Monday, January 24, 2011

The Worst Airport Security, Except For The Others

Writing in the aftermath of the Moscow murders, Jeffrey Goldberg on one of the world's safest airports:
I think Ben-Gurion airport in Israel has a decent system. All people going to the airport -- in taxis, cars and buses -- have to pass through a checkpoint a couple of miles away from the main terminal. When you get to the main terminal, plainclothes security officers are everywhere, looking for suspicious behavior.
Yes, I know, having shepherded 28 fellow St. John's pilgrims through the process on Saturday evening. What's unique, at least in my experience, is that you go through security before you check in as well as after. Moments after we'd entered the terminal, each of us had been interviewed, out of the hearing of the others, and asked a series of questions about our luggage and whether we'd been given any gifts while in Israel.

After our bags were examined by a machine, most of us were sent to have at least one bag opened and inspected. When one of our pilgrims had made it all the way to the check-in desk, she casually asked me if it was okay that she had packed some items for another pilgrim who'd run out of space in her suitcase. We were evidently overheard by a plainclothes officer. A couple of seconds later, she was directed back to secondary, where she had to unpack her luggage item by item.

As I think everyone knows, the Ben Gurion system is based on profiling. Arab friends say it takes them at least two hours to clear security, every time. Sometimes they're subjected to strip searches. Absolutely nobody likes that. But everybody likes a safe airport. Not that it would ever fly politically (unless the U.S. suffers another catastrophic attack), but the Israeli approach at U.S. airports would cost the TSA up to $150 billion more a year.

One thing about Ben Gurion's system for checking people and their carry-on baggage: You don't have to shed shoes and belts or go through a body scan. Either the Israelis have cooler machines, or they're more casual at the second stage because of the thoroughness of the pre-check-in process.


J.C. Marrero said...

I went to Israel in the late
90's as part of a Justice Department delegation for a drug/forfeiture law conference. The audience was made up of Israeli prosecutors and judges. I figured that, with that connection, I would breeze through security en route home. Wrong. The business cards of Israeli officials I showed my security inspector seemed only to heighten his interest. He then asked to see the course agenda, my lecture notes, the materials I had handed out, etc. I used an official (not diplomatic) passport at the time, but to the security agent it, as well as the other stuff, could all have been part of an elaborate cover. Hurrah to them, but I cannot imagine the Israeli airport system working anywhere with greater international volume.

Fr. John said...

Thanks, Juan. Hard to imagine that Americans would tolerate it in any event -- although, again, all it would take was another large-scale attack.

With our group and most U.S. groups I hear about, most of the focus is on whether someone had inadvertently let something get into their luggage.

Most -- but not all! One of our pilgrims had purchased a keffiyah. Finding it, the inspection officer asked, "What do you like about this? Do yout think it's beautiful?"