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The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother (thestar.com)
185 points by ojbyrne on Dec 31, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 102 comments



The problem with the Israelification goal is that while Israel's airport security method is second to none, it is not scalable, and therefore not applicable to the US (or many other countries), at least not without major restructuring. The problem of scale is manifested twice:

1. Manpower - Israel has a huge pool of very talented young men and women who already received very good training in the army and the security services. It also budgets paying them well. Make no mistake, airport security in Israel is no McJob, it is a prestigious, well-paid position, manned by the top classes of society. America is relying on cheap, unskilled labour for these jobs, and transitioning to an Israeli employment profile will bankrupt the system.

2. Volume - Israel has only one major international airport (and even that one is quite small). As far as airport security is concerned, it is a very local problem which can benefit from focused attention. The US has to protect hundreds of very busy airports, and they all have their unique weaknesses.


I don't think america has a shortage of "trained" security people, there is a fairly large pool of former enlisted military personnel who can be transitioned into airport security.

From what I understand, the criminal/terrorist probably would draw suspicion even if approached by relatively untrained airport staff "greeter", and draw further attention to themselves.

Remember that the Abdulmutallab came from Yemen, Paid Cash, and had a one-way ticket. Those factors alone, should have warranted further attention during screening, that others would not have recieved because of a benign profile.


He only had a one way ticket from Ghana to Nigeria. From Nigeria --> Amsterdam --> Detroit it was a round-trip ticket.


> there is a fairly large pool of former enlisted military personnel who can be transitioned into airport security.

The problem here could be that -- at least in the US -- a lot of military personnel come out of the military with some sort of chip on their shoulder towards the rest of society. Though I could just be exaggerating the issue.

If the new security personnel act like 'bullies with a badge' rather than trained professionals, it still might leave air travel as an unpleasant experience.


I don't think the chip on the shoulder exists to the extent that it may once have, partly because those with reservations about US foreign policy have discovered that it is counterproductive to take it out on PFCs. There are undoubtedly a bunch of folks out there with PTSD, and reflexes learned in Baghdad may be honed a little keen for Kansas City.


It must be noted that not all soldiers are in Iraq or Afghanistan, the majority are still based in 'peaceful' areas. Perhaps the soldiers from Baghdad might be tightly wound for airport security, but there's still a large pool of highly trained soldiers who have never stepped into an active war zone.

However, from what I was aware the FBI, CIA and several federal agencies in the US tend to get 'first pick' when it came to the ex-military talent. So I wouldn't know if this pool of soldiers is already being tapped to the max.


"Ex-"? If the CIA or FBI want someone who's even presently serving, they can get them. Of course, that happens most frequently when your life story begins with something like "born to Christian missionaries living in China".


Airport security is indeed considered a good job in Israel, allowing El Al to pick and choose, but not because it is well paid - they probably don't make more than TSA workers.

The key is that the job allows employees to be assigned to a station out of the country after a year or so of working TLV. This attracts young people who want to study abroad - it's not uncommon that your El Al screener in JFK would be a grad student at NYU, for example. It also keeps them more motivated, since they see view it as a temporary job rather than a dead end McJob.

Of course, in Israel those young students also happen to have 2-3 years' military service behind them, but this isn't that big a deal. It's almost irrelevant for their job (unlike El Al's sky marshals, though, which are another key element)


I'm pretty sure they do make more than their TSA equivalents. At the very least, an Israeli student working airport security will be making more than her peers who do regular students jobs.

Another factor is the prestige that comes with passing the tight selection process and working in the security sector, which is considered possibly the most important aspect of the modern incarnation of Zionism, the national ideological school in Israel. Working in airport security is good on your resume, it will impress your friends and family, it will allow you to think good thing about yourself. I'm almost certain that's not the case for working for the TSA.


AFAIK, El Al screeners in NYC make about $30k/year. I suppose they might make more if they do more shifts, do holiday shifts etc.

Having a few years as a screener on your resume doesn't hurt, but more because it means you've passed a pretty difficult filtering process and worked a few years in a high-standard and high stress environment than due to any ideology. If the TSA had similar standards, its alumni would probably have similar reputation.


Hi, I'm an Israeli who is at least passably familiar with how the security apparatus works here. A few comments on your comments:

1. Scale

Scale is an issue, but nobody in the thread has touched on why. The Israeli security model is (as noted in the article) more about the passenger than their baggage. This approach is both effective, time-consuming, and "racist": the profilers have a conversation with each passenger; as I'm an Israeli Jew, I always get the abbreviated treatment -- focusing more on where my bags have been since I've packed them. As a foreigner, you get a much more in-depth grilling. As a Muslim? They want to know your shoe size, and then a whole 'nother screener comes over and asks you everything all over again, just to see that you keep your story straight. Like they say in the article, the conversations they have are not so much about what you say as how you say it. The screeners are taught to iterate a few levels deep into your story and see that it doesn't break down under scrutiny.

Naturally, this process supposes that A) the threat is foreign and mostly limited to one ethnic/religious group, and B) screeners have this sort of time.

In the US, racial profiling is... unpalatable, and if each passenger / family got even a perfunctory 1-minute Q&A session with a TSA security officer, the system would crash. The US is dealing with a larger threat profile, and a whole different order-of-magnitude of traffic.

