And You Trust the TSA to Protect You?
My family and I flew to Israel last week on El Al, but we bought our tickets through Delta, which flew us from Reagan National to JFK. Delta let us check our luggage in D.C. for the whole trip, which surprised me, because El Al usually has its own security screening. It turned out that the bags were supposed to be screened again in New York, which no one mentioned until we were about to board the plane for Tel Aviv. At that point an El Al security guy whisked me into the bowels of the airport to identify our bags and answer questions about them. He explained that we could not get on the flight with the bags until they had been cleared by the airline. When I mentioned that the luggage had already been screened by the TSA in D.C., he laughed and said, "And you trust the TSA to protect you?" While American air travel security is just for show, he said, the Israeli version is for real.
Although he was hardly a disinterested observer, the comparison had the ring of truth. To begin with, Israeli screeners tend to be brighter and better trained than their American counterparts. Like the TSA, they scan baggage and run people through metal detectors. But much of their job involves asking passengers questions and reading their responses, including tone of voice and body language. This approach, which is in some ways more intrusive than a TSA pat-down and in other ways less so, requires skills that you can't learn in a quick pre-employment course and screeners who do more than watch monitors and wave wands. In the U.S., which has many more flights than Israel and faces a lower risk of terrorist attacks, I'm not sure whether more-professional airline security personnel would be worth the cost. But from what I've seen and read of the TSA in action, the El Al screener was right that the U.S. program is essentially cosmetic. The question is whether the appearance of security serves to deter terrorists or only to falsely reassure passengers.
Joke all you want, but I'm really nervous about my flights this week. The TSA will no doubt spend a lot of Your Tax Dollars to ensure that Bin Laden's not hiding in my bra, but they won't do a damn thing to make sure the plane's cargo hold is bomb-free. They'll violate my privacy to make sure there are no nukes in my cosmetic kit, but won't lift a finger to make sure the maintenance crews aren't doing bad things to the engine and landing gear.
In 1968, a new era in air piracy commenced as disaffected Palestinians and other Arabs used passenger jets to lash out against Israel. The first such hijacking happened on July 23, 1968, when three Arabs seized a Tel Aviv-to-Rome flight of El Al, the Israeli airline. The plane was diverted to Algiers, where the passengers were eventually released, although some were held for a month.
El Al became an industry leader in airline security by screening passengers, posting armed guards on its flights and equipping cockpits with armored doors. Political hijackers then began focusing on other airlines that serviced Israel, including a number of American air carriers. In 1970, Palestinians achieved the landmark coordinated hijackings of three jets—one each from TWA, Swissair and British Airways. The planes were diverted to Jordan, emptied of passengers and crew, and blown up. (Many terrorism experts view that hijacking as a blueprint for the deadly attacks of September 11, 2001.)
But American authorities were loath to make sweeping changes in air security, even after the trio of hijackings to Jordan. President Nixon ordered the usual response of armed sky marshals on some flights. More aggressive measures, including baggage inspection and metal detectors, were rejected as being bad for the air travel business: They would make passengers jittery.
Airline security expert Shlomo Dror pointed out the differences between Israeli and American security methods. The Israelis search for weapons, but they concentrate on the passengers. Every passenger is checked against a list of potential terrorists.
In addition, passengers are profiled. Suspicious-looking people are selected for questioning, with a view to identifying those with false identification or questionable reasons for traveling. Bags are searched, and armed agents are on most flights.
In contrast, we ignore the passengers and concentrate on weapons, scissors and flip out style Mercedes/Benz automotive keys. But what is a weapon? Prior to 9-11, box cutters would not have been included. And prior to would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, nobody would have thought of examining shoes.
Israelis concentrate on suspicious passengers, but we avoid profiling and search children and elderly ladies, while young Middle Eastern-appearing men often pass freely. Liberal do gooders and politically correct pussies are afraid to offend anyone who appears muslim or middle eastern, but will freely rifle through an old ladies bag or a Jewish man's tallis bag.
Dror summarized the situation by stating that America does not have an airline security system – it has a system for annoying passengers.
Or course we must continue to search for weapons. But as the shoe bomber showed, we cannot recognize all weapons. If a shoe could be a bomb, a necktie or a belt could be a garrote. Shall we insist that businessmen arrive at their destinations tieless and with their pants falling down?
Books, laptops or bags could be clubs. Eyeglasses could be broken and yield sharp pieces of glass. A shirt could be pulled off and used to tie up a cabin attendant.
In order to be sure passengers are not carrying weapons, we could insist that they travel nude. But what if they were experts in martial arts? In fact, there is no way to be sure, because the most dangerous weapon is the human mind.
If we spent less time searching elderly ladies for crochet hooks and more time scrutinizing likely terrorists, we could make air travel safer and less annoying. But to do that, we would have to admit that the underlying belief system of liberalism is false.
Evil is not an external influence, something outside ourselves that forces us to perform bad acts. People don't kill because they have a gun, a knife or a box cutter.
People don't kill because they are poor. Most of the 9-11 hijackers were from upper-middle-class families, and bin Laden is a multi-millionaire.
People kill because they have bad values. They kill because they lack the inhibitions that good values produce. They kill because they have never been taught that anything is superior to their own desires. They kill because they want to, and often because they enjoy it.
If 9-11 was not a sufficiently strong lesson, it is difficult to imagine what would be. Will it take a nuclear blast or a release of Ebola virus to cure us of our delusion that inanimate objects can be evil?
Now we hear that we are under attack by young Middle Eastern men. Again we don't listen. We pretend that we have as much to fear from all ethnic, religious, age and gender groups. But ignoring facts can be dangerous. Indeed, it can be fatal.
We rightly condemn suicide bombers and airline hijackers, whose perverted fanaticism requires human sacrifice. But let us take care not to imitate them.
Aren't "civil liberties" fanatics doing exactly that? Don't they claim that another terrorist attack is preferable to profiling? Aren't they demanding that we offer human sacrifices to their pagan gods of liberalism and multiculturalism.
At the Gerald R. Ford International Airport, a TSA supervisor is famous for taking away blunt tipped little 3 inch sewing kit scissor away from old ladies and traveling business people. Another Supervisor at the Gerarld R. Ford Airport in Grand Rapids insist that Screeners require women to remove even clingy sweaters, even if they are wearing revealing garments underneath. But then again, this is the same Supervisor that emailed to several screeners a picture of a little boy holding his penis. Hmmm, the skeletons in ones closet. But as some of us know, according to the TSA, these Supervisors and managers are the best and the brightest. (Shit, I gagged just having typed that little peice of fiction, as if) They have been sent to the best supervisory training in the country.
Managers and administrators of the TSA could afford to learn something from the Jewish State of Israel when it comes to airline security.