Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Improving Airport Security

First Person

Defense Technology International Mar 01 , 2010 , p. 46
Neelam Mathews

Printed headline: Changing Tactics

The attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day pushed airport security to the forefront of public attention. Abdulmutallab’s ability to book a flight from Lagos to Detroit via Amsterdam with his “underwear bomb,” despite behavior that should have red-flagged him for questioning and inclusion on a U.S. international terrorist database, raises questions about the effectiveness of airport security. It has also given a boost to arguments for even more extreme and costly measures such as full-body X-ray scans. The public is frustrated by ramped-up security procedures, most of which, says Rafi Sela, are ineffective and unnecessary. Sela, managing partner of AR Challenges Ltd., an Israeli firm specializing in homeland security, argues that better training and a layering of airport security is more effective than making crowds wait for a short screening that ultimately provides one weak line of defense. Contributing Editor Neelam Mathews met with Sela in New Delhi and discussed airport security.

Defense Technology International: How effective do you believe the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has been with airport security since 9/11?

Rafi Sela: For the last six years we have been saying that the TSA is going about it wrong. If Israel followed the same approach as the U.S., there would be a riot and security people would be ousted. The security threat in Israel is [always high]. It was up to Israel to become a military state or make security blend in with day-to-day living to inconvenience people as little as possible. This is not happening in the U.S. Also, though 9/11 took place in New York [Washington and over Pennsylvania], there is [little day-to-day concern elsewhere in the country of the lurking danger]. The government has portrayed this disaster as a once-in-a-lifetime happening. This is a myth. The U.S. government took five years to come up with a solution [after 9/11]. We would take several months and that, too, in my opinion is too long. We see lost time as a big loss. If we make a mistake, people die.

What would you recommend to improve security?

It comes down to training. While mass-populated areas are protected in Israel, people are not searched. Our security guards are trained to watch for [abnormal] signs and behavior. I do not recommend security procedures that check everyone equally. You have to look for things that are dangerous, not just scan everybody. This calls for a total change in approach to transportation security. Eye contact by security officials can help spot abnormal behavior. Using such procedures probably would have stopped the Nigerian bomber if he had tried to board the plane in Israel, although no system is fail-safe. Security warnings that the U.S. State Dept. received on the terrorist would have red-flagged him at Ben Gurion International Airport [in Tel Aviv].

What does your company’s training include?

Without a sound, coordinated and well-drilled approach, we will never be able to confront acts of terror. We conduct training, drilling and competency checks starting at the [top of a health or security] organization all the way down to first responders and paramedics. We have computerized simulations as well as field training. Also, once out of the military, [our personnel undergo] six months of counterterrorism training.

Does a country’s size matter in security planning?

The threats and vulnerabilities will be different, but the plan and response will be the same for the threats. Size has nothing to do with it.

Does profiling work?

The term profiling comes from politicians looking for headlines, and by itself, it can’t do much for security. There are several layers the U.S. has to build into the system to have real airport security and not just a weak line of defense.

What would be your solution?

Airport security cannot be in just one place with a huge crowd waiting for a 10-sec. check. The combination of technology and trained personnel is key to the basis of an effective security plan. It would start with the TSA taking on the role of a regulator by gathering intelligence, analyzing threats, looking at vulnerabilities and issuing real-time alerts. The agency would then need to provide management and oversight to security companies to perform the actual job. Unfortunately, the U.S. government holds the stick in both hands—TSA is responsible for operations and regulation.

What did the Mumbai attacks in 2008 teach?

The Mumbai incident proved that [with] well-trained [personnel], the situation could have been controlled. The response was panicked and not well thought out. In India, the major security issue is securing infrastructure. In Mumbai, security was [in a middle range of preparedness] and responsibility for it low. [Responders] saw things for the first time and were not trained for them. The first thing India needed was a threat analysis backed by continuous intelligence. Then security people should have gone back to the infrastructure to find vulnerabilities. A lot depends on planning. India needs to set up a body with people from multidisciplinary areas who are in touch with their counterparts around the world. The government should decide the preparedness level. India has the luxury of not having real-time threats. We have 50-70 a day in Israel. The challenge is to handle them without touching the daily lives of citizens.

