Sunday, August 13, 2006

From the real experts on security

On tonight's A-Channel news:

"It is easier to find suspicious people than it is to find supsicious liquids" - Isaac Yeffet, former Israeli Secret Service member, Director of Security of Operations for the Israeli foreign Ministry, former Head of Security for El Al.

In other words, instead of banning liquids and submitting passengers to personal searches and long lines, which are have dubious value from a security perspective, we should do the following:

"Current technology cannot possibly identify all kinds of explosives," he said. "You need to have a profile system. It will save the lives of passengers."

Yeffet envisions an El Al-style system in which passengers are asked a series of simple questions based on factors including their nationality and travel plans.

Highly trained security officials ask the questions -- Where are you traveling? Where have you been? Why did you buy a one-way ticket? -- and determine whether the passenger requires more extensive questioning or inspection of their luggage.

"Through simple questions, you can come to tell if there is something wrong with a passenger," he said. "Without profiling, I tell you, we will be sorry. They will come to attack us."

"Highly trained security officials" is quite different than what we currently have in the US and Canada - TSA and CATSA jobs at airports have few security professionals and a lot of low-paid grunts for luggage checking and asking you to remove your shoes.

The added beauty of this approach is that it works on drug dealers, money launderers, illegal immigrants and other criminals, as well as terrorists. And the innocent traveling public are subjected to the least intrusive, most effective means of security. Resources are able to concentrate on actual threats, instead of being bogged down looking at water bottles and worn out Nikes.

Considering the record El Al has with hijackings and airline bombings, we should heed this advice. I'm sure El Al is not banning water or iPods...

The downside of this approach is that there is no real "visible" signs of the security (which is what most airport security is - a PR stunt. Checking shoes and banning water is very poor from a security perspective, but is a visible way to show the public that you are doing something, to make them think they are secure, but to scare them at the same time) and thus no way to make us afraid.

After 5 long years, I think we can live with that.


Gwynne Dyer hits one out of the park:

"Maybe it was those explosive “liquid chemicals” they were planning to smuggle aboard the planes. After all, it’s only 160 years since nitroglycerin was invented. It’s a mere eleven years since Al Qaeda associate Ramzi Yousef plotted to blow up 12 airliners flying across the Pacific at the same time with nitro carried aboard in contact lens solution bottles. Who could have foreseen this? Quick! Bring in new security measures! They really aren’t that stupid. They have been checking liquids that people want to carry aboard flights at airport security checkpoints for years.

There would be no need for drastic new security measures even if the alleged British terrorist ring were still on the loose. This is all hype, designed to frighten the British and American publics into supporting the wars of their deeply unpopular governments (and the war of their Israeli ally as well). Or am I being too cynical? Maybe they’re just stupid. I really don’t know any more."



Bruce Schneier weighs in as well:

"The new airplane security measures focus on that plot, because authorities believe they have not captured everyone involved. It's reasonable to assume that a few lone plotters, knowing their compatriots are in jail and fearing their own arrest, would try to finish the job on their own. The authorities are not being public with the details -- much of the "explosive liquid" story doesn't hang together -- but the excessive security measures seem prudent.

But only temporarily. Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won't make us safer, either. It's not just that there are ways around the rules, it's that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition."[emphasis mine]


"Security measures that require us to guess correctly don't work, because invariably we will guess wrong. It's not security, it's security theater: measures designed to make us feel safer but not actually safer."[emphasis mine]

And, best of all

"The goal of a terrorist is to cause terror. Last week's arrests demonstrate how real security doesn't focus on possible terrorist tactics, but on the terrorists themselves. It's a victory for intelligence and investigation, and a dramatic demonstration of how investments in these areas pay off.

And if you want to know what you can do to help? Don't be terrorized." [emphasis mine]

Amen, Bruce. Again, this is what the experts say. Remember that George Bush, Stephen Harper, Stockwell Day and the other members "101st Pants Wetting Brigade" are not security experts and have a vested interest in keeping you scared.

Don't buy it. Listen to the real experts.


At 3:28 PM, Blogger catnip said...

Amen to that. And CNN is busy today reminding people that not only are they targets in airplanes but they again need to live in fear on trains, in the subways and on buses - because you can never be too afraid, apparently! Fear sells and keeps the powers that be quite content. Gone are the days of having 'nothing to fear but fear itself'.

