Israeli Airport Security Measures

In his post below, my co-blogger Ilya suggests that we should be skeptical of U.S. airport security measures because they are not used by Israeli airport security. Ilya writes:

many of the TSA’s most intrusive and annoying policies are not used by Israeli airport security, generally considered to be the best in the world; these include forcing people to take off their shoes and confiscating all liquids other than those in special containers. Interestingly, the measures used by the TSA, but not by the Israelis, tend to be highly visible and intrusive to the average traveler. That leads me to suspect that the TSA has adopted them for “security theater” reasons, so as to make it seem that they are making a great effort to combat terrorism, and make people feel more secure. If the public sees the TSA making a major visible effort, fear will perhaps decrease and the agency is less likely to be blamed for any security failures that may occur in the future.

It’s true that U.S. practices are different in some important ways than Israeli practices. But as a general matter, Isaeli airport security is dramatically more time-consuming and invasive than anything in the U.S. Here is Wikipedia on El Al airport security:

Passengers are asked to report three hours before departure. All El Al terminals around the world are closely monitored for security. There are plain-clothes agents and fully armed police or military personnel who patrol the premises for explosives, suspicious behavior, and other threats. Inside the terminal, passengers and their baggage are checked by a trained team. El Al security procedures require that all passengers be interviewed individually prior to boarding, allowing El Al staff to identify possible security threats. Passengers will be asked questions about where they are coming from, the reason for their trip, their job or occupation, and whether they have packed their bags themselves. The likelihood of potential terrorists remaining calm under such questioning is believed to be low (see microexpression). At the check-in counter the passengers’ passports and tickets are closely examined. A ticket without a sticker from the security checkers will not be accepted. At passport control passengers’ names are checked against information from the FBI, Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Scotland Yard, Shin Bet, and Interpol databases. Luggage is screened and sometimes hand searched. In addition, bags are put through a decompression chamber simulating pressures during flight that could trigger explosives.

It’s true that passengers don’t have to take their shoes off, which a lot of passengers on U.S. flights appear to find annoying. But that’s because government security “profilers” ask extensive questions of each individual passengeruntil they are satisfied that a passenger does not pose a threat — making the removal of shoes quite beside the point:

They probe, as one profiling supervisor told CBS, for “anything out of the ordinary, anything that does not fit.” Their questions can seem odd or intrusive. . . . Only when the profiler is satisfied that a passenger poses no risk is he or she allowed to proceed to the check-in counter. By that point, there is no need to make him remove his shoes, or to confiscate his bottle of water.

Many passengers are fine with these practices. But as you might guess, some travelers complain that the Israeli practices are unacceptable, much too invasive, add too much delay, and are unnecessary. It’s also interesting to note that the Israelis have increased airport security in response to the Christmas attack for all flights to the United States.

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