Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Other Way

The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother

Cathal Kelly Staff Reporter

Published On Wed Dec 30 2009.

While North America's airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification.

That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel's, which deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.

"It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago," said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He's worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

"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, in a nutshell is "Israelification" - a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel's largest hub, Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

"The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport," said Sela.

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport 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.

Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of "distress" — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

"The word 'profiling' is a political invention by people who don't want to do security," he said. "To us, it doesn't matter if he's black, white, young or old. It's just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I'm doing this?"

Once you've parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters.

Armed guards outside the terminal are trained to observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion's half-dozen entrances, another layer of security are watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer.

"This is to see that you don't have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious," said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, 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. It takes 20, 25 seconds," said Sela.

Lines are staggered. People are not allowed to bunch up into inviting targets for a bomber who has gotten this far.

At the check-in desk, your luggage is scanned immediately in a purpose-built area. Sela plays devil's advocate — what if you have escaped the attention of the first four layers of security, and now try to pass a bag with a bomb in it?

"I once put this question to Jacques Duchesneau (the former head of the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority): say there is a bag with play-doh in it and two pens stuck in the play-doh. That is 'Bombs 101' to a screener.. I asked Ducheneau, 'What would you do?' And he said, 'Evacuate the terminal.' And I said, 'Oh. My. God.'

"Take Pearson. Do you know how many people are in the terminal at all times? Many thousands. Let's say I'm (doing an evacuation) without panic — which will never happen. But let's say this is the case. How long will it take? Nobody thought about it. I said, 'Two days.'"

A screener at Ben-Gurion has a pair of better options.

First, the screening area is surrounded by contoured, blast-proof glass that can contain the detonation of up to 100 kilos of plastic explosive. Only the few dozen people within the screening area need be removed, and only to a point a few metres away.

Second, all the screening areas contain 'bomb boxes'. If a screener spots a suspect bag, he/she is trained to pick it up and place it in the box, which is blast proof. A bomb squad arrives shortly and wheels the box away for further investigation.

"This is a very small simple example of how we can simply stop a problem that would cripple one of your airports," Sela said.

Five security layers down: you now finally arrive at the only one which Ben-Gurion Airport shares with Pearson — the body and hand-luggage check.

"But here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America," Sela said.

"First, it's fast — there's almost no line. That's because they're not looking for liquids, they're not looking at your shoes. They're not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you," said Sela. "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."

That's the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

This doesn't begin to cover the off-site security net that failed so spectacularly in targeting would-be Flight 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — intelligence. In Israel, Sela said, a coordinated intelligence gathering operation produces a constantly evolving series of threat analyses and vulnerability studies.

"There is absolutely no intelligence and threat analysis done in Canada or the United States," Sela said. "Absolutely none."

But even without the intelligence, Sela maintains, Abdulmutallab would not have gotten past Ben Gurion Airport's behavioural profilers.

So. Eight years after 9/11, why are we still so reactive, so un-Israelified?

Working hard to dampen his outrage, Sela first blames our leaders, and then ourselves.

"We have a saying in Hebrew that it's much easier to look for a lost key under the light, than to look for the key where you actually lost it, because it's dark over there. That's exactly how (North American airport security officials) act," Sela said. "You can easily do what we do. You don't have to replace anything. You have to add just a little bit — technology, training.. 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."

And rather than fear, he suggests that outrage would be a far more powerful spur to provoking that change.

"Do you know why Israelis are so calm ? We have brutal terror attacks on our civilians and still, life in Israel is pretty good. The reason is that people trust their defence forces, their police, their response teams and the security agencies.

They know they're doing a good job. You can't say the same thing about Americans and Canadians. They don't trust anybody," Sela said. "But they say,... ' So far, so good .' Then if something happens, all hell breaks loose and you've spent eight hours in an airport. Which is ridiculous. Not justifiable

"But, what can you do? Americans and Canadians are nice people and they will do anything because they were told to do so and because they don't know any different."


Anonymous said...

David welcome back.
The answer to the obvious question as to why we don't copy the Israeli
solution has to be political correctness.
Personally I would rather see our armed forces protecting our boarders than fighting in a desert wasteland. Place trained and armed soldiers at all land sea and air ports.
Profile the daylights out of all potential threats.
But the Canadian way is we must not appear to offend anyone ever. No one must ever feel that they have been targeted for search because of the way they look.

Were nuts. the idea of stopping the threat on the road into the airport instead of playing with body scanners seems so logical that even the dumbest politician should be able to comprehend that it will work.

Isrealification. A good idea


Anonymous said...

This is way too much common sense for me to absorb in one reading.

The Israelis are pragmatic and practical because they have to be -- perhaps we do not truly believe that we will be killed by a terrorist so we practice crisis management, always one (or two . . .) steps behind.

We were in Paris this past summer and there were armed soldiers at the Eiffel Tower and the Gare du Nord train station -- a bit disconcerting, but on the other hand . . .


Scotland Yard said...

Where was this published? Great article!

Jeff Taylor said...

If 4 or 5 trained, armed, RCMP officers have to kill a tired - jet-lagged, fearful, armed with a stapler, man out at YVR, how in the hell can we ever expect proper security at our airports ??

Dave C. said...


I'll have to paraphrase because I've forgotten the exact quote, but wasn't it Einstein who pithily commented that some folks keep repeating their failed ways of doing things but expect a different result?

I've been a strong believer in what is now called "best practices" ever since I started teaching and coaching many years ago. I remember approaching a very successful basketball coach in Winnipeg in my rookie year to ask what his players were doing differently in taking a jump shot. He replied that no other coach that he had been beating for years had ever asked him, so he demonstrated the technique and helped me to be a much better coach. More importantly, the kids I coached were able to perform at a higher level and feel good about themselves.

As individuals, if we want to be successful, we need to put our egos aside and learn from more successful people. As a nation, we cannot afford to do less. To have an inflated ego without following best practices is pathetic and in the case of airport security is to invite tragedy.


Anonymous said...

Even if you plopped this article in the laps of those in charge of security, it would take 10-15 years to implement the changes. They'd rather knee jerk and take your magazines and water than look someone in the eye and ask questions....

Anonymous said...

To add to the conversation it is dollars. Everything is done on the cheap. Security to the lowest bidding contractor, cleaners, buggy collectors, right up to the security checkers at the gate. Isn't it interesting that they will use a machine rather than pay a decent wage. And how long will it take to board when a machine breaks down? European airports have had armed police and even soldiers patrolling corridors since the seventies and never once did it bother me. I have yet to see this here in Canada. We get what we pay for and when the big one goes off watch the blame game go into high gear.