jordanian or whatever. But I am not comfortable with any technique that guarantees my personal safety by demonizing entire classes of humanity basedon the misbhavior of a tiny minority of their population. It's like the explanation is, well, yes, it's racism, but it works, and don't you want to be safe?

Justice is more important to me than safety.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:04 AM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


The Israelis are not picking out people who look Palestinian, or using ethnic profiling. They put absolutely everyone though this process.

Because they get it. Two of the hijackers from the 1976 Entebbe incident were German (blond hair and blue eyes, for all I know). And what does a Palestinian look like anyway? Probably identical to a majority of Israelis assuming they're dressed the same.

Meanwhile here in the Americas, we find ourselves resorting to means that make as much sense as the policy that my local football stadium resorted to (back in the 80s) for dealing with the problem of underage drinkers, and how difficult it was for many of their staff to tell the difference between a 17 year old and a 27 year old. They just demanded picture ID from everyone; zero tolerance. Even my dad, a bald, grey-haired 60 year old man who'd won bravery medals in WW2. He didn't have it. They wouldn't serve him. The word that comes to mind is STUPID.
posted by philip-random at 11:05 AM on December 31, 2009 [5 favorites]


What I find interesting is that when I flew home to the U.S. through Amsterdam, I did get what I considered to be a rigorous interview by serious security agents, similar to what is described for Israel.

Since the recent attempted bomber presumably went through the same, I wonder how effective it is.
posted by smackfu at 11:08 AM on December 31, 2009


delmoi: Most likely what they are doing is checking to see if someone "Looks/sounds Palestinian" If they're doing ethnic profiling it seems like it would work pretty well for their specific situation.

Maybe, but somehow I think it's a bit more subtle than that -- especially since there are so many sephardim in Israel these days, and since so many people from all over the world go to study in Israeli universities. Not to mention Christian, Jewish and [gasp! /] Muslim tourists of all skin colors, languages and cultural expressions.
posted by lodurr at 11:10 AM on December 31, 2009


I’m sorry but we blew up your laptop (welcome to Israel).
posted by Substrata at 11:15 AM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


One problem there is the fact that your typical sociopath will look more normal than even your average joe, let alone someone who's just frightened by authority figures or foreign places or even some rebellious punk, both of whom will surely trip up the eyedar and yet are innocent.
posted by tybeet at 11:16 AM on December 31, 2009


Re. Artw's comment up-thread: I absolutely didn't see it as trolling, because I have good reason to suppose there's a shitload of institutionalized racism in Israel. (I had an Israeli anthro prof who studied racism in Israel for her entire career, spent a couple of hours chatting with a Canadian sociologist who'd studied racism in Israel, read the news, etc.)

OTOH, from what I know of Israeli security practices (I've read a fair bit in addition to this and the 60 Minutes piece everyone's seen, have talked with people who've flown El Al, and have been paying attention to accounts posted here over the past few years), they work hard not to do racial profiling because it would be contrary to good security practice.

So, while he may have been incorrect, it doesn't seem to me like trolling.

Also, I just don't think of Artw as a troll.
posted by lodurr at 11:16 AM on December 31, 2009


One problem there is the fact that your typical sociopath will look more normal than even your average joe...

Yeah, but sociopaths typically aren't suicidal.
posted by lodurr at 11:17 AM on December 31, 2009


"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- 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.'"

That seems to pretty much sum it up; from my limited experience with flying in Canada, airports and transit authorities have fostered a very ingrained culture of inefficiency, incompetence, stupidity, unprofessionalism, and contempt for passengers long afore terror was a going concern. You can't practice effective security without addressing those fundamental issues first, regardless of how many nudie cams you have some jagoff who was too stupid for the RCMP and too lazy for the CAF leering through.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:18 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


all those race profiles proponents keep forgetting whitey was the bomber way back in OK City. Yeah, there was a bunch of "ooo it was someone with dark skin I swear", talk but t'wern't nothing but a pair of good old fashion pale skins.

Shit, tellsyouwhat lets start profiling all us melanin challenged folks based on potential affiliations with the Neo-nazis and the KKK, I mean at least those twits select sole on skin color, so there is at least some bases in reality for color profiling. We can start with Hikind and go from there.
posted by edgeways at 11:20 AM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I’m sorry but we blew up your laptop (welcome to Israel).

No backups, for a laptop that the guy carries around the world? Insane!
posted by delmoi at 11:20 AM on December 31, 2009


One problem there is the fact that your typical sociopath will look more normal than even your average joe...

Yeah, but sociopaths typically aren't suicidal.


You're right, because they'd be narcissistic and have high self-regard. But then, some notable cult leaders in the past have been both sociopathic and suicidal. And aren't the fanatics the ones we're worried about sabotaging planes?
posted by tybeet at 11:22 AM on December 31, 2009


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?

I flew out of Logan with my one-month old bottle-fed son on the first day of the liquids ban in 2006. The TSA staff at Logan were uniformly helpful, considerate, and understanding. I was traveling alone (just me and the baby) with a TON of stuff (backpack, diaper bag, car seat, stroller) and they absolutely went the extra mile to get me screened with a minimum of fuss and basically treated me like a human person all the way through. (The cute infant may have helped, or not.) My experiences at the Pittsburgh airport on the same day were not nearly as pleasant.
posted by anastasiav at 11:24 AM on December 31, 2009


I see your point, but actually, it worked the same way in 1970's, when I and a bunch of other scruffy teenaged hippies used to go through the checkpoints in our crappy cars. We probably should have been searched for drugs, but never were.

Then again, if we looked like that nowadays, maybe we would be searched.


Yeah, no, I believe you. I think it varies a lot by place and time, and probably there are lots of cases where everything's done in a fair and reasonable way.

I just feel like the look-into-their-souls approach to police work invites a lot of abuses, and makes it hard to tell if things are being done right just by looking at your own personal experience. It's easy to have one set of (honest, law-abiding etc.) people who are consistently happy with the approach, another set who are consistently angry about it, and not much communication between the two.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:31 AM on December 31, 2009


But then, some notable cult leaders in the past have been both sociopathic and suicidal. And aren't the fanatics the ones we're worried about sabotaging planes?

Not those fanatics, no. Because they're going to choose to make their exit in a grandiose or narcissistic way. (Jim Jones...Marshall "Do" Applewhite...Yukio Mishima...)

After all, how many "suicidal" cult leaders can you think of who orchestrated their suicide to result in the mass-death of people outside of their cult?

Really, we've got to get away from this idea that terrorists are crazy. That's an incredibly dangerous idea. It entails basically just giving up on trying to understand what makes them tick, which is kind of a pre-requisite for being able to predict what they're going to do.
posted by lodurr at 11:32 AM on December 31, 2009


Ah. It's that new high-tech security device I've been hearing rumors about the last little while! What is it called again ? .... that's right, the Gut Feeling 2.0.
Fancy!
posted by mannequito at 11:34 AM on December 31, 2009


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?

I went through Logan with my only ID being an expired driver's license (It expired while I was in Boston - No one but myself to blame). I informed them of it when I checked in and was given the full monty.

I'm sure it helped that I was expecting it, but I found the screeners to be professional and even friendly. And the whole experience maybe added fifteen minutes to the security/check in process.
posted by cjets at 11:36 AM on December 31, 2009


full body screening: it works. The Dutch stated that Am refused to allow it and so the bad guy boarded a place.

Al-Qaeda practises beating body scanners
"A body scanner at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport would not necessarily have detected the explosives which the would-be syringe bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had sewn into his underwear. A Dutch military intelligence source told De Telegraaf newspaper that Al Qaeda has its own security scanners and has been practicing ways of concealing explosives.

The terrorist group has even carried out test runs at smuggling explosives through European airports, the paper reports.

On Monday Schiphol's operational manager Ad Rutten said the explosives carried by the 23-year-old Nigerian Abdulmutallab may well have been detected had he been scanned by one of the airport's 15 body scanners. Schiphol was the first airport to run a trial of body scanners, which use sound waves to see through passengers' clothing. At present the scanners are only an optional alternative to the conventional metal detector, as European privacy laws prevent them being made compulsory.

Since the attempted attack on the flight from Schiphol to Detroit, Schiphol has been operating tightened security measures. Around 50 extra security staff have been hired in to carry out the tightened checks on passengers to the United States. All passengers to the US are now being body searched at the gate. The airport says that while the chance of discovering any concealed explosives is still not 100 percent, it is at least much higher than it was.
posted by ericb at 11:37 AM on December 31, 2009




"The only winning move is not to play."

This is all rather pointless. Americans will never make a choice to provide for the common security and protection for their fellow citizens. And forget about "furriners". The leadership of this nation are thrashing about wildly like a drowning man... this is just another indicator.

The only way to save the republic, is to burn the republic.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 11:42 AM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


delmoi: The crux of the article is that we should replace TSA agents with psychic screeners who can look into your soul and know if you are a terrorist or not.

I read it differently: instead of buying one magic x-ray vision machine to keep us safe, we could rely on multiple layers of imperfect people using their best judgment within a coordinated system. We can replace the one-layer process with multiple failure points with a multi-layered process with multiple failure points. When no single layer is assumed to be flawless, a multi-layered approach is less penetrable because the flaws are less likely to be consistently exploitable.

valkyryn: Second, I'm having a hard time believing that America can come up with sufficiently large numbers of highly-trained security officers.

Spend three weeks in retail and you will be able to identify most shoplifters on sight. Spend three weeks waiting tables or bartending and you will be able to identify most under-aged drinkers as soon as they walk in the door. I bet most general practitioners can identify an alcoholic in 30 seconds and most small business owners can quickly identify a deadbeat. People are very good at pattern matching, but forming that pattern is the difficult part since there are so few "terrorists." But training a person to identify the behavior of someone as out of place, nervous, inappropriate, or jittery is pretty easy as most people show up to the job interview with these skills. Engineering an environment where layers of lightly-trained screeners can forward their hunches to highly trained personnel seems more realistic than a single terrorist catching machine manned by untrained, unaccountable TSA goons.
posted by peeedro at 11:42 AM on December 31, 2009 [15 favorites]


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?