2. The security screener's job: manpower, training, history

Normally these are intelligent men and women, usually students or twentysomethings, who pass a series of exams and then pass a several-month course. The hours are craptastic but the pay is decent, and a lot of students prefer it to shiftwork or waitressing. Passing the course is difficult but not arduous, and in the end you are really being taught guidelines on interrogation and then set loose to use your judgment -- if you have a red flag to raise, then you just call over a senior screener who has more years of experience.

The reality is that there are few enough openings that the program can be selective. I'd say, as a generalization, screeners here possess above-average intelligence, whereas your average TSA screener seems to be a working stiff, blindly following some not-too-complex screening algorithm in a three-ring binder. The number of screeners requisite for staffing all of the US airports precludes the TSA from exclusively employing screeners with the ability to make "judgment calls". There just aren't enough smart people with the desire to work a screener's job in the US.

Also of note: screeners here can be idiot asses just like anywhere. I've heard stories from many business colleagues who traveled to Israel on business in the last decade. During the rougher periods of disquiet, they suffered from overzealous screeners who couldn't believe that despite "the situation," there were some businesspeople who had to come here with equipment to demonstrate. Just like the TSA, if a screener decides to make your life unpleasant, it is unpleasant, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Past "experience" in the army is completely meaningless for this job. Despite myths about the Israeli army, we are not all super-mossad-spies with extensive training in terrorism and interrogation techniques. Even combat soldiers aren't taught how to perform interrogations; they're taught tactics of battle. The generally security-oriented mindset is fostered at a much younger age with PSA's about unattended bags aimed at schoolchildren.

In the end, the system here relies on quality manpower, trained to employ their judgment of whether or not a given person constitutes a risk. In the US, "subjective" is merely a synonym for "pending lawsuit".

Amusingly, I don't think the system here would be as compromised by a "procedure document" leak like the recently-infamous TSA docs. Like any good security, it works just as well if you know how it works than if you don't.


I'm also Israeli. I completely agree, and would like to add another insight:

The Israeli security ring is built around human credibility, while the US focuses on the physical aspect of security.

From the article:

"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."

The handgun would have been detected on a US flight because screening would be done more thoroughly. The person forgot about the handgun, and thus came out completely credible to Israeli security. This is just like undergoing a polygraph.

And if you think about it, it makes sense in a way. This particular person wouldn't use the handgun, so why bother screening it?


> In the US, "subjective" is merely a synonym for "pending lawsuit".

What a quote, Chapeaux!


A recent trip to SF seemed to indicate racial profiling is pretty much the US approach so far. As a white Australian I was nearly waved through customs/immigration until I mentioned I was travelling with a work colleague who is Polish (which meant repeating all questions + explaining why I was travelling with a Polish national). Similarly all non-white passengers were grilled after luggage collection but Anglo-caucasians (including my girlfriend and I) were waved straight through.


>There just aren't enough smart people with the desire to work a screener's job in the US.

I think this would change quickly if you advertise effectively and increase the pay.


"PSA"? Google suggest didn't have anything for "p security administration"

great comments btw, both your's and parent's (I have to post this b/c my upvotes aren't being counted).


Public Service Announcement?


Public Safety Announcements


You're entirely correct on scale. If we take a look at passenger movements for the top 30 airports in the world, available at http://www.airports.org/cda/aci_common/display/main/aci_cont...

Ben Gurion airport isn't even listed. The US, Asian, and European airports handling this traffic could not possibly scale to handle this Israeli solution.

That said, it may (or may not) be beneficial to find components of the Israeli solution that would work best to handle the issues with manpower and volume.


If, in an alternate reality, Isreal used our current method.. people have to remove their shoes, remove the belts, empty pockets, coats, take out their electronics, have ID's examined twice, etc.. If that was the isreali method, I'd bet my bottom dollar that people would be here saying that such a system wouldn't scale to our busiest airports.

It would seem absurd on its face.

But, it does scale. Not elegantly. But it does. We're capable of amazing things when there's political will.

And I'll tell you this, I fly far more than the average American. And so I chat a lot with other pax. I feel strongly that a headline reading "Airport Security Focus Shifts from baggage to passenger: _Keep your shoes on and answer a few questions_" would be very well received in this country.


You've hit the nail on the head with #1. The cause of all of our problems is that we have a large population, a large amount of land, and a relatively small proportion of our people are highly skilled and trained experts. Fixing that fundamental issue will solve most of our problems.

Israel is a very small amount of land, a relatively small population compared to us, and most of the people are relatively highly trained due to mandatory conscription.


Regarding "scale":

1. Manpower is an issue which could be readily addressed by increasing the pay and training of the job. Lets say that manpower is a concern. Well here is a novel idea: don't screen everyone. Screen every 5th, every 4th, etc. Mix up your screening. This alone will send the message that we are gearing up towards using this method.

2. Volume is a red herring. Just replicate what works at one airport by the number of airports we have. Yes it will cost and yes it will be hard to staff but just pay more and increase training. What is the alternative? Bottom line is that we can not afford larger holes in the confidence the flying public has in air travel. Not including the actual cost of losing a plane.

To all of those that talk of "profiling" I will ask you to research the Hindawi affair, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindawi_Affair. The bottom line is that profiling is used heavily but nobody gets a free pass. Nobody. I've been flying ElAl for a long time and I always get a through questioning. Fact is is that it doesn't take long for them to establish I am not a threat.


