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Article leaves out the very real and very big catch:

"Israel values its security, and pays for it. According to an analysis by Bloomberg News, Israel spends around 10 times more per passenger than the United States does."

A little more on that:

"[An analyst] estimated El Al's security bill at $100 million a year, which amounts to $76.92 per trip by its 1.3 million passengers. Half is paid by the Israeli government," Peter Robison wrote. The United States, in comparison, spent in 2008 $5.74 billion to monitor and protect 735,297,000 enplanements, or around $7.80 a passenger."

The TSA system is a production line - hire cheap unskilled labor, and train around a process and manuals.

In the USA the Israeli version would be very difficult in addition to very costly.

That doesn't even take into account the question of the uproar the system would cause with the suggestion of racial profiling.

References via:




The TSA system is a production line - hire cheap unskilled labor, and train around a process and manuals.

This is the big thing that popped out at me from reading the article. The personnel described sound highly experienced and trained. I wonder how long and how much it would cost to bring your standard TSA screener up to that level.

It sounds from the article that the Israeli airport security personal are all ex-IDF. It's a job they naturally matriculate into after serving their required 2yrs in the IDF.

I am not an expert, but I imagine that given the primary mission of the IDF in dealing with Palestine, they probably receive training and some experience (depending on where they are assigned) in how to spot potential terrorists using behavioral profiling. So when they leave and join airport security, they hit the ground running.

US soldiers on the other hand probably aren't given much behavioral profiling training. We seem to specialize in blowing stuff up, steamrolling it with tanks, then randomly throwing money at it afterwards. If any military or ex-military know differently, please correct me.

Gen. Petraeus may be slowly improving that SOP, in Iraq and Afghanistan at least, but I'm not sure how much his work there is getting rebased to general boot camp and officer training programs. Eg, are these kinds of soft skills percolating throughout the US military, or are only the Special Forces and other groups specifically tasked with winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan getting this training?

So the question remains, would filling the TSA ranks with military veterans and paying them higher wages provide a more Israeli-like airport security force? Dunno. Certainly worth considering, but there are some significant differences.

The IDF is more specialized in counterterrorism than the US military, but that's because counterterrorism is 70-80% of the IDF's mission--the other 20-30% being defense against comparatively feeble Arab armies. The IDF also only has to defend itself.

The US military has much, much wider requirements--it has obligations to South Korea, Japan, NATO, and the entire Western hemisphere, which demand a strong conventional warfighting ability.

Check out the book "Imperial Grunts" by Robert Kaplan. The US military also has forces in Kenya, Yemen, the Philippines, Mongolia, and Columbia.

To be even more specific, the US military has a presence in over 150 countries.

People quote that statistic all the time. Suspiciously, the US also has over 150 embassies, and each of them is guarded by a small detachment of Marines. I wonder what the number really is when you stop counting embassy guard details.

>It sounds from the article that the Israeli airport security personal are all ex-IDF.

Every Israeli adult is ex-IDF, except for those adults who are still in the IDF.

Not true. About a quarter of men and a third of women do not enlist: http://www.haaretz.com/news/idf-nearly-28-of-israeli-males-a...

Thanks for the correction. I assumed my general statement wouldn't be universally correct, but I didn't expect the number of exemptions to be nearly that high.

"Every Israeli adult is ex-IDF"

I wish it were true, but it's not. Many people are exempt from service on racial, religious or just ideological reasons. Mind you, it's not always easy to be exempt, but some sectors of the population have an automatic "pass".

3 years for men, 2 years for women. And such security jobs are more easily gained by people who served a bit longer (i.e. signed up for another year or two of paid service, after the compulsory one ended)

How do they justify the longer service for men?

How does the US military justify the draft excluding women?

With all the bloody mishaps and atrocities considered, your military is still better at winning hearts and minds than about anyone. Overall record for armies of the world in treating civilians is pretty abysmal, and IDF does not particularly shine there either.

There is definitely soft skills training in the US military. This was an interesting read: http://www.amazon.com/Interrogators-War-Breaking-Al-Qaeda-Af... It's a military interrogator's account of the techniques used in Afghanistan.

Don't forget that Israel has conscription, requiring 2 or 3 years of military service for all Israelis over 18. Given Israel's somewhat unique security situation this policy is likely more of an asset than a waste, but it's not obvious that it could be successfully generalized to larger or more diverse countries, where the benefits to the state might conflict more sharply with individual freedoms.

I think this is outside the realm of possibility for many current TSOs.

"Israel values its security, and pays for it. According to an analysis by Bloomberg News, Israel spends around 10 times more per passenger than the United States does."

I'll bet those numbers change if you include the cost of a pair of world trade center towers and the associated expenses of that incident.