I went through Logan a couple of weeks ago and I was surprised at how friendly and "real" the security guy was. (The guy who first checks your ID.) It actually did kind of feel like the initial El-Al interview (I've flown to Israel multiple times) where they try to break through the formulaic (robotic) interaction that people typically have with officials in public spaces and connect briefly on a human level. For a split second, they are your friend, not a bureaucratic automaton, and in that split second I think people instinctively let their guard (masks) down a bit.
posted by callmejay at 11:45 AM on December 31, 2009


Can anyone who's gone through Logan testify to this?

I've probably been through Logan 10-15 times in the past year and I've found them to be decent. There's always, when travelling, the possibility of some random person who is having a bad day, but as someone who has been in and out of Logan a LOT it seems to me that generally speaking yeah this is true. I get along better with TSA people in airports than I do with airline staffers who I find hit-or-miss in the whole "presume good faith" arena.
posted by jessamyn at 11:52 AM on December 31, 2009


But I am not comfortable with any technique that guarantees my personal safety by demonizing entire classes of humanity based on the misbhavior of a tiny minority of their population.

I'm game with it. Appropriate application of resources. A lot more resources ought to be going toward identifying threatening men more than women, until such time the number of nutty women out there qualifies as a threat.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:59 AM on December 31, 2009


Trying to bring "Israeli" methods to the States wouldn't work - the TSA minimum wage types just don't the training and job dedication to pull it off.

Rambly rant ahead -

US Airports and TSA are starkly different than both Israel and Europe.

In the US, First class security is different than everyone else. I've gotten on a plane through first class without showing an ID. First Class gets their own security lane and much more lax approach to checkin.

More importantly, US security checkpoints are understaffed as is. As soon as you section off dedicated lanes for Rich People, you introduce what is essentially a 2-tiered system. And it's all built around the idea that the TSA is some cash-cow for private industry. Not only do privatized TSA contractors cost more, any time you focus on profit as the primary motivator, you get a rush to the bottom in terms of training, personnel and quality.

It's self-fucking inflicted. We bitch and moan about security, we adopt ridiculous measures to attempt to secure ourselves from an amorphous enemy, and when it comes down to brass-tacks, all we fucking do is throw more money at private industry. They siphon off as much as they can, throw some minimum wage downstream, and throw up their hands when some other jackass sneaks through a checkpoint with a bomb stuck up his ass.

I don't know what the answer is. The Israeli approach is exactly how you would secure the airways. It's racist, no question. It's VERY expensive as well. It requires real training, and a level of discipline that frankly, I don't think the American populace could even begin to undertake. We'd end up with some abortion of the system, run by real true-blood racists, Joe Arpaio wannabes, thugs, embezzlers, and crooks. People who want to beat up on muslims, or just corrupt businessman who want to pad their pockets.

It's par for the course for pretty much everything nowadays. Somewhere along the line we just forgot how to act like normal fucking people living in a normal fucking country. We forgot that the golden rule isn't "Fuck over your fellow man to get their gold".

It's all part and parcel. Banking bailout, TSA fuckups, Airline industry, Taxes, Healthcare.. All the same fucking thing.

Me? I'm not flying anymore. Fuck those guys. I'd rather drive than go to a fucking airport anymore. I'd rather drive 18 hours than deal with one more American Security line, TSA employee, Airline policy, Filthy Plane, overpriced bottle of fucking water, Government bullshit and ineffectual security policy. I'm not afraid of flying. I simply refuse to encourage the fucking system anymore. Enough is enough..

*NotCrazy, NotUnabomber Manifesto*
posted by Lord_Pall at 12:00 PM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


I don't want Canada to be like Israel.
posted by modernnomad at 12:02 PM on December 31, 2009


I don't want Canada to be as dumb as the TSA.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:07 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's got to stop somewhere. I think it's time for a change in attitude.

Yeah. After all, if we didn't have a crappy attitude, none of this would be happening. The TSA would be professional and well-trained on minimum wage, and our government would be competent and efficient when it comes to security-related policy and legislation. All I need to do is just adopt the right attitude, and everything will be better.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:09 PM on December 31, 2009


Hey, even the late Senator Ted Kennedy was on a No-Fly list!

Which is patently absurd. It's certainly not striking me as a sympathetic nod to the job TSA has to do.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:11 PM on December 31, 2009


omplaining about this is like complaining about women crossing the street when I'm walking near them alone in a dimly lit area with not many people around. I know I'm not going to attack anyone, but I can't blame them for not knowing that. I only blame men for creating the stereotype in the first place.

Yeah, except TSA can detain you and hold you indefinitely without charges. Even though it's a violation of constitutional rights, hey, they're just doing their job!
posted by krinklyfig at 12:13 PM on December 31, 2009


Regarding Logan, if anything, it appears security has gotten more lax over the last few years -- at least, the part I can see. I never have my liquids in a clear plastic baggie, I've flown with a very small pocketknife, I get through the metal detector with jewelry on, etc. Security lines are usually quick and I've never been called aside for a secondary search. But since I know Logan pilots a lot of new tech, I assume overall security is maintained (such as it is).

The worst airports I go through are the tiny ones -- Port Columbus, Akron OH, Panama City FL, and State College PA. In Columbus I got yelled at for trying to go through with a backpack, a roller suitcase, and a purse. I had taken the purse out of the backpack to get my ID. I was told I could only have two carryons. I explained that the purse goes in to one of them. They made me stop, put it into the backpack and go through. I went through the same discussion at the gate -- they made me repack the purse before boarding. In Akron I had my deodorant confiscated but they left me with a piece of sheet metal and a 9-inch-long screwdriver. In Panama City and State College I get my luggage rummaged through because my cosmetics are in a nylon bag, not a clear plastic baggie, and often things are confiscated. Actually, in Columbus, I even had a guy in the line ask if I had cosmetics, and I said no, and he said "yes you do. I can see you're wearing lip gloss. Obviously you've recently applied it and it's in your purse now."

So: big airport full of regular travelers who know the drill and get that most of it is theater? Extremely easy to get through but I don't feel unsafe.

Tiny rural airports that have parking lots full of Bush/Cheney-stickered cars full of people who hardly ever fly? Obnoxious as hell to get through, feels like they're posturing, and they appear way more incompetent because they're so obviously on a power trip. So in many ways, I actually feel more unsafe there than in Logan, where everything runs like a machine.
posted by olinerd at 12:20 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


It will be interesting to see what happens to this profiling bullshit when inevitably a pretty blue-eyed Serb nationalist or Chechen decides to blow up an American airliner.

God I'm sick of hearing this shit about what we should be doing about terrorism from Israeli security "experts". These Israeli security dudes can stick this smug attitude right up their racial profiling asses. For starters the US ain't Israel geographically, culturally, or racially. And last I checked the Israeli track record on managing terror isn't panning out so god damned well. Unless you think routinely bombing the fuck out out women and children in Gaza is somehow an awesome strategy. The Bush administration modeled their policies after these tough guys for Christ sake and look where we are?
posted by tkchrist at 12:22 PM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


Here are some examples that might give more balance this FPP. Of course what do you expect when a government panel describes it as in "catastrophic shape"
posted by humanfont at 12:26 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why are they not using dogs at the airport?

I do not think it would have been possible for the pantybomber to have made it past any half-competent dog.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:28 PM on December 31, 2009


Spend three weeks in retail and you will be able to identify most shoplifters on sight.

I'm sure you must be speaking for yourself, and for yourself, I expect you're right.

But the vast majority of people who've spent 3 weeks (or 3 years) in retail wouldn't know a shoplifter if s/he swatted them on the ass.
posted by lodurr at 12:31 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


My dog sticks his nose in every bodies crotch. Not sure that would speed up things very much.
posted by tkchrist at 12:32 PM on December 31, 2009


This points has been raised several times, but it's worth making again: Israel is a much smaller country than the US.

For some things (e.g., how would we get enough dogs in a useful time frame to do K9 on everyone?) are obvious; others, less obvious (do we just shut down all the one-terminal airports in places like Moscow, ID, or do we spend the disproportionately large amount of money to make sure they're just as secure as SeaTac?). Consider also the difficulty of cutting through the bureaucracy, and enforcing professional and consistent behavior across such a large enterprise. (Maybe we could assign it to the theme-park division of Disney....)

This is one of the big reasons we reach for high-tech solutions like sniffers and full-body scans and why someone's going to take this and try to wire together video cameras with FACS to automate the process. (Which might actually sort of kind of halfway work. Which is scary.)
posted by lodurr at 12:37 PM on December 31, 2009


I feel like a small lonely voice in the wilderness, especially in the wake of the Underwear Bomber. But as far as I'm concerned, this is one area I believe the language of the US constitution should trump all else, including dicta in US Supreme Court decisions. The fourth amendment says,

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.


Even assuming Israel did this perfectly, and as humanfont points out, they err too, I wouldn't want to take their path.

And I'd add that not only is it not compatible with human liberty to countenance additional unreasonable searches and seizures in the hopes of stopping a terrorist, but isn't it clear that this doesn't work? I cannot count the number of times I've gotten on board aircraft around the world with an item on my keychain that looked like a key, but in fact was a very sharp knife and multipurpose tool.

I think we should stop and rethink. We are spending endless amounts of treasure on a bootless quest for security, and destroying our liberty in the process.
posted by bearwife at 12:37 PM on December 31, 2009 [7 favorites]


Some TSA agents do seem to know and use the eye contact routine.

Last time I flew I was struck by how different one screener treated me. I was prepared to just nod and grunt while walking through security, but she asked me an innocuous yet personal question. I think it was something about my driver’s license. It wasn’t anything obvious about what my trip was for, but it was totally personable.

I don’t know if she was doing it right or wrong, but it seemed much more effective than the other screeners.
posted by parhamr at 12:39 PM on December 31, 2009


I've never had a problem at Logan. It's always very quick and hassle free. And I too once went through security with an expired license (which was noticed by the security guy at check in, who merely reminded me to get it renewed when I returned to Boston).