> Bottom line is that we can not afford larger holes in the confidence the flying public has in air travel.

Why can't we? We survived it before. And I have some bad news for you: it's almost certain we'll have to survive it again some time in the next fifteen to twenty years, if not sooner. Our luck with the missed bombs will not hold out forever. It will be a tragedy. Life will continue (except for those people for whom it does not).


while Israel's airport security method is second to none, it is not scalable, and therefore not applicable to the US (or many other countries), at least not without major restructuring.

The restructuring in the article didn't sound massive.

The Israeli methods focus on identifying terrorists by their behavior rather than their methods (box cutters, PETN, etc).

The biggest cost thus seems to be training staff to identify behavior, rather than spending millions on fancy technology that should identify methods but in reality don't work (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003744097...).

Make no mistake, airport security in Israel is no McJob, it is a prestigious, well-paid position, manned by the top classes of society.

source?

America is relying on cheap, unskilled labour for these jobs, and transitioning to an Israeli employment profile will bankrupt the system.

source?

---

In 2006, I flew El Al from LA to Toronto (which then went on to Tel Aviv). I've never felt safer on an airplane. The security wasn't theater and, FWIW, our flight left on time.

El Al security at LAX consisted of:

* the El Al check-in area being patrolled by soldiers (thanks to this, i'm told: http://archives.cnn.com/2002/US/07/04/la.airport.shooting/),

* being questioned in line by the types of professional interviewers mentioned in the article,

* LAX (TSA) security, and

* El Al security at the gate (a metal detector and carry-on luggage was checked thoroughly)

I don't see why at least these precautions wouldn't be scalable.

There are 599 airports in the US that are certificated to serve commercial air carrier aircraft with nine or more seats (http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2006-09-26-airport-nu...). 38 of those are international airports: http://www.pacificcoasttravelinfo.com/airports.asp).

The 2009 TSA budpest is $7 billion (http://www.afge.org/Index.cfm?Page=PressReleases&PressRe...).

Assuming $4B of that goes to airport security, that's $6.7M devoted to securing each airport. The power law dictates that most of those 599 will need a lot less, and a few will need a lot more. But the numbers don't seem crazily out of whack.

I don't believe any of us are airport security experts (would love to hear from one on this). But it's clear the current methods aren't working. If we are to improve, why not take cues from people who are doing better, run some experiments, and see what we can figure out?

It sure beats:

a) the current ridiculous security theater at US airports,

b) relying on passengers to fix flaws with current security by jumping would-be bombers mid-air, and then

c) dealing with the ensuing airport chaos as the TSA decides what regulations to implement to try and prevent the previous bombing attempt from happening again

[edit: fixed list spacing]


El Al Spends $100M securing 37 Aircraft. Scale that to the 8,225 Aircraft (http://www.bts.gov/publications/national_transportation_stat...) and you'd need a budget of $20 Billion+ without even taking into account that you have a heterogeneous population that doesn't lend itself to easy profiling (unlike israel).

The major vulnerability of the El Al security system is that anybody that isn't considered part of the "Risk Profile" (I.E. Muslim) - can walk right through the security system. The day a Jewish Terrorist decides to bomb El Al, is the end of the "Interview" system, and the adoption of shoe screening, liquid screening and full body scans.

To some degree it's easier just to selectively screen everyone and not even bother with the interview. Just pretend everyone fails it and eliminate that entire step.

And, I'll take exception to your statement "Current Methods Aren't working" - How many aircraft per day, or per month, heck _per year_ are being blown out of the American Aviation sky under the current regime?

Regarding security theater - Seems to be working for me.

"Relying on passengers to fix flaws" - Nobody is allowed to bring on guns, knives, or even large amounts of volatile liquids - the system is designed to allow passengers to subdue any hostiles on the plane. I think that's an excellent part of the current system.

"Airport Chaos" - I flew two days after the bombing incident out of YVR to SFO, before _anyone_ really knew what was about to happen next, after most of the restrictions had been put in place, but BEFORE Canada banned (most) Carry On Luggage for US bound flights. So, every single person was having their luggage checked AND being patted down - the net result of this "Chaos" - my normally 20 minute wait took 90 minutes.

But, the most important element to be aware of - the Israel Security systems works based on Racial Profiling - it's that simple. The United States has decided they don't want to go down that path, so, even if the El Al system would scale from 37 to 8,000+ Aircraft, it's not politically tenable.


> The day a Jewish Terrorist decides to bomb El Al, is the end of the "Interview" system, and the adoption of shoe screening, liquid screening and full body scans.

I always figured white old ladies would make for the best terrorists.


>The day a Jewish Terrorist decides to bomb El Al, is the end of the "Interview" system, and the adoption of shoe screening, liquid screening and full body scans.

First of all, that's not a very realistic concern, which is why they're not concerned by it. Second of all, I don't think you understand how the interview system works. It's based on evaluating behavior and trying to detect anxiety - they don't just ask whether your name is Yossi or Abdullah.


El Al Spends $100M securing 37 Aircraft

That assumes costs scale linearly with aircraft. Do they?

The major vulnerability of the El Al security system is that anybody that isn't considered part of the "Risk Profile" (I.E. Muslim) - can walk right through the security system.

