Thursday, February 04, 2010

Airport screening: is low-tech best?

As an update to my recent post about the conventional response to the latest foiled terrorist plot -- further inconveniencing and invading the privacy of airline passengers, something that is invasive, expensive and mostly ineffective, but highly visible so the authorities can say they are "doing something" -- here's a post by Michael Zantovsky, former press secretary to Vaclav Havel and Czech ambassador to the U.S. and elsewhere. He notes that for would-be bombers with a modicum of ingenuity the possibilities are almost endless, while the possible solution, especially the technological ones, the defenses are expensive and hardly guaranteed to succeed. Money quote:

"There are countless ways to disguise, smuggle through, and assemble an explosive. One thing that cannot be easily disguised is the bomber’s mind, high on adrenaline, racing with doubts, insane with fear and hatred. Experience in countries better left unnamed shows that an airport security team of interviewers, trained to look for signs, symptoms, evasions, inconsistencies, and deceptions can do the job faster, less expensively and more effectively than any piece of hardware. Technology is still employed but not relied upon for infallibility."

I'm pretty sure the "left unnamed" country he has in mind is Israel. When I flew there the security was pretty painstaking and included at least a short interview with every passenger. Mildly uncomfortable but hardly unbearable. And for my money much less degrading than a full body scam, er, scan.


Anonymous said...

I think Israel engages in 'racial profiling'. Would that be possible here?

Alan Bock said...

It would be interesting to see TSA move in that direction. I suspect that as long is it wasn't too blatant it would be tolerated -- certainly some have been calling for it. However, there are several litigious Muslim organizations in the US and it might be challenged in court.

Anonymous said...

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