I think Metafilter had a nice hate on Logan though when they busted the MIT student with the light-up electronics board on her hoodie.
posted by mpbx at 12:41 PM on December 31, 2009


I'm all for thinking outside the box on this one. Why do we allow airlplane passengers to be conscious during travel? Why not treat them like live freight. Would significantly reduce the cost of amenities. Just dope everyone at the gate, strap them on padded stretchers, load them on the plane. Once they land at their final destination, take them to the "wake-up" room, give them the antagonist to the knock-out drug and they wake up all refreshed and ready to enjoy their stay at their destination. I know big pharma would love this solution, since it would mean they have a steady customer. And then you don't have to worry about whether the staff is friendly or not, since they aren't having to actually talk to the passengers or interact with them beyond strapping them in and giving them a nice little injection. Sure, people with allergies to certain drugs might have issues flying, but there are always people who are not healthy enough to fly but do anyway (and then have heart-attacks or strokes during the flight). No more suicide bombers, no worry about screening, since no one would have any carry on anything, because they wouldn't be able to carry anything. Simple. I think someone should start an airline specifically for this. Also, it would allow people who have a fear of flying travel without the hassle of having to refill their Xanax prescription.

I'm only half-joking about this, too.
posted by daq at 12:45 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, in Columbus, I even had a guy in the line ask if I had cosmetics, and I said no, and he said "yes you do. I can see you're wearing lip gloss. Obviously you've recently applied it and it's in your purse now."

LOL. That really epitomizes the U.S. attitude towards Airport Security. Captain obvious stopped the devious lip gloss smuggler. Does he think a terrorist would have smeared the Semtex he had disguised as lipgloss on his lips and then lied about it, or what?
posted by delmoi at 12:47 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Israelis, unlike Canadians and Americans, don't take s--- from anybody."

Oh, please. Get over yourselves.
posted by HopperFan at 12:50 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Why do we allow airlplane passengers to be conscious during travel? Why not treat them like live freight. Would significantly reduce the cost of amenities. Just dope everyone at the gate, strap them on padded stretchers, load them on the plane

If you're going to strap them down, why bother with the drugging?

Hey, in fact why not just strap some VR goggles on 'em and let 'em watch a movie or something. We could call it "SimStim" or something.
posted by delmoi at 12:51 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, to address the weirdness that has only been touched on briefly about the TSA and first-class passengers. Terrorists are cheap, seems to be the assumption. Every terrorist plot that has gone forward involving airline hijacking or suicide bombing has been with coach tickets (someone can probably confirm of deny this, but this seems to be the case). It would probably be a very effective vector to get through security with something dangerous to buy a first-class ticket for your terror plot. Though, you know, first-class is so much nicer than coach, I imagine once they get their complimentary warm-wet towel upon sitting down, they might rethink their plans and just enjoy the amenities all the way through and not actually go through with their original plans. That whole "terrorism is caused by economic disparities", etc, etc, etc. (yay, class war).

I need more coffee. I'm not nearly hyper enough.
posted by daq at 12:51 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Clearly the solution to the security problem is somewhere between the Israeli solution and the theatre we have now. And L3 executives must be up to their necks in hookers and blow from the money they're going to be making selling the body scanner machines.

When I've traveled from Frankfurt Germany back to the US on American Airlines, since 9/11 there's always been a security official that interviews everyone in the Admirals Club or at the check in counter before they get their boarding card. I liken that to what I've read about the El Al security. The question the guy would ask would have to do with what I was doing in Germany and if I had any electronics. If I said I had a digital camera, computer, etc. He'd ask me when I bought them and in many cases I don't remember. But because I wasn't freaking out -- and I didn't fit the profile (I'm white) -- I was allowed to pass.

From other countries into the US they secondary screening at the gate tends to focus solely on my liquids and whether or not they're in a proper one liter bag. What I love about flying domestically in countries outside the US is that they are vigilant but you don't have to take off your shoes, or take your computer outside the bag, or refrain from carrying deadly liquids like water and toothpaste.

The problem is there's not a technological solution to this problem. And the TSA (and other governmental agencies of the world) are always protecting us from breaches that have already happened. The fact is they won't happen again. If profiling picks up and black terrorists have a hard time getting on planes, then they'll send white ones. If it is men, then they'll send women. If there's a 6 hour check in process because of Israeli styled interviews on all flights, then they'll send people that can pass the screener's tests. If hand luggage is banned, they'll put it in the belly of the plane. If they start screening checked luggage more, they'll just send the packages via the post. When air proves insufficient, they'll go for other targets like shopping malls and libraries. It is a war of ideologies and there will always be a threat.

The only way to guarantee no more terrorism on planes is to shut down the airline business. Like Schneier said, the only improvements we've made to airline security since 9/11 is reenforced doors to the flight deck and changing passenger's attitudes to not just sit there if a plane is being highjacked.
posted by birdherder at 12:58 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The worst airports I go through are the tiny ones -- Port Columbus, Akron OH, Panama City FL, and State College PA....Tiny rural airports that have parking lots full of Bush/Cheney-stickered cars full of people who hardly ever fly? "

Columbus isn't small in comparison to the other airports you mentioned. It's 55th on the Airports Council International Traffic Report for 2008. Akron is 106th, Panama City is 159th, State College isn't even listed.

I really doubt you took a comprehensive survey of parking lot stickers. Say what you will about the security at CMH (it does suck), but leave uninformed opinions about the residents out of it, please.
posted by HopperFan at 12:59 PM on December 31, 2009


Would someone PLEASE invent a transporter already so I don't have to deal with idiots yammering into cell phones at top volume, endless flight delays, people watching bad porn on their laptops, meaningless security theater, snide flight attendants, sick passengers, barrel rolls, a lack of friggin' leg room, crappy food, turbulence, my own horrible embarrassment over my toddlers kicking seat backs, underwear bombers, shoe bombers, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as Your Lord and Savior?" seatmates, lost luggage, diaper changes in bathrooms too small to even stand up in and "I'm so sorry. I know we made you pour out your kids' baby bottles, but guess what? We're out of milk. I can give you a few handfuls of these tiny half and half creamer cups if you like..."?

Transporters! You step on the pad and dematerialize. Then, instantly rematerialize at your destination. No insects allowed.

It's an idea whose time has come, I say. Who's with me?!


I swear, I'd get used to the fear of someday hearing "Lost yer luggage? Pffft.That's nothin'! They lost me liver over Uruguay!"
posted by zarq at 1:09 PM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


peeedro:Spend three weeks in retail and you will be able to identify most shoplifters on sight. Spend three weeks waiting tables or bartending and you will be able to identify most under-aged drinkers as soon as they walk in the door.

Wouldn't that be because of a lot of on the job practice? Because those activities you list are very common so the employees would see a lot of it.

Your idea might work if terrorists were blowing up a plane every couple of days, but I dont think any TSA agent is noticing any actual terrorists.
posted by Iax at 1:09 PM on December 31, 2009


Copying whatever works about Israeli security seems to be a good and sensible measure. On the other hand racism is 100% ok there - maybe we shouldn't copy that bit.

Artw: Why are you an anti-semite?

*ducks*
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:17 PM on December 31, 2009


My half-assed number crunching says that in 2005 (easiest year to get the stats), Israel handled 1.55 air passengers per capita (total passengers/Israeli population) vs. the US 2.23 passengers per capita. Also, 83,864 Israeli passengers per billion GDP, vs 56,170 US passengers per billion GDP. Cheaper Israeli labor availability might explain how they can afford more security, but my take on it is that part of their success is due to more covert government intrusion on people's lives (in addition to the overt stuff).
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:24 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Artw: Why are you an anti-semite?

Please, anyone, take this straight to MetaTalk where there is a discussion of anti-semitism already in progress. Do not do this here. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn at 1:28 PM on December 31, 2009


BrotherCaine, did your sources correlate with per capita defense spending? That might be one area that the funding comes from.
posted by lodurr at 1:31 PM on December 31, 2009


Checking israirairlines.com I only find 4 airports within Israel for commercial flights. This means that a high proportion of flights from Israel are international and likely have passengers from many nations. This, and of course that they are Israeli make them attractive targets for terrorists. Contrast this with the US, even within the US some flights are more attractive targets than others. Despite there being a difference in the likelihood of terrorism someone flying from Chicago to Houston on a Canadian Regional Jet 700 that seats 72 is subjected to the same scrutiny as someone flying LA to NY on a Boeing 757 that seats 204 and carries more fuel. Relative to the US the flights that depart Israel are as targets for terrorists both uniformly attractive and more attractive and require a much higher level of attention.
In addition, what people are reacting to are the last 2 attempted airline bombings which had the US as a destination and originated in other countries. For the US to have direct control over international passengers flying inbound would effectively require having embassies at a lot of foreign airports.* Whatever we can learn is great but I don't think the Israeli airport security model superimposes over the US situation easily.

*Come to think of it that might be where we're headed, international flights to Chicago for example spend a lot of time in US airspace before meeting any US authority.
posted by vapidave at 1:52 PM on December 31, 2009


Terrorists are cheap, seems to be the assumption. Every terrorist plot that has gone forward involving airline hijacking or suicide bombing has been with coach tickets (someone can probably confirm of deny this, but this seems to be the case).

Not in the case of the 9/11 hikackings:
American Airlines Flight 11: "Ong said the four hijackers had come from first-class seats: 2A, 2B, 9A, and 9B. She said the wounded passenger was in seat 10B."

American Airlines Flight 77: "Two hijackers, Hani Hanjour and Majed Moqed were identified by clerks as having bought single, first-class tickets for Flight 77 from Advance Travel Service in Totowa, New Jersey with $1,842.25 in cash."

United Airlines Flight 93: "Al-Haznawi and al-Ghamdi boarded the aircraft at 07:39 and sat in first class seats 6B and 3D respectively. Al-Nami boarded one minute later and sat in first class seat 3C. Jarrah boarded at 07:48 and sat in seat 1B."