"Cheap and ineffective" != "inexpensive"

More comprehensive pre-flight screening could not have stopped the Sept. 11 attacks, because they did not involve sneaking contraband onto the plane. The cardboard box cutters that were used in the attack were allowed at the time.

Yeah but the Israeli style behavioural profiling very well might have flushed their intentions out.

Exactly. This is a perfect argument for the Israeli style of behavioral profiling as opposed to the American style of trying to imagine every possible way to hijack a plane.

It might have, but surely not to the level of certainty that your GP suggested.

That's why, apart from pre-flight screening, they have a policy of having plainclothes air marshals on every flight and locking the cabin door.

I disagree on both counts.

1. Costs: I think the value of preventing a terrorist attack greatly outweighs the $76/passenger cost of screening. Besides, it contributes a lot of value to the economy by (a) reducing the long lines we have in our airports today and (b) eliminating the unnecessary intrusive procedures

2. Racial profiling: Behavioral profiling is not the same as racial profiling. Besides do you really think that the low-paid unskilled TSA workers don't currently do any racial profiling ?

Can I ask how are you comparing costs here?

76 dollars per passenger is an obscene amount of money: look at the dollar totals. In terms of lives saved, the TSA is already a gigantic waste of money. You could save a lot more lives per dollar by doing hundreds of other different things.

There about 620 million passengers in the US per year (http://www.transtats.bts.gov/), which comes out to $47 billion. In government terms, not that enormous.

In terms of lives saved, the TSA is already a gigantic waste of money. You could save a lot more lives per dollar by doing hundreds of other different things.

No question. In fact, TSA has probably on balance killed people by encouraging marginal travelers to drive rather than fly. But on the assumption that the general public isn't going to be receptive to a rational cost/benefit analysis, I'd rather pay more for security that (1) might actually be effective, and (2) doesn't involve naked photographs or sexual assault.

I'd prefer to use the opportunity to highlight the fact the TSA security is ineffective and that we don't need this level of security, even if it did work. Raise awareness and spend the money properly.

$77 per passenger is a huge amount, especially compared to the cost of a cheap domestic flight. But what is the hidden cost of the clusterfuck that American airports are becoming?

I would gladly pay an extra $38 per flight if it meant going through a sane, competent, and, if not pleasant, at least not overtly hostile system.

Why not even make it opt in?

Ticket price plus a 38 dollar "treat me like a human being" tax.

I'd pay it.

What has it come to when we have to pay more, just to be treated as humans?


I'm pretty sure that is the idea behind the clear pass http://www.clearme.com/

do you really think that the low-paid unskilled TSA workers don't currently do any racial profiling

I think they don't do much racial profiling. As a young guy of middle eastern descent with an obvious arabic surname, I've only rarely gotten extra screening. If the TSA were serious about racial profiling, I'd expect to get extra screening more than half the time I fly rather than on only 5-10% of trips.

On 1), the average person's wage is about $21/hour. Even if the average airline passenger's hourly wage is double that, such a system will still need to reduce wait times by almost 2 hours to be cost effective.

(Yes, I am making the dubious assumption that all time saved will be spent working. The economic benefits drop even further if you don't assume this.)

Half the people at the airport are working and the other half are buying things that are overpriced. If you think the economy isn't wringing the full value out of idle airport time, I have a Delta credit card application and a rental DVD player for you.

I don't think the average airport taveler and the average american line up that well. Someone making 7$ an hour is going to fly far less than someone making 70$ an hour.

That's why I doubled the average wage.

Yea, but I don't think doubling would be enough. Also the economic value of someone’s time is more than what they are paid. I get billed out 40 hours a week @ over 100$ an hour, but that does not end up in my paycheck.

Granted reducing wait times is not going to get directly translated into extra working hours, but the current system also cost travelers more than just their time spent in line.

Flights from TLV are minimum hundreds of dollars to Europe, over a thousand to virtually anywhere else. So $76 (or $38) per passenger isn't a huge factor, compared to domestic-heavy bargain-biased U.S. airports. (Source: http://www.kayak.com/explore/#/TLV?a=any&d=any&fb=90..., which only shows one domestic choice, TLV to Eilat for $90 minimum)

Economy of scale? Israel has far fewer people, far fewer flights and far fewer airports than the US.

It may not work that way though. This reminds me of mom-and-pop restaurant (Israel) vs. chain (USA)- the chain, while benefiting from economy of scale, can never manage to retain the mom-and-pop feel and quality.

The security is also in place in a modified fashion at flights returning to Israel from other countries. They hire and train and house their security overseas - another reason the job is so attractive to young people.

If you were a member of Congress or a lobbyist for a security equipment manufacturer, you'd see high costs as a benefit, not a problem. As long as the cost would result in profits for a (relative) few. I think our government would gladly pay Israeli-level security costs - if it could spend it on machinery made in the USA, rather than on salaries and training.

