Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Israeli model

I heard Rep. Mica on NPR last night, claiming that the Obama administration is screwing up airport security, that the TSA has too many desk jobs, and that we should follow El Al's security apparatus.

Never mind that there are two airports in Israel and 50 flights per day. We should be able to create an army of racial profilers behavioral pattern experts in no time. But if Rep. Mica thinks that air travel in Israel is so much more pleasant than dealing with fascist TSA union members wanting to "grope" you or look at titillating scans of your...well...tits, then I say he may not be so well briefed on the subject.*

As it turns out, the security methods employed by Israel’s famous Shin Bet security service at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv are frequently stricter and more intrusive than the full-body scanners and pat-downs American officials put into place Nov. 1, said security analysts and the travelers who regularly show up at Ben-Gurion four hours before their flights for screening.

At Ben-Gurion, some passengers have been searched so thoroughly that they have had to walk through the terminals, the gates and up to the doors of their planes with no handbags, wallets or even shoes.

The Israeli approach highlights the difficult balance faced by the Obama administration as it tries to address terror threats without unduly alienating the people it is trying to protect. The Israeli system relies on steps that would be likely to provoke opposition in the United States on civil liberties grounds: collecting detailed information about passengers before they fly. Besides, Israel has only two airports and 50 flights a day, compared with 450 airports and thousands of daily flights in the United States.

The administration argues that by focusing at airports on the search for weapons — in contrast to the Israelis, who focus in airports on finding terrorists — the United States is mounting a valuable and necessary last line of defense without undermining civil liberties. The multiethnic population of the United States makes it more difficult here than in Israel to profile possible terrorists, experts say, leaving officials with little choice but to screen passengers carefully for illicit items.

* Which makes him an excellent choice to be the committee chairman on this subject.

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