United Airlines Flight 175: " Banihammad boarded first and sat in first class seat 2A, while Mohand al-Shehri was seated in 2B. At 07:27, Shehhi and Ahmed al-Ghamdi boarded, and sat in business class seats 6C and 9D respectively. A minute later, Hamza al-Ghamdi boarded, and sat in 9C."
posted by ericb at 1:54 PM on December 31, 2009 [3 favorites]


I would prefer that they have separate entrances at the airport labeled "Cowards" and "No Cowards."

The cowards spend hours with the current security theater, remove their shoes, surrender all their liquids, etc.

The non-cowards just walk through the door and directly onto their plane and fly away. It used to be that way. Traveling by air was a real pleasure. I'm willing to take the one in a million chance of a hijacker or bomber. It's better than living your life as a pants-wetting coward.
posted by JackFlash at 1:56 PM on December 31, 2009 [6 favorites]


jessamyn: I was joking. That's why I *ducked*.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:04 PM on December 31, 2009


In the past decade, there have been 6 terrorist events on airlines. This means that the risk of being part of a terrorist incident in the past decade? 1 in about 10.5 million.

Chill the fuck out.

Or, for a more reasoned response, please read Bruce Schneier.
posted by Freen at 2:04 PM on December 31, 2009


It used to be that way. Traveling by air was a real pleasure.

... in the '50s. But air travel sucked on 10 September 2001. The security was less annoying, but that's hardly the most annoying part of air travel for me. It's the five hours in coach that sucks.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:08 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really, we've got to get away from this idea that terrorists are crazy. That's an incredibly dangerous idea. It entails basically just giving up on trying to understand what makes them tick, which is kind of a pre-requisite for being able to predict what they're going to do.

You're implying that "crazy" means there's no hope. I like to think we haven't given up trying to understand what makes "crazy" people (like sociopaths) tick. At the same time, you could easily make the case that they are disillusioned or hold a distorted view of reality, which is enough to diagnose an illness as per the DSM. Not that the DSM is the end-all-be-all, but suppose you were able to intervene as a clinician/psychologist with someone who was a self-confessed would-be terrorist. How would you proceed?
posted by tybeet at 2:12 PM on December 31, 2009


It's amazing just how craven we've become as of late - one moron with flaming powdery underwear and we're running for fascism, quick as a wink.

Actually, I kind of like the "Cowards"/"No Cowards" entrance idea - probably wouldn't name it that, but I like the idea nonetheless. The flight attendant emergency instructions would be more interesting, too.
posted by FormlessOne at 2:15 PM on December 31, 2009


Iax: Your idea might work if terrorists were blowing up a plane every couple of days, but I dont think any TSA agent is noticing any actual terrorists.

If you read my whole comment, I think I anticipated your point here: "People are very good at pattern matching, but forming that pattern is the difficult part since there are so few 'terrorists.' But training a person to identify the behavior of someone as out of place, nervous, inappropriate, or jittery is pretty easy as most people show up to the job interview with these skills. Engineering an environment where layers of lightly-trained screeners can forward their hunches to highly trained personnel seems more realistic than a single terrorist catching machine manned by untrained, unaccountable TSA goons."

Your idea might work if terrorists were blowing up a plane every couple of days, but I dont think any TSA agent is noticing any actual terrorists.

It's not my idea, don't give me credit. I'm supporting the article's assertion that multi-layered, proactive, and aggressive screeners looking for aberrant behavior would be more effective than a monolithic and reactive list-based and technological gee-gaw focused security fence.
posted by peeedro at 2:23 PM on December 31, 2009


As I said in the other thread, the best compromise between civil liberties and security is eliminating the security theater and massively investing in bomb sniffing dogs. Dogs are faster and less invasive than any other security measures and require no profiling.

Dogs are the only realistic method of bomb detection anyways. A trained dogs plus a trained handler is much cheaper than training police to read people like these Israelis. And vastly cheaper than high tech scanning equipment.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:32 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Daq, I proposed the same thing somewhere last time these discussions were occurring. I called it Anesthesia Airways. You could probably even charge extra for it-- most people would prefer not being conscious for the flight.

Regarding the Israeli techniques, it seems to me that the cost of hiring and training people to be able to do them in a respectful, non-racist way in America would be minimal compared to the cost incurred in time and productivity just by the shoe business and again with the liquid changes.

Plus, it would have the added benefit of turning dull, mindless work into skilled, meaningful work that could have knock-on effects. Hiring people at higher pay, requiring them to be more educated and have better skills is a good stimulus project-- and if just one attack is prevented, it pays for itself.

Having more psychologically astute, socially skilled people around is also not a bad thing-- they will be much more employable in other fields as well.
posted by Maias at 2:36 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Israeli Airport Security! Israeli Airport Security! Get yer Israeli Airport Security here!

Meh. Next time some pro-Israeli journo starts spouting off at the mouth about how everyone should emulate the super-human Israeli security standards at TLV in order that they should be allowed to enjoy a bathroom break within an hour of landing, I'm going to be forced to remind them about the series of bus and cafe suicide bombings that PLAGUED Israel during the Second Intifada and brought the Israeli government to its knees and subsequently to the bargaining table.

Two loners armed with little more than a crazed fixation on the 9/11 attacks, who successfully boarded US-bound aircraft from a foreign port with devices that had nothing but a giggle's chance at bringing an aircraft down are not an indictment of the TSA and its policies.

To draw a correlation between the Underwear Bomber and the 9/11 attacks and the need for increased security is to expose one's ignorance of the situation at hand.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2009


And vastly cheaper than high tech scanning equipment.

High tech scanning equipment which is virtually useless, as well. You can simply decline to be scanned, as I do every time I fly and they decide to single me out. Instead, I get a half-assed wanding and pat-down, which is orders of magnitude less thorough than the average security scan was at the door of a NYC nightclub in the crazed ecstasy heyday of the 90s.
posted by elizardbits at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Terrorists are cheap, seems to be the assumption. Every terrorist plot that has gone forward involving airline hijacking or suicide bombing has been with coach tickets (someone can probably confirm of deny this, but this seems to be the case).
What a bizarre thing to say. After 9/11 everyone was talking about how the hijackers took first-class tickets, which are closer to the pilots.

Where would you even come up with a theory like that?
You're implying that "crazy" means there's no hope. I like to think we haven't given up trying to understand what makes "crazy" people (like sociopaths) tick. At the same time, you could easily make the case that they are disillusioned or hold a distorted view of reality, which is enough to diagnose an illness as per the DSM. Not that the DSM is the end-all-be-all, but suppose you were able to intervene as a clinician/psychologist with someone who was a self-confessed would-be terrorist. How would you proceed?
What makes you think there's anything "wrong" with them at all? Maybe they're just pissed off?
If you read my whole comment, I think I anticipated your point here: "People are very good at pattern matching, but forming that pattern is the difficult part since there are so few 'terrorists.' But training a person to identify the behavior of someone as out of place, nervous, inappropriate, or jittery is pretty easy as most people show up to the job interview with these skills.
So terrorists pop some xanax and ecstasy before the flight. If AQ knows all their bombers have to do is seem calm to successfully blow up a plane, then don't you think they'll train them to seem calm and probably drug them before their missions?
posted by delmoi at 3:27 PM on December 31, 2009


as its security failed miserably with the two planes that left that morning and took down the twin towers

No, it didn't. People were allowed to bring box cutters on planes back then.

This is the thing nobody remembers--the 9/11 hijackers were traveling on valid passports and visas, carrying tools that were permitted by then-current rules. Nobody failed the system, but the system wasn't adequate to protect thousands of people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:48 PM on December 31, 2009


FormlessOne: Actually, I kind of like the "Cowards"/"No Cowards" entrance idea - probably wouldn't name it that, but I like the idea nonetheless. The flight attendant emergency instructions would be more interesting, too.

"In case of emergency, grab that bottle of bourbon you've been working on and take a good stiff belt. Then loosen that tie and roll up those sleeves, cause mister, we've got a lot of work to get done. And NO GUFF - we're stews, not your mommy."
posted by hangashore at 3:48 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem: each episode brings a further taking away of rights of those passengers but terror attempts continue to be made.
thus far I can see (other than list in advance of No fly etc) no recourse but Full Body Scans with
no barriers for protecting private parts (groins) where something might be concealed. So far as
I have read, such full scans are able to catch anything concealed. Anything.
posted by Postroad at 3:58 PM on December 31, 2009


jeffburdges: As I said in the other thread, the best compromise between civil liberties and security is eliminating the security theater and massively investing in bomb sniffing dogs. Dogs are faster and less invasive than any other security measures and require no profiling.

I think Eriko's response is pretty good. To add to that, from my own personal experience, I used to live on Capitol Hill and at least once a week I would see a sight that would arrest me with amusement: there was a Capitol Police officer who looked like McBain with a Cocker Spaniel who looked like Benji. I thought, that must be one well-trained dog because no self-respecting cop would be holding that leash otherwise. That cop looked tough as nails and his K9 companion was cute as ducklings.

But nobody piped up in the Miky thread how strange that a police force would depend on a dog that they were entirely unable to communicate with or work with effectively. Is it okay for dog on a leash to be a first line defense to deter bombs and drugs; or act as an excuse for their handler to detain people because they say their dog "alerted" while inspecting their belongings?

delmoi: So terrorists pop some xanax and ecstasy before the flight. If AQ knows all their bombers have to do is seem calm to successfully blow up a plane, then don't you think they'll train them to seem calm and probably drug them before their missions?

Who would overlook the dialated pupils and the touchy-feely nature of these hypothetical raver terrorists. Can I brush your hair? Can I borrow your Vicks?

What type of person would you define as a threat?
posted by peeedro at 4:01 PM on December 31, 2009




I'm just speculating here, but if I had a security system that relied on physical searches, electronic scans, and things like hyperbaric chambers to set off bombs - you know what I'd tell people? This:
[A] trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side? "The whole time, they are looking into your eyes – which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. ..."
If potential terrorists are studying your physical security then they'll figure out ways to evade it. If they're studying interview techniques then they'll likely get nervous and rely on canned responses. So telling people that your staff are human lie detectors is a win-win solution. It's like a magician's patter. It encourages your target to focus on the wrong things
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:07 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


"However, he added, body imaging technology has its limits — the machines cannot, for example, detect objects stowed in bodily orifices or concealed within the folds of an obese person’s flesh."