I doubt this. Muslims are probably subject to higher scrutiny, but that doesn't preclude others from being subject to the same, Jews included.

How many aircraft per day, or per month, heck _per year_ are being blown out of the American Aviation sky under the current regime?

None. 2 attempts (shoe and underwear bomber). Both aborted not b/c of TSA methods, but because passengers took the initiative. If current methods were working, neither bomber would've been able to bring fire onto the plane.

Let me ask you - how many person-hours and dollars have been wasted due to unnecessary delays and tossed liquids.

"Relying on passengers to fix flaws" - Nobody is allowed to bring on guns, knives, or even large amounts of volatile liquids

If you want to bring on large amounts of volatile liquids, put them in a contact lens bottle. You're allowed to carry one on that's larger than 3oz (http://www.tsa.gov/travelers/airtravel/specialneeds/editoria...). Mine is a 16oz bottle, which I've brought on all the time. It has obviously always been contact lens solution, but it's never been verified other than by visually inspecting the label.

The system is designed to allow passengers to subdue any hostilities on the plane. I think that's an excellent part of the current system.

Nobody "designed" this. That's an artifact of how planes were used in 9/11. Prior to that, pax sat quietly in hopes that hijackers wouldn't blow up their plane. This is the last line of defense that works in spite of failures that allowed PETN and matches onto planes.

So, every single person was having their luggage checked AND being patted down - the net result of this "Chaos" - my normally 20 minute wait took 90 minutes.

I'd say a 450% increase in wait times is significant. But it sounds like you were one of the lucky ones: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2009/12/27/tor-airpor...

Seems like giving every pax significant attention (pat downs or interviews) may actually be scalable. I'm happy to wait 90m to get on a flight and feel like it's safe.

But, the most important element to be aware of - the Israel Security systems works based on Racial Profiling - it's that simple. The United States has decided they don't want to go down that path, so, even if the El Al system would scale from 37 to 8,000+ Aircraft, it's not politically tenable.

Even if the racial profiling bit is true - and based on personal experience as well as anecdotes from non-muslim HN posters and friends I'm not sure it is - I'm less interested in what's politically tenable than what's best. Over time, politicians have a way of supporting the right course of action.


> I'm happy to wait 90m to get on a flight and feel like it's safe.

Perhaps you are, but I don't think everyone is. I'm certainly not. I get the the airport 60 minutes before takeoff for a domestic flight, 90 minutes for international (when in another country; it's hard to tell how long it'll take to clear passport control). Traveling is difficult and stressful enough as it is; I prefer not to add to that with an unreasonable wait either standing in line or sitting in an uncomfortable chair.

I feel safe (enough) as-is. I'd feel just as safe if the liquid restrictions and requirements to take off shoes and remove laptops from bags were eliminated from the screening process.

I'm well aware that I'm more likely to die every time I get behind the wheel of my car, than in airplane-related terrorism. Doesn't stop me from driving, though.

And that's really the thing. People absolutely suck at risk assessment.


> If current methods were working, neither bomber would've been able to bring fire onto the plane.

What you just said was that in order to meet your standard of working, a security system must produce no false negatives at all. I'm sure you didn't mean that because it's a totally ridiculous position to hold, but I just wanted to point it out in case anyone else took you at your words.

> I'd say a 450% increase in wait times is significant.

Indeed. When I read the grandparent I was unsure whether he was being sarcastic when talking about the jump in wait time. I just flew home from Hong Kong today and the additional screening process probably took an hour or so of full-time effort from ten or fifteen security people. It's hard for me to believe that this system can remain in place permanently.


> the net result of this "Chaos" - my normally 20 minute wait took 90 minutes.

And you think that's acceptable? I don't.


My source for Israel is my impressions as someone who grew up in Israel, flew through Tel-Aviv many times (last time this morning) and had quite a few friends who worked in airport security. I think it's quite reliable.

My source of the TSA is just my impressions from travelling from the US, so it's probably not that reliable.


"I don't see why at least these precautions wouldn't be scalable"

I believe those policies were in place at Amsterdam airport already for US flights. At least, I have memories of being asked behavioral questions at the gate and of another screening of my carry-on luggage and walking through the metal detector. I can't say anything about the process in place last week.

If it was in place, and still didn't work, then what?


The problem is not that it wasn't in place and didn't work, it probably works 99.9% of the time. So all you need to do is throw enough people at that crack to become successful.

Airport security is after the fact, you need to work to create a world in which would-be-suicide bombers have too much to lose, and are too smart to be brain washed.

In the end that's probably cheaper too.


A world in which would be bombers instead come from wealthy families and are smart enough to be engineering students,

You know, like the last would be bomber.

Can we put to rest the myth that it's lack of opportunity and education that creates terrorists? It's blatantly not true.


It has nothing to do with lack of opportunity or education, that was not my point.

It's exactly that which blinds people to see that there are plenty of other reasons outside of material possessions and education that drives them to become radicalized, that is the root cause of all this.

Dissatisfaction has many roots, not just those that one kind of society values.


Though I suspect you are trolling, I bite. Do you really think there would be terrorists in this world if everyone had enough food to eat, medical care, and lived in a free society?


In my own opinion, I do really think there would still be terrorists in this world, even if everyone had enough food to eat, medical care and lived in a free society.