At 3:58 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Yeah, catnip I saw that too their "Special" apparently.

Its true that a rich man will sell your the rope to hang him if he thinks he can make a buck at it.

At 7:55 PM, Blogger bruno_canada said...

good post Mike - i cross linked to you from ours

At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, Mike, but I never ever thought I would see you come out in favour of profiling. "Where are you travelling? Where have you been?" I'd say places like Pakistan and Afghanistan will cause a lot of young Muslim men with connections to those countries to be checked, but not because of their religion or ethnicity as such. You are right that this is far more effective than targeting people with kids or contact lenses, but what will happen when, after a year, CAIR gets hold of statistics showing that young Muslim men are stopped and searched at a rate ten times their proportion in the population? Are you ready to defend profiling then?

PS: I hope you will post every couple of days to take up the "sensible lefty" torch from poor Sinister Greg

At 10:59 AM, Blogger Mike said...


I have no problem with "profiling" as long as it is sensible and not based on a single factor. Basing profiling on Muslims, for instance, and asking only muslims these questions makes about as much sense as checking everyones shoes. Plus these kinds of things give false sense of security - you think your covered and safe and then a terrorist enlists or tricks his pregnant Irish girlfriend to carry the bomb on board (base on a real incident that El Al security stopped in Tel Aviv).

The questions should be asked of everyone at the ticket counter or check in (since they ask you all sorts of other questions anyway) and then have those that are "hinkey" flagged for follow up and more detailed questioning. The profile should be for suspicious behaviour, nervousness or inconsistent stories regardless of race or religion, because these techniques can stop more than just terrorists. Ita about good security regarless of the threat - as I said, these same techniques can catch drug smugglers, money launderers etc.

Case in point, from Schneier, is the US Border Agent that caught Ahmed Ressam in 1999. She wasn't targeting him because he was Muslim, but because he was acting 'hinkey' - nervous, always looking around, sweating and jumpy. When she decided to inspct his car, it was because she thought he was a drug dealer or smuggler, not a terrorist.

Good profiling is based on behaviour, answers and other 'tells' and can be used against a wide range of threats.

Bad profiling (like racial profiling) concnetrates on one or two factors that really cannot indicate a person's likelyhood of committing a criminal act and drain valuable resources to look in the wrong areas, thus missing real bad guys.

Its quite pragmatic, actually.

At 11:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, I agree, but there is no doubt that ethnic/age based factors will figure into the agent's subjective opinion of "hinkyness", and so it seems very likely that young Muslim men (and, to a lesser degree, all young men) will be chosen for detailed search more often than 80 year old Chinese women. I think it is time to go to this system (especially since I have kids and wear contacts).

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Well, that's why its done by highly trained security professionals, and not the CATSA drones you see at the airport now.

The only other problem is, of course, that it is a behind the scenes measure that doesn't generate the fear that certain segments of the political sceen what to generate.

I hope a rational, logical system like this is implemented, but I'm not holding my breathe.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Chris Taylor said...

Think twice about the El Al model:

Security folks interview all El Al passengers and have wide discretionary powers to bar them from the flight. Unlike our North American air carriers, El Al requires its aircraft to be guarded 24 hours a day -- even during maintenance , cleaning and fueling. There are often no guards for NA carriers' aircraft while they are going through a maintenance/cleaning cycle. All El Al pilots are IDF vets and have close combat and small arms training. In the air, there's always two security folks aboard with sidearms. You cannot even take a picture of an El Al plane while waiting at the gate, the security fellas frown on that sort of thing. I can speak from experience that you can't take a picture of an El Al plane from your own private aircraft on the ramp, either. While they're on our soil the RCMP looks after them very, very well. Even to the point of observing GA aircraft taxiing near the El Al aircraft.

El Al has 30-odd planes, by the way, and handles about 3 million pax per year. There are about 7,000 commercial aircraft in the air at any given time in the United States alone, and they handle 3 million pax every couple of days. Interviewing all those pax and having that kind of security for thousands of planes would tend to add up.

Doing security El Al style would impose massive costs on North American air carriers and drastically increased ticket prices. I'm okay with that as I feel they are suicidally undercharging given present fuel prices -- but under your suggestion air travel would definitely become the exclusive preserve of the rich once again.


Post a Comment

<< Home