I knew it! Fat people... THREAT OR MENACE?
posted by Justinian at 4:30 PM on December 31, 2009


But don't discount the grandmothers. They can be terrorists too.

Or more accurately, the grandson can be a terrorist who planted the C-4 or Semtex or whatever in grandma's luggage. There was that Palestinian who planted a bomb in his pregnant Irish girlfriend's luggage. She was going to fly El Al. Isreali Security sensed something wrong and stopped her. She was totally innocent. Hence a good reason why Isreali's in fact do *not* do racial profiling, or more accurately, racial profiling alone.
posted by xetere at 4:32 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, it didn't. People were allowed to bring box cutters on planes back then. This is the thing nobody remembers--the 9/11 hijackers were traveling on valid passports and visas, carrying tools that were permitted by then-current rules.

Not true.

CBS News: Boxcutters Weren't Allowed Pre-9/11.

Also:
"The misconception: We know how the hijackers seized the planes. Within days of Sept. 11, Americans believed they knew how the planes were grabbed: Terrorists had taken control by stabbing pilots, passengers, and flight attendants with box cutters and knives.

What's wrong with the story: It's incomplete and misleading. We don't really know what happened on the planes. The cockpit voice recorder survived neither New York crash and was damaged beyond salvage in the Pentagon crash. The Flight 93 voice recorder doesn't start until several minutes after the hijackers took the plane. What little we know about tactics and weapons comes from phones calls made by passengers and flight attendants. As Edward Jay Epstein has pointed out, the evidence is incredibly paltry. No one on United Flight 175, which crashed into the World Trade Center, reported anything about weapons or tactics. One flight attendant on American Flight 11, which also crashed into the World Trade Center, said she was disabled by a chemical spray, while another flight attendant said a passenger was stabbed or shot. On the Pentagon plane, American Flight 77, Barbara Olson reported hijackers carrying knives and box cutters but did not describe how they took the cockpit. And on United Flight 93, passengers reported knives but also a hijacker threatening to explode a bomb. The box cutter-knives story isn't demonstrably false, but it serves to divert attention from the other weapons and to mask the fact that we don't have any idea how the hijackings happened."*
posted by ericb at 4:46 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


I couldn't remember his name, but here is a bit of info on Nezar Hindawi, who was the man who planted a bomb on his unsuspecting very irish very white girlfriend in hopes of blowing up an El Al plane.
posted by xetere at 5:04 PM on December 31, 2009


Why do so many assume profiling is necessarily racial? It's also about buying one way tickets for cash and having no luggage, or was in this case. Admittedly that one is easy to beat, but it surely isn't just based on being a certain ethnicity, nationality or race.
posted by A189Nut at 5:15 PM on December 31, 2009


No, it didn't. People were allowed to bring box cutters on planes back then.

See THIS is thing people don't remember is that knives and box-cutters were NOT allowed by the ATA. But the ATA had no teeth or financial incentive to enforce their own guidelines. And the FAA didn't either.

There was no method to enforce the rules in 99% of the airports in the US and the FAA had confusing guidelines that allowed some blades under 4 inches.

Sometimes pre-9/11 I would walk on a plane with a 4" tactical folder no problem. Other times they would tell me to check it. There was no consistency.

And let's just since then the so-called prohibitions and security on such items haven't really been entirely consistent either. But I will admit to nothing here.
posted by tkchrist at 5:34 PM on December 31, 2009


Yes ... and airport security at that time (September 2001 and prior) was provided by private security companies. Airport security was often considered "privatized and piecemeal security."
"Traditionally, they've hired private security companies, who then hire the people who operate the equipment. The contracts usually go to the lowest bidder. It's those people who are often criticized as the weakest link in the system. Pay is low, and turnover high-- 500% at one airport-- and their training is often minimal. Federal inspectors have repeatedly been able to easily get weapons and potential bombs past them."
At Boston Logan 'Globe Aviation Services' was the private security firm at terminal B and 'Huntley Security' at terminal C (contracted by the FAA). The planes (American Flight 11 and United Flight 175) which slammed into the two towers of the World Trade Center originated from these terminals. Both contractors had poor histories of security lapses.
'''Two of the planes flew out of Logan, but I don't think Logan is weaker than any other airport. The problem is systemic,' [retired FAA special agent Brian] Sullivan said. 'Morale problems are horrendous' among FAA security staff whose job includes trying to prevent terrorists from boarding planes. 'All you need to do is look at turnover and employee satisfaction,' Sullivan added.

Sullivan, like many other security specialists, said the weak link in aviation security is the low-paid employees hired to work at security checkpoints by private security firms that are contracted by the airlines.

A former Massport official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that for years airport officials have been concerned about 'the quality of the people hired, basically at the minimum wage, to check your bags. There were a lot of people at Massport who said this was the weak link.'''
Poor training, low wages, etc. contributed to a porous security system. Then -- 9/11 happened. As a response, the government got serious and decided that tighter oversight, better training, etc. was needed and shit-canned the security companies and formed the TSA in November 2001.

April 24, 2002: Secretary Mineta Announces Beginning of Security Screening Program; BWI First to Deploy Federal Screening Personnel
"U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta today announced further enhancements to the security and efficiency of the U.S. aviation system including the beginning of a new training program for passenger screeners the deployment of the nation's first fully federalized team of federal screening personnel at Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI) and the deployment of thousands of explosive detection systems to screen all passenger bags by the end of this year.

...Secretary Mineta announced that the DOT's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has awarded a contract of $105 million to Lockheed Martin Services to begin the training of the airport security screening force. Under the contract each screener will receive a minimum of 40 hours of classroom training five times the amount they received under the previous system. Screeners also will receive 60 hours of on-the-job training and will have to pass a tough final examination as a requirement for graduation.

Secretary Mineta announced additional measures to enhance aviation safety including the full federalization of the security screener workforce at BWI. Under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act all airport security screeners must be federal employees by Nov. 19 and BWI will be the first U.S. airport at which this requirement is implemented. In addition the Secretary said that the TSA will deploy up to 1 100 explosive detection systems and up to 4 700 explosive trace detection machines at the nation's 429 airports to screen all bags for explosives by Dec. 31 2002 as mandated by Congress."
posted by ericb at 6:11 PM on December 31, 2009



Copying whatever works about Israeli security seems to be a good and sensible measure. On the other hand racism is 100% ok there - maybe we shouldn't copy that bit.


How is that comment still standing?
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 6:12 PM on December 31, 2009


Thank the good lord (or Darwin) that there is no racism in our grand nation!
fact: Israel gets screens for potential terrorist and it matters not if they are Arab or Muslim, Christian, atheist etc etc
Fact: the Israel system is not soul searching. In fact, it is based on sound methodology that has been tested.
fact: full body scanning can detect bad stuff but if you stick some powder up your orifice (asshole) you are not likely to put your hand up there in midflght to retrieve and set it afire, meanwhile with your pants down to your knee.
Dogs: if they were foolproof they would be used.
Fact: the Dutch were told by us not to use full body scanning. Now they have begun to use it.
Fact: that sort of scanning was suggested but congress listened to its lobbyists. Surprise.
Fact: talking about airline security and what the Israelis do ought not be compared to what happens on the ground in the West Bank etc...The issue here is air travel. ps: sucide bombings ceased in Israel with the wall put up...many non-Israelis object to the wall. Now Egypt is also putting up one.
I can not speak for Israeli intelligence, but clearly CIA, FBI et al have again not been sharing info, and this is a problem that the previous and the present administrations seems unable to solve. Suggestions?
posted by Postroad at 6:22 PM on December 31, 2009


To those questioning whether we have the ability and manpower to create a force of thousands of well-trained security screeners in the Israeli fashion I would ask this question: how many intelligent, well-trained men and women would be freed up if we ended the drug war? I imagine a few hundred or thousand out of work FBI agents and thousands of police could be put to much better use.
posted by jedicus at 6:23 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


http://www.elliott.org/the-troubleshooter/like-el-al/
why we are not like Israel on plane flights

Here, I won't make available the original document that this guy got the govt riled about and which was a classified doc that he made public, but what gets said here and the comments are all of interest if this is your sort of thing.

http://boardingarea.com/blogs/flyingwithfish/2009/12/30/the-fallout-from-sd-1544-09-06-the-feds-at-my-door/
posted by Postroad at 6:33 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


PC KILLS.
posted by HTuttle at 6:51 PM on December 31, 2009


...the government got serious and decided that tighter oversight, better training, etc. was needed and shit-canned the security companies and formed the TSA in November 2001.

And the stats on how much better-off we are now that we have the TSA are ... where, exactly?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:00 PM on December 31, 2009


"Me, I'd rather take off my shoes than have to prove myself trustworthy to get on an airplane."

Holy shit, that's a stupid comment (with 17 favorites!).

It's not a choice of taking of your shoes and being safe and having to prove anything and being safe. Taking off your shoes DOES NOT MAKE YOU SAFE.
posted by e40 at 7:18 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Who would overlook the dialated pupils and the touchy-feely nature of these hypothetical raver terrorists. Can I brush your hair? Can I borrow your Vicks?

Well, they would have to do testing to get the right dosing and training to make people act normally, either with massive adrenaline of a suicide run, or with emotions dialed down with narcotics. I'm not clearly why you think this is impossible.

What type of person would you define as a threat?

The kind that get on airplanes. If you treat different people differently, then all terrorists have to do is send people flying around to find the ones who don't screened as often. Of course terrorist groups may not be this smart.

Although they did manage to find someone who could get through security in this case. They just didn't give him a working bomb.
posted by delmoi at 7:22 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


OK, here's my hare-brained (rat-brained?) idea: all the air in the cabin is recirculated, right? Why not get a couple of mine-sniffing Hero rats onboard, expose them to the flow of recirculated air, and let them detect if anything's amiss?
posted by greatgefilte at 8:27 PM on December 31, 2009


Incidentally, flying out of Toronto today, everyone got a pretty thorough pat-down and examination of the limited stuff we were allowed to bring as carry-ons. It seemed to work relatively efficiently, even as an impromptu setup, once everyone realized there were separate lines for men and women.
posted by greatgefilte at 8:29 PM on December 31, 2009


I'm all for a new way of doing things. Our way is too complicated and it still doesn't work.

