OK, everybody, take off your shoes, no knitting needles, no corkscrews, no bottled water. It's not just that air travel is so bloody annoying nowadays that bugs me. It's that screening targets everybody instead of targeting terrorists, and could probably be done far more effectively. U.S. airlines are screening for weapons, and we should be screening people for intent. Screening for weapons is a losing battle, unless we all fly naked after having cavity searches. (Yuckk.) We can't seem to get ahead of terrorists' thinking, we can only react to their latest ploy and pile on more restrictions to millions of passengers.
Domenico at Bettnet.com blogs about how El Al profiles and screens it passengers, and asks if the U.S. couldn't adopt these practices. I've not traveled to Israel (yet), but several friends have, and every passenger is questioned before boarding a flight. It's serious, no small talk or joking. If there's anything funny or suspicious about your answers, you're not boarding that flight, you're taken aside for interrogation. A 2001 USA Today article describes the steps that El Al takes to ensure that terrorists don't get on board, including profiling passengers, lugagge handling, and the flight crew capabilities.
"Despite their current anxieties, Americans also might balk at El Al-style ethnic profiling. Staff scrutinize the passengers' names, dividing them into low-risk (Israeli or foreign Jews), medium-risk (non-Jewish foreigners) and extremely high-risk travelers (anyone with an Arabic name). These people automatically are taken into a room for body and baggage checks and lengthy interrogation. Single women also are considered high-risk, for fear they might be used by Palestinian lovers to carry bombs."
"A lot happens behind the scenes, too. Once luggage moves from the check-in desk to the conveyer belt, it is put in a pressurized box that detonates any explosive before the bag is loaded on the plane."
Nifty idea. As Domenico notes,
"By contrast, our new government bureaucracy has given us pat-downs of 10-year-old girls, grandmothers forced to remove their shoes, mothers forced to taste test their own bottled breast milk, and hundreds of thirsty passengers forced to sit through transcontinental flights without books, music, or movies to pass the time."
The El Al screening apparently takes considerable time, and their airline makes 40 flights a day to 50 locations (2001 info), compared to thousands of flights a day from American airports. I don't know if El Al's tactics can be scaled up. But I'm left with the nagging sense that we need to figure out how to screen intent (some sort of psychological screening?), not prohibit lip gloss and Gatorade.
Sissie ruminates similarly, and then some (as always!).
Wow, the Wall Street Journal also ruminated similarly today! Must be on to something here!
"Bad people can, theoretically, be identified once they are at the airport. By assessing a person's body language and travel details, screeners can make a quick judgment on the threat level. The TSA has a program in place in a few airports to do that now. Called Spot, or Screening Passengers by Observation Technique, it involves specially trained security officers scrutinizing people in security lines and elsewhere in the airport."
Let's get going with that program, shall we?