Friday, January 01, 2010


Because the "underwear bomber" managed to board a Delta-Northwest airliner, here are excerpts from a December 31 Jerusalem Post article by Yaakov Katz:

It is widely agreed that El Al is the safest airline in the world, and Ben-Gurion the safest airport. This has to do with the stringent security measures used mostly at its home base, but also at all of its overseas bases as well.

BEN-GURION AIRPORT has three layers of security. The first is on the perimeter, which can be accessed only by two gates that are manned by guards - armed with M-16s - who make you roll down your car window and tell them where you are coming from. The idea is to prevent cars filled with explosives or gunmen from entering the airport and attacking a terminal.

The second layer is the profiling of passengers. There are several methods, although the most common is the questions asked by security guards as you wait at the check-in counter along the lines of, "Who packed your suitcases?" and "What is the purpose of your trip?"

The questioning varies for the type of passenger. Starting in the 1970s, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), which oversees airport security, created different categories for types of people that require a more thorough inspection. This was based on an analysis of all known acts of aviation terror.

"People think that profiling is old fashioned and invasive, but it saves the day," said Pini Schiff, who served for close to 30 years in the Ben-Gurion security division. "The Nigerian terrorist would have undergone comprehensive inspections at Ben-Gurion Airport, and without a doubt I can tell you that the explosives he was carrying would have been discovered."

Schiff's proof is the Hindawi affair. On April 17, 1986, a pregnant Irishwoman, Anne-Marie Murphy, arrived at Heathrow Airport with a large bag to catch El Al flight 016 to Tel Aviv. Her bag, Schiff said, had been checked by British airport security and passed, but during the standard questioning, the El Al security guard decided to check it once more.

"Her answers to our questions just didn't add up," Schiff recalled.

A second inspection of the bag discovered a sophisticated bomb made up of Semtex plastic explosives with a detonator hidden inside a calculator that was set to activate when the plane reached a cruising attitude of 39,000 feet. During her subsequent interrogation, Murphy spoke about her Jordanian boyfriend, Nizar Hindawi, who, together with the Syrian Embassy in London, it turned out, had planned the attack. Murphy, who was carrying Hindawi's child, was entirely unaware that he had been sending her to her death.

"Profiling makes the biggest difference," explained another Israeli aviation official. "A man with the name of Umar flying out of Tel Aviv, whether he is American or British, is going to get checked seven times."

The third layer of security at Ben-Gurion consists of the CT scans and metal detectors that luggage and people go through which can detect explosives and weapons. In addition, there are more sophisticated explosive-detecting machines that are used infrequently.

According to Schiff, the trick is how to use all of the different methods and to create a modus operandi that balances between security and the need to be able to keep on operating an airport with high-quality service.

"You cannot use all of the methods on all of the passengers," he said. "If you decided that everyone is suspicious, the real suspect would get lost and get away."

This is why, he said, profiling is the key, since it enables the airport security teams to put their focus where it is most needed.

"Security is first and foremost based on common sense, which is supposed to provide you with the right intelligence, technology and modus operandi," he said. "It is all about brains, since if you do everything automatic, it won't work."

This, for example, is one of the main reasons why not all of the passengers going through Ben-Gurion security are required to take off their shoes, in contrast to the US where it is mandatory for everyone, no matter how old or young.

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