Doesn't work? Because planes are getting blown up every other month?

Clearly, as pathetic as the TSA system is, it's plenty good enough to protect airline passengers from the tiny, tiny threat of a plane getting blown up.

Why on earth does everyone think airplanes are this big terrorist target? Aren't there dozens of easier ways to kill a hundred people? Anyone who thinks the 9-11 hijackings were about blowing up airplanes must believe that shooting JFK was a devious plot to destroy a bullet.
posted by straight at 9:34 PM on December 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Clearly, as pathetic as the TSA system is, it's plenty good enough to protect airline passengers from the tiny, tiny threat of a plane getting blown up.

We have no idea if this is true. In fact, the evidence suggests it is not true and that what mostly prevents terrorism on airplanes are passengers unwilling to allow themselves be helpless victims.
posted by Justinian at 9:59 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fact: talking about airline security and what the Israelis do ought not be compared to what happens on the ground in the West Bank etc...The issue here is air travel. ps: sucide bombings ceased in Israel with the wall put up...many non-Israelis object to the wall. Now Egypt is also putting up one.

I'm sorry, but one can not look at this pro-Israeli air-security PR campaign without looking at how they have massively failed at security unless they can militarize it, work in conjunction with or direct a state-owned entity (El Al) and build an isolationist wall around it while enforcing apartheid and ethnic cleansing. (I won't say that too loud because we have people in the United States who would be overjoyed at the chance to enforce such policies.) And even then, the Israeli people are forced to endure numerous casualties until their only solution to everything, limited invasion to destroy every viable economic or personal target possible and then shoring up the border, is put into place. And they'll keep doing that year in, year out whether it be Gaza, the West Bank or Lebanon, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that said methodology isn't working. Nor has it ever had.

If the issue being looked at is should the US adopt Israeli-like security measures to counter terror attacks via commercial air travel, then my answer is no, reason being that since 9/11 the United States has incurred no attacks aboard outgoing or domestic commercial aircraft destined to either destroy the aircraft or use it as a weapon to destroy targets on the ground, and on only two separate occasions, woefully unprepared lone terrorists have managed to board aircraft at a foreign port armed with homemade explosive devices incapable of commandeering or destroying the aircraft.

Given those numbers in the context of the millions of people arriving, departing and traveling throughout the United States aboard privately-owned commercial aircraft over the past eight years, then I'd have to say that US airline security policies have been successful albeit annoying.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:00 PM on December 31, 2009


All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?
"Two benign questions. The questions aren't important. The way people act when they answer them is," Sela said.

This.
posted by kch at 10:04 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


Spend three weeks in retail and you will be able to identify most shoplifters on sight. Spend three weeks waiting tables or bartending and you will be able to identify most under-aged drinkers as soon as they walk in the door.

People believing this explains why I was able to eat without enough money and drink in bars when I was a teenager.
posted by mobunited at 10:35 PM on December 31, 2009 [1 favorite]


rtha: "I was surprised at the guard's unexpected (to me) chattiness: Hi, how are you? Where are you visiting from? Ah, San Francisco? Must be a rental you're driving [it was] - I thought you all drove hybrids there [we do!]!"

I had that happen four years ago, coming back to the US from Canada at Blaine. The border guard asked me about how I my car's door got dented, and didn't settle for "oh, that was me, ha ha" or whatever chatty answer I had. He really wanted to know how it got dented. Or at least that's what I've always thought (and wondered what he was looking for), but maybe I've misread it all this time.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:10 PM on December 31, 2009


delmoi: Well, they would have to do testing to get the right dosing and training to make people act normally, either with massive adrenaline of a suicide run, or with emotions dialed down with narcotics. I'm not clearly why you think this is impossible.

Although they did manage to find someone who could get through security in this case. They just didn't give him a working bomb.


It's pretty hard for me to imagine a terrorist training center where bombers can be hopped up on a perfect mix of personality masking drugs AND learn how to blow up their explosives because they still haven't mastered the easy part of your premise, actually detonating a bomb on a plane. Smuggling explosives and a working detonator onto a plane is nearly impossible now adays and our would-be bombers of the last decade prove this point.

I admit that your premise is possible but, to me, so unlikely that I don't think that our security efforts should focus on your hypothetical, highly-trained, proficient, pharmaceutically fortified, suicide bombers since they don't seem to exist anywhere except in your imagination.
posted by peeedro at 11:24 PM on December 31, 2009


fact: full body scanning can detect bad stuff but if you stick some powder up your orifice (asshole) you are not likely to put your hand up there in midflght to retrieve and set it afire, meanwhile with your pants down to your knee.

So, full body scanning is worthless EXCEPT to the pedophile who rushes to get the job so he can snap pictures of your kids junk with his cellphone.

Nice to know that.

And you seem to have forgotten that there's a lavatory or three on the plane, where the powder can be expelled, and the necessary procedures performed. Thinking about it, the shoe bomber and the underpants bomber must be the stupidest guys they could find, proving that the goal isn't to destroy planes, but to destroy freedom and liberty.

We do it to ourselves.

DISCLAIMER: I haven't gotten on a plane since NYE2K. And haven't missed it one bit. I get as large a cup of coffee as I want ( as long as it'll fit in the cupholder of my car ), and no-one's telling me to do pointless dumb things on the way. ( excepting the 3 and 5 year old daughters )
posted by mikelieman at 2:37 AM on January 1, 2010


It's not just airports.

Some years back I got a ferry from Greece to Israel with three friends. We spent some time in Israel, went across the border for a couple of weeks in Egypt and then came back to Israel for a few more days. We left Israel again by ferry, back to Greece.

At the ferry terminal, we were split into pairs and interviewed separately and our stories then crosschecked for anything fishy. I met my fair share of racist dicks in Israel. The security people, however, were unfailingly polite and professional, and struck me as pretty sharp.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:27 AM on January 1, 2010


Justinian: "I knew it! Fat people... THREAT OR MENACE?"

[glances about nervously, avoiding eye contact]
posted by Joe Beese at 7:06 AM on January 1, 2010


Since 2002, security procedures at Logan are based on those in Israel, including being the first U.S. airport "...with an innovative behavior pattern recognition program based on 30 years of Israeli airport experience."

REALLY? I've flown into/out of Logan regularly for oh... EVER... and I could swear that their security procedures are identical to those of the rest of the US in being an innovative annoyance based shoe removal program.

Of course, Logan is the only airport I fly through internationally, so perhaps the security is actually more annoying at other internat'l terminals in the US, I really wouldn't know. But I do know that Logan isn't any different than Reykjavík, Lisbon, Paris, Madrid, or Rome in the whole "Take off your shoes, walk through this metal detector, turn around and dance like a chicken" arena of security.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:42 AM on January 1, 2010


Logan is slow and most of the workers are Boston-style brusque, which means that they act really annoyed at your existence whether or not they search you. When you arrive from an international flight, you're basically herded like cattle into different lines by nationality, where they kind of bark at you. At Schipol and Charles de Gaulle international arrivals, I found the workers to be much more polite and quiet.

Second this.

My worst reaction from security agents was in Rome, wherein I had a confrontation with a woman who may have personally invented fascism. I don't think that's all Italians though, I'm pretty sure it's just her.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:08 AM on January 1, 2010


So, full body scanning is worthless EXCEPT to the pedophile who rushes to get the job so he can snap pictures of your kids junk with his cellphone. Nice to know that.


OH! NOES! WONT! SOMEONE! THINK! OF! THE! CHILDRENS!!!111!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:11 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


In the many years since 9/11, during which the TSA's new measures have been supposedly keeping us safer, and during which tens of millions have flown, do we know if there have been *any* cases where they're identified anything resembling a terrorist attempt? I'm not talking about the errant hip hop star that forgets his Glock is in his bag, I'm talking about the real thing. Have there been any at all?

I think about this every time my 71 year old mother, who is disabled and in a wheelchair, is required to remove her shoes (no small effort), her jacket (no small effort), and subjected to a full body pat-down -- all while being brusquely treated like a toddler by some obnoxious pimply faced clerk with a badge. Fun times.

Has there ever, in the history of America, been a single terrorism incident on a plane involving any member of a family, with or without liquids, lighters, or firearms, in which there was a newborn baby traveling with that family? Of course never.

I say... profile-away! Expectant mothers don't blow up planes. Old ladies in wheelchairs don't blow up planes. This isn't a Steven Seagall movie.

I'm a 40 year old Jew with a goatee, and on a bad hair day I might look menacing to some TSA clerk. Go ahead, strip search me. I really couldn't care less. Just please spend your time focusing on reasonably likely targets.
posted by pallen123 at 9:16 AM on January 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Expectant mothers don't blow up planes.

Could happen.

xetere: There was that Palestinian who planted a bomb in his pregnant Irish girlfriend's luggage. She was going to fly El Al. Isreali Security sensed something wrong and stopped her."

More details:
"Another terrorist attack was foiled on 18 April 1986 in what became known as the Hindawi Affair. A pregnant Irish woman named Anne Mary Murphy was about to board an El Al flight at London's Heathrow airport when her bag was found to contain three pounds of plastic explosives. These had been planted by her fiancé Nezar Hindawi who was booked on a different flight. Hindawi was jailed for 45 years, the longest sentence ever delivered by a British court. There was evidence that Syrian officials were involved and as a result, Britain cut off diplomatic relations with Syria."
posted by ericb at 9:25 AM on January 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there any credibility to this story about odd things going on both at the start of the flight — that the pantybomber got on the flight with the help of a mystery man — and at the end of the flight — that the FBI took away a passenger and may have found a second bomb?
posted by five fresh fish at 11:55 AM on January 1, 2010


Also, I think this is how all airport terrorist events should be handled.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:32 PM on January 1, 2010


Is there any credibility to this story...

