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  • In 2015, a bombshell report came out detailing how the TSA, the agency responsible for airport

  • security in the US, missed 95% of drugs, explosives, weapons, and other prohibited items sent through

  • their scanners in a test.

  • In 2016, the test was repeated with the same result.

  • The following year, 2017, the test was repeated again with an improved success rate, but still,

  • it let 70% of prohibited items through.

  • In fact, within the US, there's no evidence that the TSA has ever prevented a terrorist

  • attack and outside the US, there are very few examples of physical airport security

  • thwarting an attack.

  • Airport security slows people down, increases cost, and yet does little to actually improve

  • safety so it's safe to say that airport security is broken, but why?

  • Since the purpose of aviation is to get from one place to another, it's tough for a single

  • country to regulate the industry.

  • Instead, the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency, does.

  • All but two UN member countries, Liechtenstein and Dominica, are part of the ICAO so its

  • regulations are more or less universal.

  • They're the ones responsible for making sure that air transport works the same way

  • all around the world, but what they require for airport security is rather inconcrete.

  • They simply say, “measures need to be established to prevent weapons, explosives or any other

  • dangerous devices, articles or substances, which may be used to commit an act of unlawful

  • interference, the carriage and bearing of which is not authorized, from being introduced,

  • by any means whatsoever, on board an aircraft engaged in civil aviation.”

  • Essentially, all they require is that before a passenger gets onboard a plane, the airport

  • assures they don't have weapons.

  • While the ICAO does determine whether this requirement has been fulfilled, it's up

  • to each country to decide how they achieve that.

  • In the US, airport security works like this.

  • After check-in, a passenger first goes to have their documents checked, puts their bags

  • through an x-ray scanner, and walks through either a metal detector or millimeter wave

  • scanner.

  • There are potentially additional steps such as a pat-down or explosives residue test for

  • some, but these three steps are how the process works for most.

  • It is though, important to note that, if you so choose, you can skip the metal detector

  • or millimeter wave scanner step of the process and receive a pat-down instead.

  • This is fully compliant with ICAO regulations since it does effectively screen an individual

  • for weapons.

  • In fact, an airport could hypothetically be compliant with ICAO regulations only by conducting

  • physical bag-searches and pat-downs since this does screen for weapons even if this

  • would be slow, invasive, and unpopular.

  • Some small airports actually do this for bagsthey physically search them instead of passing

  • them through an x-ray.

  • The wordssecurity theaterare thrown around a lot in regards to US airport security.

  • This term is used pejorativelyit means that the TSA's function is only to make

  • airports look secure, but here's the thingon paper, the TSA has done its job.

  • There has not been a single death on a flight leaving from a US airport since 9/11 as a

  • result of terrorism.

  • In fact, in the same time period, there has not even been a single attempted terrorist

  • attack on a flight leaving from a US airportall have been on flights originating from abroad.

  • So maybe the TSA is doing its function.

  • Maybe the mere threat of being caught has been enough to thwart terrorists or maybe

  • terrorists have moved on from attacking airplanes.

  • The US is certainly a prime target for terrorism, but there are more controversial nations.

  • Israeli airport security is considered to be the best in the world.

  • Despite being situated in one of the most politically contentious countries in the world,

  • no airplane leaving from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport has ever been hijacked or bombed.

  • It's been attempted, but this airport's security is simply nearly impenetrable.

  • What's most fascinating is that this airport is hardly using any super-advanced technologythey

  • use the exact same metal detectors as the US and Europebut they've focused on the

  • human factor.

  • Israel has come to realize that its unfortunately easy to get weapons through airport security.

  • Plastic explosives, non-metallic knives, and blunt weapons are just tough to detect so

  • rather than focusing on the weapons that could be used for an attack, they focus on the people

  • who could use them.

  • At Ben Gurion airport, security starts before passengers even get to the airport.

  • Cars pass through a security checkpoint a mile away from the airport entrance where

  • guards inspect cars and look for any suspicious looking individuals.

  • The minute passengers arrive at the airport, they're being watched already.

  • Highly trained plainclothes officers roam around in the check-in area again searching

  • for individuals acting abnormally or nervous.

  • Then, before passengers are even allowed to check-in, there's the interview.

  • Anyone who's passed through Ben Gurion airport knows how intense this interview is but its

  • likely the single greatest factor leading to the safety of Israeli airports.