A significant part of terrorism is based on an imbalance of power, where one group exploits another or merely when one group feels significantly slighted or oppressed by another group.

That is why, I believe, that these educated people become radicals after their western education. They see a huge power imbalance that marginalizes them and their culture. They see a culture and history that conspires against their way of life, where the entrenched powers exploit every possible avenue to stay on top, some times at the cost of other players

Theses terrorists strike out not because they lack for food, medical care or freedom, but because they identify with a group that has been oppressed or subjected to the whims of another power to which they don't identify or resent. It is especially effective if that other power conceptually conspires against their preferred way of life.

In other words, your measures would merely raise the standard of living, but would not eradicate the power differences that give rise to the fundamental fuel of terrorism. I would agree that it would reduce the incidence of terrorism overall, as it would become harder to find martyrs, but it would not eradicate the phenomena.


In your response you say that people who are well educated often sympathize with people who are oppressed or powerless. Who are they going to sympathize with in a society where everyone is protected and living free? The horrible plight of people with boring jobs? The evils of waiting in line for free medical care? The injustice of not having enough french cheese to go around?


it probably works 99.9% of the time. So all you need to do is throw enough people at that crack to become successful.

That approach doesn't scale. Imaging the organisation needed for sending 1000 suicide bombers. Now imagine keeping it functioning, and avoiding consequences catching up with it as it sends in the first ten or so.


Not for one thing or another, but the 99.9% I quoted is probably a little high. Even after 9/11 there have been at least two that we are all aware made it past security, we're not hearing about those that didn't unless there is no way around it.

So you probably don't need thousands, you probably need on the order of several 10's or so to get through once.

Keep in mind that there is a reservoir of 1000's if not 10's of thousands of people that would gladly give their lives to do damage to others.

They didn't pick a guy from Africa for nothing and a guy from England last time, those are much easier to escape profiling (the first time). I wouldn't be surprised if the next one would be asian, assuming they have such a person in their ranks.

No filter that has to pass the number of passengers that we're looking at here will ever be perfect, and if you study the filter long enough you're going to find holes.

And suppose the filter is perfect, then move on to other, softer targets until through lack of activity the filter loses its effectiveness.

Basically any place where lots of people gather (lots is something larger than 50 or so) is a target for a potential attack.


So you probably don't need thousands, you probably need on the order of several 10's or so to get through once.

And the underbomber's gang will get, supposing that they can try repeatedly - what? - Three goes tops before the hammer comes down on them.


one way to fix 1 would be to shift us spending from israel to internal security.

2 isn't clearly an issue; you need to consider something more like the ratio of airport / population.


It is an issue, because the marginal cost of analysing an Airport for vulnerabilities and devising ways to defend against them doesn't decrease when you cover more airports. You have to Israelificate each and every airport by developing techniques and training a workforce which is not easily transferable.


Whaa? R&D on techinques and machinery should have economy of scale, not diseconomy of scale. And the Israelis would be happy to tell us how to do it.


If techniques and machinery alone were enough the TSA wouldn't have had any problem. Israel relies on information, design and training specific to Ben-Gurion airport and would have to repeat some of these steps if it ever needed to cover another one.


The TSA is run by idiots who didn't ask Israel in the first place.


my point was that if you have more airports you may also be simply a bigger country, with more resources.


I don't have the numbers but I'm pretty sure as it is Israel is spending an order of magnitude more per passenger than the TSA does. The fact that the TSA drill is inefficient (and ineffective) doesn't mean that it's expensive.


You have to look beyond the direct costs to the costs imposed on travellers and how their reaction impacts the airlines.

TSA's current model is expensive for the airlines because it is deterring people from flying.

It's expensive for airline travelers because it's adding significantly to the hassle of flying: I believe that many flyers would pay more for the Israeli model if it was at least equally effective because it saves time. I believe that they would pay even more if it was not only less hassle but more effective than the current "security theatre" approach.


ok, but that's point 1, which i suspect is getting me voted down. you're replying to me replying to someone questioning point 2.


Interesting article but it doesn't address the root issue. Israel has real threats to deal with on a weekly if not daily basis. They're forced to take security seriously and it shows in their procedures. Their security employees deal with regular, serious threats and one would assume numerous close calls have made them self-motivated.

On the other hand, North American countries only have one real threat every 10-odd years or so. In fact, the most recent attempt didn't even go through North American screening. Since we don't have real terrorists often enough to matter, I doubt American security will ever come close to the Israeli model.

What if you were building a software package that you knew would never have any users? Could you motivate your team to care enough to make the software great? Could you yourself be motivated to do a good job, or would you just go through the motions?


Here's a question: how many terrorism attempts have there been against US airlines since 9/11? For that matter, what is the total number of US flights that have EVER been attacked by terrorists? I'm including both successful attacks and ones where the attack was foiled.

This is a serious question--perhaps this is a much bigger threat than I'm aware. But according to my risk assessment, airline terrorism is such a low-order threat that it's just not worth getting exercised about. I agree that the TSA accomplishes little or nothing, but I feel perfectly safe--the odds that I will be on a plane that is attacked by a hijacker are almost infinitesimal.


> But according to my risk assessment, airline terrorism is such a low-order threat that it's just not worth getting exercised about.