How can nations defeat terrorists?

The problem with security and defense is we are always fighting the last war. We never fight the next one. It is a question of a mind-set change.

You were involved in the Entebbe airport raid of 1976 in Uganda, an Israeli hostage rescue mission following the hijacking of an Air France plane. What did preparations involve?

It was careful planning, a high level of execution and well-trained special forces. I commanded the technology unit that built all the special equipment for the raid. We were dealing with a ruler (Idi Amin) who was out of his mind, and diplomatic efforts did not work. The message that Israel sent to the world’s terrorist outfits was, don’t mess with us. This comes back to training, which is 10% of AR’s budget.

Do the areas exposed to terrorism such as port and marine security, transportation, infrastructure, public areas and computer networks need to be integrated?

On the national planning level, yes; individually, no, because each area has specific requirements.

The container security system has been effective in the ports of Israel. How has this been achieved?

Israeli seaports are protected by various systems including smart locks on containers as well as acoustic sensors that can detect a heartbeat. They also have advanced seaside protection underwater and on the water. The success comes from a combination of trained personnel and high-tech systems.

Would you recommend an ‘Israelification’ of airports?

I don’t like the term ‘Israelification.’ What works in Israel is merely a comprehensive security plan that is done right. Does one formula fit all? Yes. You have to perform a thorough, ongoing threat analysis based on advanced intelligence and information-sharing. Based on the outcome, an overall vulnerability study has to be performed. This will lead to a security plan that will be very similar to those of the Israeli systems.

What is the best way to cover airport control zones?

This is a huge question, and to answer it we need to do a thorough analysis of airports. However, the theory of zones is meant to accommodate the moving targets, which are people and their luggage. Once one accepts this, it falls into place.

Do you think major airports need such zones?


For those that don’t have them, where are they going wrong in their procedure?

They have one place where they perform their security and the rest of the airport is wide open. There is no sense in enforcing one place and leaving the rest open. Security at Pearson International Airport in Toronto is more hassle than sense. This goes back to basics. They are so busy finding water bottles and baby formula that they do not check the people or any other threats that can easily go through the scanners. I do not want to give specific details so as not to give terrorists ideas, but here is just one example: I traveled with an almost empty tube of toothpaste, which was larger that the size allowed. There was hardly any paste left inside, yet they would not let me fly with it because it was a larger almost-empty container than was allowed. You can figure out for yourself how effective a procedure this is.

Do you believe that if airports used basic training methods they could cut down on security technology?

No. The right technology with the right training can do the job. I know one can drastically reduce the number of people and the cost of technology and have a much safer airport than [with] the current practice.

What kind of technology do you think is of no use?

Body scanners, for sure, and metal detectors and X-ray machines in their current form.

How much savings would replacing those with the techniques you advocate result in for a mid-sized airport?

I estimate 20-30% savings with over 300% more security.

Which airports have the best security outside Israel?

I haven’t been to very many airports, but England’s Heathrow Airport is not bad. They more or less follow some of the Israeli technologies and methods, although they could improve if they adopted them all.

Rafi Sela

Managing Partner, AR Challenges Ltd., Kfar Vradim, Israel, and AR Challenges Inc., North Bethesda, Md.

Age: 63

Education: B.S. in mechanical engineering from Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa; MBA from the University of Washington in Seattle.

Background: Served 18 years in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), led training and ordnance divisions for special operations technologies; was involved in the design and manufacture of equipment for the Entebbe Airport hostage rescue in 1976 and other operations; participated in development of the Merkava main battle tank and upgrades of the M113 armored personnel carrier and IDF version of the Hummer. Sela’s work with AR includes strategic design of operations and security at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport.

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