A Smarter Approach To Security
A few years ago, I was returning from a camping trip in Maine and was in a security line at Logan International Airport. I carried with me a sleeping bag in its stuff sack and a book. I had checked my backpack.
Normally, I travel in a jacket, button-down shirt, sometimes a tie, and nice pants. This day, I looked pretty rough. Having been out in the woods for a few days, I had a good beard going, smelled like a campfire and was dressed like Paul Bunyan.
The line waiting for TSA security stretched down the hall. It took almost an hour to reach the checkpoint.
Every so often, I'd pop my head up out of my book to see what kind of progress we were making, and I'd see elderly couples and mothers with babies getting scanned, and I couldn't help but think, there's got to be a smarter way.
Either I was just odd-enough looking, or had shaken my head in disbelief too many times at old ladies being frisked. All of a sudden, there were a couple of guys at my side.
They pulled me out of line and with rapid-fire questioning, wanted to know where I had been, where I was going, was I traveling alone, what was in the stuff sack, where I bought my ticket, and why I didn't have more luggage? Once satisfied I wasn't a threat, they led me to the front of the line and I went through the scanner.
These guys profiled me. But not in an ethnic or racially motivated way. I believe they saw a suspicious looking person and yanked me out of the line based on some type of psychological or appearance-based criteria. These guys were highly trained and well educated, not the norm for the blue-uniformed "security specialists" of the TSA.
Once on the plane, I thought more about the incident and realized that what I had just experienced was much more in keeping with the little bit I knew about Israeli airport security, said to be among the best in the world.
Israel relies on highly trained and professional security agents to scrutinize passengers from the minute they enter the airport to that point where they board the airplane. Cars are met outside at an armed security check point, and upon entering the terminal, each passenger is stopped and personally interviewed before check-in with a battery of questions by plain-clothed security personnel.
The Israelis are looking for those who exhibit suspicious behavior that fits a profile. They ask the types of questions I was asked at Logan so that by the time a passenger has checked in and is headed toward the scanner lines, they are reasonably confident that passenger isn't a threat.
Our security measures take a "one size fits all" approach and attempt to check everyone equally by using the technology of body scanners along with full-body pat-downs. It's a more politically correct way of screening and that's why we see old ladies and pilots getting the same treatment we do.
A hot topic in the news this week, there's growing alarm at our new and stepped-up airport security measures. Use of full body scanners and invasive body pat-downs by TSA officials are drawing fire from pilots and passengers alike. One woman, traveling with her baby, said that when TSA workers put their hands on her private parts, she felt sexually molested.
Two pilots have sued Homeland Security saying that the full body scanners are an invasion of personal privacy and a breach of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The issue has already been before the Senate Oversight Committee, and will likely be the subject of debate for the foreseeable future.
Based on personal experience, the Israeli model of profiling and questioning each passenger is highly effective. Had I been a threat, security personnel at Logan would have broken me long before I reached the scanners and pat-downs. I was completely disarmed by their questioning.
No security system is foolproof, but we would be wise to put more emphasis on profiling each passenger with a quick and intelligent interview by highly trained security agents. We need to be smarter about airport security.
Geoff Cutler is owner of Cutler Tree LLC in Southern Pines and is a regular contributor to The Pilot and PineStraw magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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