Let me introduce you to a pair of concepts I like to call "symbolism" and "morale." Americans like to feel safe, and up until about 2001 they felt pretty safe flying in a plane. Then in a vast, symbolic gesture, terrorists flew the planes into buildings. The American people's morale was so damaged by this gesture that we subsequently allowed our government to drag us into two wars that will do us no good and only harm in the long run. It will be exciting to find out what we allow or even demand it to do next time.

So yes, it is a much bigger threat than you're apparently aware. Or are you asking if the percentage chances of you being harmed are high? Probably not. In fact, even if there were no security you'd probably still be safer than you are driving along America's roads. But that's not all you have to worry about.


I agree. There is absolutely no security on buses in the US, and there are virtually no attacks/hijackings.

However, hijacking a plane: (1) requires very few terrorists, (2) can destroy major landmarks, and (3) has a huge impact on the nation.

If hijacking is nontrivial, terrorists will clearly just do it over and over again. The cost to prevent it is high, but the US has little choice unless it wants to appear weak ...


That only works when you have a tiny number of flights at a handful of locations are willing to spend through the roof. It would never scale. Their largest international airport is tiny by US size--it wouldn't even make the top 20. And that's just the US.

Not to mention that the US public would never put up with it.

Update: this puts it into perspective--El Al (the largest and most well known Israeli airline) operates only 37 planes which would make it the size of a small regional airline in the states. Allegiant Air is unheard of to much of the US and operates 49 jets. Delta has a cool 449 and flies to more countries than El Al has flights per day. Ben Gurion International Airport, the airport mentioned and the largest in Israel, is roughly the size of Kansas City International Airport. There's simply not a valid comparison.


What about the isolation of the suspected luggage in a bomb-proof area or container? All that would seem to require is investment in the containers and/or blast-proof shell. Why instead is the 'best idea' to try and evacuate a bustling airport terminal with 100's or 1000's of people?


The part that wouldn't scale and that we would never put up with is the personal interrogations, highly armed guards covering entry points and all the searches.

Go ahead and put some blast containers in place, but it would likely be a waste since there are so few evacuations.


If these airports handle so much traffic that these methods won't scale than how in the world is "evacuate the entire airport" even seriously considered as a solution to any problem?


It's much more work to have half hour interviews with every passenger than it is to evacuate a terminal every couple years.


Did you even read the original article? It's a goal to move passengers from parking lot to gate in 25 minutes. Half-hour interviews aren't a part of the process.


Perhaps if you're a local it's quick. But they also recommended to show up three hours early for a reason... Long interrogations are quite common. If you fit a profile they will drill you like you have Osama on speed dial. This was a puff piece for how awesome El Al is, but the reality is their method only works because of the small number of passengers (and their willingness to accept racism).

http://www.elal.co.il/ELAL/English/AllAboutYourFlight/AtTheA...


You're right it's a puff peace (the guy interviewed sells security services..) and that some passengers get grilled, but wrong about the race angle: People I know that got the longer question & search treatment include a French Indian woman, a Korean guy and an Irish American from San Francisco. The only thing they all had in common a certain profile - in their 20s, traveling alone, little luggage, staying for a short period.

I got profiled a few times in other airports - a random search in Pittsburgh, a less random one at Auckland, NZ, a few more I'm probably forgetting - all in all, I prefer that to the process that subjects everyone to a full on search as they do in FRA and sometimes in LHR and US airports. That said, I suppose if I was consistently getting profiled I'd probably be less game.

As for "3 hours early", you'll find almost every airline has this in their website, to cover themselves. Except for very infrequent fliers, no one really shows up 3 hours early. It's a small airport and usually pretty quick to get through.


But they also recommended to show up three hours early for a reason.

US check-in times for int'l flights are 2h. I'd rather show up 3h early and feel safe than 2h and feel like security is a joke.

If you fit a profile they will drill you like you have Osama on speed dial. This was a puff piece for how awesome El Al is, but the reality is their method only works because of the small number of passengers (and their willingness to accept racism).

First, nobody is free of racial bias. This bias will leak into the decisions we all make, everyday. Take this test and let me know how it turns out: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/Launch?study=/user/edu....

That said, the Israelis use behavioral profiling, not racial profiling. There's no need to dismiss a security system that the US can learn from and improve by dropping the "R" bomb.


Of course, there are "personal interrogations" in US airports today. They're just "random", but they most assuredly exist.


The procedural aspects of this sound good - multiple rings of security, compartmentalization of risk, etc. - but I have to wonder how well systems so dependent on the intelligence and intuition of individual screeners would work in North America.


It wouldn't. How many planes is El Al actually flying? How many planes do the majors in the US fly? This idea does not scale. It puts society on the wrong end of the cost equation.


Also note that Shin Bet security levels require El Al to spend on the order of $100million/year to secure those 37 airplanes - and, when you are subjected to "Selective Screening" - you aren't dealing with the TSA and their seeming reluctance to actually _search_ you during a pat down.

[edit: I'd love to know what percentage of Muslims are subjected to "Selective Screening" on El Al flights. The TSA/United States can't get away with the same type of behavior that Israel can get away with. We have to treat everyone the same to avoid the taint of "Profiling"]


"The TSA/United States can't get away with the same type of behavior that Israel can get away with. We have to treat everyone the same to avoid the taint of "Profiling"]"

The TSA operating procedure manual specifies that ALL citizens of 12 countries (almost exclusively Muslim-populated ones) are automatically selected for secondary screening.