Hmmm. Very interesting.
posted by ericb at 1:03 PM on January 1, 2010


Also, I think this is how all airport terrorist events should be handled.

God damn it. Another fucking Portugese corporate marketing stunt taking advantage of the holiday spirit and cheer. Flash mob? Singing and dancing? Sheesh. Way to wreck an Internet meme. I kid, of course, but wait for a Mefite to espouse such a reaction.

Great stuff....except if I was delayed one more fucking minute from checking-in for my flight out of Lisbon due to these asshole celebrants!

I keed, again.
posted by ericb at 1:21 PM on January 1, 2010


Is there any credibility to this story...that the FBI took away a [second] passenger...

The Detroit News: Customs official confirms report of 2nd man held from Flight 253
"A federal customs and border protection official reversed himself today, admitting a passenger from Northwest Flight 253 was placed in handcuffs, searched and released after a canine alerted officers to his carry-on luggage.

Ronald G. Smith, chief U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer in the Detroit area, sent an email to The Detroit News late Thursday apologizing that the information on the passenger -- which was reported to federal investigators by a pair of Taylor attorneys who were passengers on the flight -- was not made available earlier.

Federal officials had denied the details of the incident despite repeated accounts by attorneys Kurt and Lori Haskell of Taylor who say they saw a man get questioned by federal officials and later led away in handcuffs after a sniffer dog reacted to something in the man's carry-on luggage in the airport's baggage area.

The couple said the man, who appeared to be in his early 30s and of Indian descent, was taken to a room for questioning and later led out of that room in handcuffs.

In the email, which was also sent to the couple, Smith said he had just received a piece of information he did not have previously and hopes 'it will clear up the matter.'

Smith said the man was handcuffed, escorted to a room where he was interviewed and searched. Nothing was found. The man was not arrested or detained and no further information was available about him, Smith said.

'This information is consistent with eyewitness accounts,' Smith said.

...In previous interviews Smith said the Haskells' account was a composite of two events that occurred at the airport around the time passengers got off Flight 253.

The incidents were:

• A man from another flight -- Northwest Flight 249, also from Amsterdam -- was arrested at the jetway as he got off his flight and would have been led handcuffed through the area where the Flight 253 passengers were gathered, Smith said. The name of the man was not released, Smith added, because he was arrested on suspicion of immigration violations, not on a criminal matter.

• A sniffer dog reacted to agricultural or food products inside the bag of a third man, who was off yet another flight, Smith said. He was questioned and may have had some items confiscated but was not arrested, Smith said. Smith could not identify the flight number for the man found with prohibited food or plant products.

Lori Haskell said Thursday that she and her husband stand by their original story and alleged the government was concealing the facts about the incident."
posted by ericb at 1:35 PM on January 1, 2010


That dancing was awesome, but I wish TAP/Lisbon Airport had spent less time dancing and more time NOT LOSING MY BAG.

And 1500+ others. That's right. FIFTEEN HUNDRED BAGS LOST over Christmas. No lie. I have proof.

When this video was shot, there's a really good chance I was sitting in the baggage claim/lost and found with 'moonMan trying to find our Christmas presents for his family along with so many others that just the line itself to get clearance to go back there took OVER AN HOUR.

This is a great PR move, but dudes, it doesn't cover gross incompetence.

PS: Our bag didn't arrive in Portugal until two days after we left.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 2:20 PM on January 1, 2010


During the hols, I had access only to network news, no internet, and it was dispiriting to see the minimal reportage churned out, day after day, no questions asked. (It's hard to get a US visa these days so how did this guy get one?) Most of the coverage was incomplete. (No luggage? you mean, no checked luggage?) Each segment concluded with a comment on the holy grail of security, full-body scanners. (Didya notice that body scan image was so over-exposed that no body definition was shown and the brown sugar pkt/fake explosive was the faintest of outlines? Were the networks modestly sparing our sensibilities?)(And no discussion of bomb-sniffing dogs?)

But now I'm back home, have read this link posted above and I see the description upthread: pantybomber. Love it. So this is another form of defense. Every news story about the shoe bomber uses the same demented photo of Richard Reid. We missed this opportunity with the latest guy's mugshot but pantybomber more than makes up for it. Terrorists may be suicidal but I'm pretty sure they don't want to go to martyrdom with the label pantybomber. Need more of this psychological pantsing.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:03 PM on January 1, 2010




olinerd says: In Columbus I got yelled at for trying to go through with a backpack, a roller suitcase, and a purse. I had taken the purse out of the backpack to get my ID. I was told I could only have two carryons. I explained that the purse goes in to one of them. They made me stop, put it into the backpack and go through.

I have had this exact same discussion twice in the past few years. Both times flying out of Logan. (Add in the fact that I can't actually get my laptop out of its case without taking the purse out, either.)

That having been said, I generally agree with you- flying out of random small airports is often much worse in terms of the power-tripping. People at Logan may not be any more effective, and sure they might be Boston brusque, but they are really just doing their job, not enjoying the thrill of power over the passengers.

I also agree with Logan security not being perceivably different from that at other large airports in the U.S. (O'hare, SFO, DEN all seem pretty similar to me). It's security theater all over, but more or less consistently so.
posted by nat at 7:59 PM on January 1, 2010


tybeet: You're implying that "crazy" means there's no hope.

I'm implying nothing of the sort. I'm simply saying that "crazy" in the context of terrorism is a convenient and dangerous label that categorizes someone as so different from us that they don't fall within the normal spectrum at all. Why, they could do anything! They're totally alien -- they don't know what morals are!

And this would be a perfect example:

I like to think we haven't given up trying to understand what makes "crazy" people (like sociopaths) tick.

"Sociopathy" is a specific disorder. It describes a condition wherein one essentially has no external moral compass. A sociopath is typically able to understand moral concepts, often quite well -- often well enough to manipulate others to a high degree (Jim Jones, David Miscavige, Bernie Madoff, Charles Manson), but they don't really seem to actually have a consistent moral view.

Terrorists, by contrast, typically have an extremely strong moral compass. It's why they do what they do.
posted by lodurr at 5:50 AM on January 2, 2010


Has there ever, in the history of America, been a single terrorism incident on a plane involving any member of a family, with or without liquids, lighters, or firearms, in which there was a newborn baby traveling with that family? Of course never.

Wait a minute ... if you're suggesting that no family with a baby should be screened at all, that'd be a terrible policy. That would just be informing terrorists that if they want to blow up planes, they should bring babies with them. I agree that some profiling is OK, but there shouldn't be any group that's guaranteed never to be profiled. Terrorists would just blend in with that group.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:17 AM on January 2, 2010


all those race profiles proponents keep forgetting whitey was the bomber way back in OK City.

That would be a good argument against someone who advocates no security screening of white people. I don't know of anyone who takes that position.
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:19 AM on January 2, 2010


Racial profiling is theater, plain and simple, because at best your dangerous class is only ever going to be a partial subset of the suspect class. Ethnic profiling is no better, probably worse.

Behavioral profiling has potential, but it runs up against the severe risk of being implemented as "GutCheck 2.0", as someone put it up-thread. Remember that Israeli screeners perform thei behavioral profiling within the context of a larger system and that they accept inputs from that system. Anyone who honestly sees the TSA (or, for that matter, any national institution) implementing that kind of system with the kind of consistency required for effecitveness, I've got this bridge I'd like to sell you.

Behavioral profiing could potentially work at lower cost if it were rigorously evidence-based -- e.g., use FACS [MeFi '05] (& possibly other indicators), and cross-check two human-reads with one another and then with a machine-read. Yes, the system could be "fooled", but: a) news flash: no system is perfect, and b) it would actually be really hard to train someone for that, and the training would probably leave behavioral artifacts you could flag.

Any profiling system that excuses people, though, is just stupid. Profiling systems should include people -- i.e., mark them for more scrutiny -- not mark them as non-threats.
posted by lodurr at 10:49 AM on January 2, 2010


(where by "partial subset" I mean that the set of dangerous persons is not a proper subset of the set of suspect persons.)
posted by lodurr at 10:51 AM on January 2, 2010


Security screening is a limited resource. While no one should be guaranteed to not be screened — first class passengers excepted, apparently! — it only makes sense to apply that screening as effectively as possible by targeting those categories of people who fit the profile of those that have proven to be the greatest threat.

So what do the statistics tell us? Of all the bomb-the-plane events, what commonalities exist among the perps?

I'm guessing grannies are very low down on the list.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:06 AM on January 2, 2010


But don't discount the grandmothers. They can be terrorists too.
People who get angry about Grandma being searched should read up on Proxy Bombing. If you think Grandma loves her Grandkids, you can be damned sure she'll blow up a plane to save their lives.

The IRA started such tactics where they targeted people who provided services to the Security Forces in Northern Ireland (as they were seen as aiding and abetting the enemy). They would hold their family hostage and threaten to kill them unless they killed themselves and British Army forces. Now, do you really think groups that use suicide bombers would have some scruples that would make them not take advantage of Granny?

Can some of the Israel's experience with security be used, of course it can. Will it? Of course it won't because if whole inertia of the organisations involved and that they're delivering the security that their bosses (Congress, The Senate, The President ...) expect to solve the problems and not the security that will solve the problems.

Many of the people responsible for such matters are in such behemoth organisations that taking risks and doing something different isn't rewarded, it's going with the stuff that people assume works and hence we're stuck with this security theater. This just isn't a government problem, but a problem seen with any sufficiently large organisation, and especially true where management's skills do not include those related to what the organisation does but instead with running an organisation.

Also, and I'm generalising here, but it's one thing I've learned while living in the US is that Americans really do believe that they're different and that they won't look at other countries that have had similar experiences and see what they can learn from them because no-one can teach us nothing! (Yes, I'm exaggerating for emphasis and my apologies to my American friends for doing such.)
posted by zaphod at 1:07 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Until a granny blows up a plane headed into the USA, it makes much more sense to profile the types who have done so.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:48 PM on January 2, 2010


And once granny does blow up a plane (headed to anywhere), it will make no sense to profile granny anymore.
posted by lodurr at 2:20 PM on January 2, 2010


Well, not that particular granny, obviously.