It sounds to me like the Israelis are the ones that have a process and who are devoted to their manuals. Every horror story we hear about the TSA seems to involve TSA agents not having a clue how to behave like civilized people, let alone effective security officers, in even the most mundane situations.

"To be fair, this compares per-passenger costs for El Al, Israel's national carrier, to the costs for the TSA, the U.S. agency responsible for air safety. Ideally, we'd want to compare the airport security costs for Shin Bet, a Israeli security agency."

I think it's a bit disingenuous to quote the previous statement without this one.

The other thing it omits is the difference in treatment between Arabs and non-Arabs.

Profiling is inevitable. If you don't know who is threatening you and pay special attention to those people then you are a fool. But most of those people aren't threatening you and will feel aggrieved, this is how resentments grow and fester. EDIT choosing who you pay attention to is obviously key, casting your net too widely is what ticks people off.

These are not easy problems to solve without removing the cause of the discontent which is making people threaten you in the first place.

That probably underestimates what it would cost us to have Israeli style security.

In the US, we would need to pay market rates for airport security personnel. In Israel, they can pay far less since much of Israel's domestic security is provided by forced labor.


Uh, soldiers are paid.

And airport security work is not by soldiers anyway, it's regular employment.

Forced labor wages < market wages. If they were not, there would be no need for forced labor.

As for airport security not being done by soldiers, my mistake. I only visited Israel once, but I was under the impression the airport guys were IDF. I guess I'm misremembering the uniforms. Thanks for the correction.

It's only sort of forced -- conscription is there for cultural reasons, not out of necessity. From what I understand (which could be wrong), pretty much anyone can get out of the army there if they want. But people like the symbolism of "everyone serves".

Certainly it doesn't behave according to standard "market" rules though, even in a situation where they abolished the "forced" part and left it to culture to enforce service from 18-21.

"It's only sort of forced -- conscription is there for cultural reasons, not out of necessity."

That's not exactly true. Conscription is necessary (consider that Israel is a tiny country, but has a lot of enemies.) The symbolism is important too, but it's not the root cause, it's just a nice added benefit (there are a lot of other benefits to this, by the way.)

That said, I don't think you can consider it forced labor. Soldiers are paid a salary, which is tiny, but they get a large amount of money at the end of their service. Plus, they theoretically get every expense paid for by the army (theoretical because most soldiers do go home to their family, either every day or every few weekends.) Soldiers who do have a hard time economically (no family, or a family with a hard time supporting them) get a lot of other benefits, which range from higher salaries, paid-for living quarters, and having lots of time off to go work at a second job and make more money, if they need it.

I'm not sure why the fact that only offload some of the costs of this onto your family makes it something other than forced labor.

Unless the salary they pay you is sufficient to induce you to join the army regardless of other penalties, it's forced labor. You are forced to perform labor you would not otherwise perform.

I don't mean to start a terminology debate. But when I hear "forced labor", it has extremely bad connotations to me, which is why I would hesitate to call it that. If you mean "forced labor" in the literal sense of the word, then of course you're right.

Just to back up my version slightly, here are the first two definitions when you Google "define: forced labor":

"[...] a generic or collective term for those work relations, especially in modern or early modern history, in which people are employed against their will by the threat of destitution, detention, violence (including death), or other extreme hardship to themselves, or to members of their families"

"Work which one is compelled to perform against one's will, especially in a condition of involuntary servitude as a prisoner or slave"

[Emphasis mine in both cases.]

Neither of these really fit when talking about Israel's army conscription. There are some societal problems with not serving in the army (people look down on not serving, and sometimes people who haven't served have a harder time finding jobs,) but there's nothing approaching the level of what's talked about in those definitions I quoted.

Labour can only be "forced" with respect to some arbitrarily chosen zero of labour.

Libertarianism (for example) argues for a particular zero, communism for a different one.

Different governments disagree on where it is appropriate to set this zero. Israel has chosen its position, and although somewhat unfortunate for Israelis, I don't believe this is a terrible choice.

There probably were soldiers there too, so you are probably remembering them.

As for the wages for soldiers, the soldiers actually get a lot of economic benefit from it. People with previous military experience are far more desirable to employers, and there is a very large income boost from it. You can think of it as a form of internship.

I don't think airport security officials in Israel are doing their national service stint, though I could be wrong.

You are not wrong.

The upkeep on soldiers is almost certainly more than the upkeep on these minimum wage TSA contractors.

TSA screeners are federal employees, not contractors, and they are paid considerably more than minimum wage (not to mention generous federal benefits and locality pay).


For anyone wondering, the low end of the lowest range listed there is $1/hour above federal minimum wage, and roughly equal to the highest state minimum wages in the country.

Perusing the jobs on that page, it's pretty clear that airport inspectors don't start at the lowest range.

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