Even my American citizen friends with Arabic names get "random screening" the majority of times they fly.


For what it's worth, I don't think decorum is the problem with duplicating El Al for, say, UAL and AA. The problem is that we can't staff enough competent people to execute at El Al levels of sophistication against our passenger load. TSA screeners are close to the bottom of the law enforcement and homeland security food chain, and the people we need to do this job require more skills than the average metro police officer.


Oh, yes, because the Israelis totally have their shit together.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihXtbB-4GWw


This seems like a relevant comment, why is it downmodded?

Clearly if Israeli security forces are putting bullet holes through laptops as part of standard procedure, that's not exactly the hassle-free friendly security process the article implies.


1. The incident didn't take place in an airport but in an overland border crossing, which hasn't much to do with El Al's security system and thus the article.

2. The official claim was that the laptop was left unattended and mistaken for a suspect object (this is the Taba crossing which extremely sensitive these days). I can't say who's right, but I do know I've never heard of a passenger's laptop getting shot at before, and I flew in & of TLV quite a bit.

3. Both Ms. Sussman and Zarathu obviously have a political axe to grind: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=946037 ("The pro-Israel lobby in Britain") - there's always Reddit for this stuff.


Lets see if I got this straight: there is a comment in a thread regarding the "Israelification" of the United States of America (God help us all) and you think that the possibility of a "political" aspect to the OP's post belongs to "reddit"?

There is clearly a very important political aspect to the changes forced on this nation by the governing class under the guise of "security" and frankly for those of us who came to United States precisely because of the fact that its foundational and historic political basis and ideals was unlike any other country (which is why even to this day people flock to United States and not Israel) do have legitimate "political" concerns regarding the direction this country has taken. (And I can only hope that the native citizens share this concern.)

So, the OP's post is quite on track and appropriate as a timely 'fyi' for any US citizen who is reading this thread as to the possible end-state socio-political regime that the "Isrealification" avenue will culminate.


This thread isn't about the "Israelification" of the US, it's about adapting El Al's security procedures to US airlines. What are you even on about?


I didn't vote either way on it. That said, I can see a few reasons why it might be downmodded.

On the surface side, its use of profanity and the attitude that I read from the comment aren't useful for criticism. A more useful way of phrasing it might have been along the lines of, "Focusing on the intent of the traveler may help sometimes, but it can also lead to events such as this one where an innocent person's laptop is destroyed based on a feeling." NOTE: I can't actually watch the video because my laptop has no sound right now. The way one phrases something matters and, at least to me, it seemed like more of an emotional attack than a response to procedures that may or may not be good.

On the deeper side, one event does not a trend make. The comment author provided a video about an event. It's somewhat like linking to a video of an NFL game where the Chief's won and saying they're a good football team - or linking to a video of the Saint's loss and saying they're a bad team. Sure, it is evidence of badness, but it's one piece among 15 this season and the majority of evidence points the other way. Now, going back to Israel, I'm not making a claim that the majority of evidence goes either way. I am trying to say that Israeli security deals with hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people every year and to judge whether they have their act together or not cannot hinge on one piece of evidence.

And, to be frank, that's part of the problem with your reading of the comment: it isn't part of Israeli standard procedure. If one has reports of it happening in a systemic way, that's important. Heck, it's important that it happened even once. However, an isolated incident can be tragic without being indicative of anything. It was a bad thing that happened. It was good that it got press (as I heard she got monetary compensation from the government). However, a report from an organization that looks into this stuff and spots trends is a more persuasive thing than one incident.

Although, if it were phrased more pleasantly, the author might not have been downmodded. Then it might be seen as someone offering alternative evidence arguing that the situation isn't as rosy as the original article implied and that it's a more complex situation. However, the phrasing makes it seem like the original author wishes for us to throw out all other evidence because of one piece they have chosen to present and have that one piece preferenced over others.

If I had wanted to bring that video into the discussion, I would have said something like:

"The article paints a rosy picture of the situation, but it's one that turns on human intellect and 'gut feelings' which isn't a great way to run a security system. People sometimes have gut feelings (conscious or not) that are biased on things like race, religion, gender, etc. and might single out people not because of what's in their eyes, but something else. Likewise, it could mean that sometimes people have gut feelings that are wrong - people might be legitimately nervous not because they are planning something bad - and that can lead to situations like [the video]. . ."


From the original story that the video is connected with: "Then they asked me to wait. Since they had asked for friends and families phone numbers I assumed they might be calling to verify my answers to questions or confirm I really had extended family in Tel Aviv. An announcement played over the sound system, interrupting my break in the sunshine. First in Hebrew, then Arabic, then in English. It was something along the lines of, 'do not to be alarmed by gunshots because the Israeli security needs to blow up suspicious passanger luggage.'"

Perhaps not entirely standard procedure, but sounds like it's not an isolated incident.

While I agree with you that the comment could have been phrased more effectively, the reminder that this article portrays perhaps an overly rosy interpretation of Israel's security practices was helpful, at least to me. It seemed odd it would be sitting at negative numbers just because someone didn't like the way it was phrased.


Shoot a laptop to check if its a bomb ?

Do they also drink suspect liquids as a check ?