I do not see that being "fair and balanced" by screening equal numbers of American grannies and swarthy mid-Easters is a winning approach.

It's like prostate exams. Doctors don't go poking their finger up your bum every year when you're a kid, because it's so extremely rare that you'd have a prostate problem; they save their efforts for the people who fit the profile: middle-aged to senior men.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:43 PM on January 2, 2010


…although with the way security is going in airports, perhaps they should be checking every male passenger's prostate. Might as well get the health benefits while being subjected to humiliating, time-wasting screenings.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:44 PM on January 2, 2010


It's got nothing to do with it being "fair and balanced." It's got everything to do with intelligent use of resources.

I understand that you think eliminating unlikely suspects is an intelligent use of resources. If that's done, though, it becomes an obvious end-run around security, so it should not be done. On the other hand, it's also not an intelligent use of resources to defend strenuously against the last tactic that an opponent used against you because any intelligent opponent will learn to expect that from you, and use any one of several hundred obvious alternate strategies on the next attempt.

The smarter use of resources is to bolster the choke points (cabin doors, e.g.), encourage people to participate in their own security, and -- and this is idea is widely held but seldom spoken of -- improve your ability to recover from attacks.

There's a subtle difference between continuous improvement and zero tolerance. One accepts that mistakes will be made and that it's then possible to learn from them; the other encourages people to take no bureaucratic risks and leads to theatre.
posted by lodurr at 3:10 PM on January 2, 2010


Well, given that I think it's almost all entirely useless theatre, arguing about whether profiling is reasonable is about as moot as discussing prayer as a security measure.

I think dogs would be a good psychological tool. A good way to make a bad guy more nervous, making it more likely that he'll be detected. I mean, s/he'll.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:48 PM on January 2, 2010


Almost all of it is theatre? Which parts aren't?

I mean, it actually would be pretty difficult for a lone actor to get a gun onto a plane. Even with help, it would have to be the right sort of help in the right place, and they'd have to be lucky. So I think it's fair to say that metal detectors aren't exactly theatre -- though the way they're managed has a lot of theatre about it.

Where dogs are used*, they're pretty effective at catching even trace amounts of the stuff they're trained to sniff for. So, that's not really theatre, either. Though of course it would be if we just deployed "dogs that sniff."

Full body scans: Given the availability of orifices, I'd say "theatre." So, Theatre in the current implementations.

Chemical sniffer technology: Given the logistical costs and effectiveness, theatre in the current implementations.

Armored cockpit doors and pilot-stays-in-cockpit rules: Probably pretty effective at preventing hijacking, cheap, and has minimal impact on airline function. In fact it's probably fair to say that hijacking of an airplane large enough to warrant an armored cockpit door is now quite unlikely, in large part due to this. So, I'd say 'not theatre.'

More armed air marshals: given the current implementation, I'd say 'theatre.' (Lack of professionalism, poor training, spotty oversight.)

Paying attention to people in critical jobs -- e.g., better psych/behavioral screening on ground crews: This has been pretty spotty but it's occasionally produced results (albeit not, I think, in the US, except post facto). It's related to the investigative and intelligence functions Schneier points to. Not publicly visible, so not theatre unless it's politicized or an empty gesture.

Do you have other things in mind or other arguments?

--
*Why do we not use more dogs? Someone up-thread -- perhaps you -- said it's due to a lack of trainers. It's true that would be a major limiting factor, possibly the most important one. But the dogs themselves would need to be bred, raised, and screened, so it would take several years for the supply of dogs to increase to a useful level. You'd need to train more handlers, which raises a partially (but only partially) separate issue. The cost cited up-thread were for the current regime of dog handling and almost certainly don't include the infrastructural costs of radically increasing the number of dogs used (establishing new breeders, certifying breeders -- necessary as the supply increases, less necessary in the present because the trainers all know all the breeders and the cops all know all the trainers -- increasing oversight of handlers -- again, necessary as the volume increases -- fine-tuning mass deployment, hiring more vets, dealing with the dog shit on the concourse, and it goes on.)

The biggest problem would be the same problem that you have whenever you try to scale anything up: Creating a new professional class to implement the regime. We seem especially vulnerable to that in the US, which I should think you'd have figured out about us by now.

posted by lodurr at 5:13 AM on January 3, 2010


It also occurs to me that we're giving way too much credence to the skills of these terrorists. You say "well, they'll just use Grannies," when in fact they can't even find a competent pantybomber.

Which parts aren't theatre? I have no idea. Certainly every time a news program decides to test the system, they seem to succeed at getting all kinds of shit through security.

Let's say it's all theatre, and go back to 1990s security. Next terrorist will get a bullet through the head pretty quick.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:58 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let's say it's all theatre, and go back to 1990s security. Next terrorist will get a bullet through the head pretty quick.

With you there. I certainly feel exactly as safe as I did in 1999, which is, not that much.

When we were traveling to Lisbon, on the trip there (PRE-pantybomber), 'moonMan mused to me "All this shit happens with our luggage - are we actually SAFE when we fly?" I laughed. I laughed so hard. My response: "OF COURSE WE'RE NOT SAFE. WE'RE IN A GIANT TUBE IN THE SKY."

I'm not safe when I get in my car either as I'm hurtling down the road in a metal bucket. Yet, somehow we accept this in cars, but with airplanes there seem to be two polar methods of dealing with the risk factor: Total Fear and Total Ignorance. Personally, I like to go the Middle Way and know that yeah, some bullshit could happen to me when I fly - DUH - but hey, I take my chances and I'm not going to live my life avoiding travel.

Snakes though - I will live my life avoiding snakes. Now there's something that scares the pants off of me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:34 AM on January 3, 2010


... when in fact they can't even find a competent pantybomber.

Seems to me that you're making some assumptions about their goals that I don't think are warranted.

If the goal is to make the US and all of its transit-partners sprint in place and in so doing waste a shitload of attention and $$$, then an incompetent bomber is just as good as a competent one.
posted by lodurr at 1:56 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


So what's the easiest possible way to solve this problem? The "dumbest" possible way — I guess that so when it fails, it fails the safest way possible, because that's the default.

Solid, dead-serious cockpit security is the obvious first step. That takes care of a lot of problems. Seems like the dumbest of security weaknesses, really.

Teaching us how to defend ourselves seems like another dumb oversight. Tell us what we should do in event of an emergency.

Design the craft to deal with significant events. Aaaaaaaand… well, I guess that pretty much takes care of the problem.

Because what's the use of terrorizing an airplane if you (a) can't get control of the plane; (b) can't keep the passengers from attacking you; and (c) can't get live media coverage of the event? You end up looking like the panty-bomber buffoon.

In the big picture, airplane terrorism is small potatoes to the more popular, more deadly, more terrifying terrorist acts.

Besides, while we're having hissy fits over pantybombers, any non-comical organized terrorist threat is not going to make its Next Big Strike using an airplane. If there's a serious threat, it's going to be something unexpected.

I'd be more worried about crowded, consumerist-oriented places more than I would airports. Mass poisoning, maybe; it'd be dead easy given the craptacular food so-called “safety” standards. And it'll be something meant to strike deep into the heart of Americans. Hollywood, perhaps. Or evangel heartland; perhaps one of the mega-churches.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:31 PM on January 3, 2010


And while I was writing that I had another thought:

WTF, were cockpits really that accessible ten years ago? How stupid was that?

But then again, I know I parked on the Revelstoke Dam without going through any sort of security ten years ago. Not any more. I'd be surprised if The Grid could withstand losing a major power source without causing a Northeast Blackout of 2003 disaster.

And that led to a few other thoughts. Like that the population of most airplanes is probably not much more than the population that died by McVeigh's hand. And that, really, between the likes of the McVeighs and the Pantybombers and the Rest Of The Fucking Nuts, it's not like airplanes are some special thing.

There are a lot of very obviously attractive targets to the criminally insane. The Pantybomber belongs in the same class of loser villain as McVeigh, Unibomber, Dahlmer, and Manson.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:50 PM on January 3, 2010


There are a lot of very obviously attractive targets to the criminally insane. …so the security for airports, and the security for malls, and the security for the hydroelectric dam might as well all be about the same: there's potential in each for a few hundred easy deaths.

Also, I'm sick and probably feverish. My opinions may vary as the bugs crawl up my legs.

posted by five fresh fish at 6:53 PM on January 3, 2010


Well, ten years ago pilots and flight attendants used to routinely go in and out of the cockpit. So, yeah, they were that accessible. The door could be locked, but they were pretty flimsy. You could have kicked one down. Well, I could have, so I assume you could have.
posted by lodurr at 7:17 PM on January 3, 2010


On the other hand, it's also not an intelligent use of resources to defend strenuously against the last tactic that an opponent used against you because any intelligent opponent will learn to expect that from you, and use any one of several hundred obvious alternate strategies on the next attempt.

I used to believe that strengthening the weakest link first was always the best method when I worked in computer security, but it seems like attacks tended to follow 'fads'. I suspect the same thing is true in terrorism, since I haven't heard any stories of terrorists hacksawing train rails by chemical depots, attacking power infrastructure near hospitals, or lighting up multiple state and federal parks with high fuel loads in midsummer.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:00 AM on January 4, 2010


BrotherCaine, in the aftermath of 9/11, I participated in so many discussions suggesting all those things, and you're right, they haven't happened. I could make specific arguments against many of them, but I think that would be missing your point.

I think they all lack one of two elements:
  1. "righteous action" -- i.e., active-killing (fly a plane into the building) is more righteous and "warrior-like" than passive kiilling (knock out power grid near a busy hospital)
  2. Being on-point -- all the major targets so far it's been possible to relate them to the relevant causes without too many ideological acrobatics.
But that may still be missing your point. I'd like to hear you expand on it -- do you really mean "fads" or is that standing in for something you haven't figured out yet? ("Fads" may well be as good as any word.)
posted by lodurr at 3:47 AM on January 4, 2010


Apparently the new body scanners break child porn laws in the UK.
posted by jonesor at 4:52 PM on January 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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