I just want to note that flights to/from Israel happen to be more expensive than in other countries.


Why not put close relatives of those who attempt terrorist acts on the "no fly" list?


That's a wrong thing to do for two reasons.

1. It's collective punishment. Unethical unless absolutely necessary. 2. It would be ineffective. In most cases in the west the relatives of people who ended up blowing themselves up didn't know about their involvement in terrorist organizations and didn't condone their actions.


Collective punishment with close relatives is better than racial profiling, massive inconvenience for everyone, etc.

And it would encourage people to be more alert about suspicious terrorist activity within their family.


>Collective punishment with close relatives is better than racial profiling, massive inconvenience for everyone, etc.

It's also better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. So what? We don't have to have any of those things.

Also, collective punishment is not better than massive inconvenience. Convenience is never an excuse for doing something immoral.


Are relatives of terrorists commonly terrorists themselves? I thought they are typically outcasts. For example, the Christmas Detroit bomber was such an outcast his own father reported that he may be dangerous.


If someone is considering a terrorist act, he/she would need to consider the effect of it on his/her close relatives.

And close relatives would have a greater incentive to report him/her if they suspect something.

Of course, you could consider a different sort of penalty such as fines that would bankrupt his/her close relatives.


That would never fly in America as it's wholly unconstitutional. I can't be held accountable for a relative's crime if I had nothing at all to do with it. I'm OK with the parents of John Walker Lindh not being bankrupted and being able to fly--anything else would be a trampling of rights.


hi i think about 2000 ameriacns die every day from heart disease righ why bother with the airlines? just eat right... and btw i'm from israel


High security, little bother, totally worthless. Pick another country that doesn't have the services or pick a different target that is as spectacular and your security becomes worthless. Put in place a consistent security system that is consistent with the threat.


The bigger tragedy is that Israel has been living in a state of war for 50 years.

A little more effort toward peace and less toward locking down society and we'd all be better off.


I was born in Israel and lived there all my life till 2006. Ironically, it was often the efforts towards peace that escalated violence: The 1992 Oslo Accords were followed by the suicide bus bombings of the 90s, the 2000 Camp David summit resulted in the suicide cafe/mall/club/etc bombings of the early 00s, the withdrawal from Gaza facilitated Hamas' rise to power and so on.

All this isn't to turn this to a yet another online Mid East flame war, nor to claim that Israel doesn't share the blame for what's happening or that Palestinians aren't suffering at least as badly - just to note that anyone from a conflict area will tell you life are much more complicated than "a little more effort towards peace" ;)


Your comment is completely irrelevant. Did you even read the article? "Israelification" is being presented as a goal, not as a criticism.


I couldn't agree more, but this comment isn't relevant to this discussions at all. You should have avoided adding it.


[deleted]


It's sad that you think the two are mutually exclusive.


Unfortunately, world peace has never been attainable. Ask History.


Too much talk, too little action. Airport security is to be treated seriously by all countries.


A sensitive subject to say the least.

I find it mind boggling that anyone would want to emulate Israel in any capacity concerning security. They've had suicide bombers in cafes, night clubs, school buses, etc.. and no matter what side of the fence you're on it's pretty obvious that whatever they're doing is not working.


You are wrong, it is working. The controversy is over the cost. There are countless instances of identified and disabled devices. Who knows how many deaths the metal detectors/security check at the entrance to nearly every point of public gathering (malls, movie theaters, parking decks, etc.) have prevented. Their inconvenience would not be acceptable in the US but I'm just saying it does make a difference. Just last week, an explosive device made from a gas canister and fireworks was found on Highway 443. Its a major road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, a road I have used several times since my arrival here for my winter break.

Despite the record of suicide bombings in clubs et al, the Ben Gurion airport has experienced no such acts of terror. None.

Israel is a technology hub, it attracted Warren Buffet's first investment outside of the US, and its citizens live everyday normally despite the threats. Israel's defense forces do what they deem as necessary.

It is working. But many ask at what cost.


+1 and that doesn't even touch it's added value as a deterrent.


But not in airports, so clearly they're doing something right there. At the very least, blast-proof glass and bomb-proof boxes for suspected bombs are a great idea - making the airport more modular, so only tiny areas of it have to be evacuated, instead of the entire thing, if something does go wrong.


Not I am in favor of emulating the security model for other reasons, but when it comes to air travel security, is there anyone more effective than El Al? According to the timeline on Wikipedia, there hasn't been even a semi-successful terrorist attack on one of their airliners in 40 years.

I really am curious if there is any contrary information out there, as I've been unable to find any.


Yes, let's embrace the idea: adopting the stance of a country at constant war since its beginnings, a focal point of worldwide disagreement. A country which (from any perspective) seems nowhere near achieving stability or peace. Not such a great model, on second thought?

Or, maybe we should go further at "Israeli-fying" our borders: more walls and more military machines. Perhaps 'settlements' (er, um, neighborhoods) just inside Mexico's and Canada's borders...!?

This statement is what is so alarming to me: "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.

Do we have such sweeping trust of our gov't/authority figures? Should we? Should anyone? If this is "Israeli-fication" of thought, then please count me out. Israel is a model of a worst-case security scenario (way of life) -- it's not an ideal.


I believe this is a DH1 argument. You are not refuting or event attempting to refute the main point at all.




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