  • Passengers are first asked standard questions like what their jobs are, why they came to

  • Israel, how long they stayed for, if they packed their own bags and all the while, the

  • security agent watches the passengers face for reactions.

  • They'll also probe deeperasking why the passenger has been to various countries stamped

  • in their passport.

  • They'll then ask oddly specific questionswhich school they went to, when they last moved,

  • what kind of car they have.

  • These are all to see if the passenger is being honest about who they are.

  • If the security officer senses hesitation or finds a hole in their story, they could

  • deem the passenger a higher risk.

  • Once passengers have completed their interview, a barcode is placed on the back of their passport

  • that starts with a number from one to six.

  • If it starts with a one, the passenger is deemed a very low riskthis is almost only

  • given to Israeli citizenswhile if it starts with six, the passenger is deemed a very high

  • risk and will be subjected to extremely thorough screening.

  • While a lot of the risk determination has to do with the interview, profiling also plays

  • into it.

  • According to the Israeli security system, passengers are deemed higher risk if they

  • are male, if they are traveling alone, if they are young, and most of all, if they are

  • Arab.

  • Israel unapologetically uses racial profiling in their risk assessment which has led to

  • international condemnation.

  • Israel, meanwhile, argues that this technique is effective.

  • After all, the country has recently been at war with many of its Arabian neighbors.

  • At the same time, though, its almost impossible for an Arab traveller to pass through Ben

  • Gurion airport without getting deemed a number six security risk.

  • Western non-Israeli individuals are also generally considered to be a higher security risk typically

  • receiving a four or a five.

  • After the interview, passengers are finally allowed to check-in.

  • Their checked bags are put through a standard x-ray and then are placed in a pressure chamber.

  • The chamber's pressure is lowered to the level of a pressurized aircraft, about the

  • equivalent of six to eight thousand feet of altitude to set off any explosives designed

  • to trigger when a plane's cabin pressure is lower at cruising altitude.

  • Meanwhile, the passenger passes through a standard x-ray or body scanner.

  • For the majority of passengers, this physical screening process is exactly the same as it

  • would be in North America, Europe, or Asiathey just walk through the scanners and grab their

  • bags.

  • Those deemed a higher security riskabove three or fourlikely would have their bags

  • manually searched and then the highest risk individualsfive or sixesare often taken

  • aside for another round of questioning and a pat-down.

  • The security doesn't even stop once passengers board the plane.

  • Like the US, Israel has a system of air marshalsarmed security guards on planesbut unlike the

  • US, at least in the case of El Al, Israel's national airline, there are air marshals on

  • every single flight.

  • They sit among the passengers, often near any that were identified at the airport as

  • high risk, and they have alert buttons that communicate with the pilots in case of an

  • attempted hijacking.

  • If the marshals press this button, an alarm will go off in the cockpit and the pilots

  • will often send the plane into a dive to knock the hijacker off their feet.

  • This technique has successfully prevented terror attacks in the past.

  • These air marshals secure the plane from the inside, but another system protects the outside.

  • El Al's planes are installed with thermal flares that deploy when a radar detects an

  • incoming missile.

  • Thermal guided missiles will then target the flares instead of the plane.

  • El Al and the other Israeli airlines also stay secure by having security officers at

  • their destination airports.

  • For departing passengers to Israel, they repeat much of same security process as at Ben Gurion

  • Airportconducting interviews, profiling, and assessing the risk of each passenger.

  • At many foreign airports, these agents also physically screen luggage before handing it

  • off to the regular airport security.

  • El Al, despite being the flag carrier of one of the most controversial nations in the world,

  • had its last and only hijacking in 1968 and even this incident resulted in zero deaths.

  • It and the Ben Gurion airport are testaments to the fact that truly secure security is

  • theoretically possible, but is it possible worldwide?

  • Here's the thing about Tel Aviv's airportits not that big.

  • 20 million passengers pass through it each year making it only as busy as San Diego or

  • Berlin airport.

  • These are not small airports, but they're not on the same scale as the world's largest

  • like JFK, Heathrow, or Dubai.

  • It's tough to determine if a system like what Israel has implemented could scale up

  • to be used universally.

  • What's sure is that certain elements of the Israeli system would not workmost countries

  • could not justify a system that relies so heavily on racial profiling.

  • In many countries and US states, practices such as this are simply illegal, but still,

  • airports and countries around the world are watching Israeli security methods closely.

  • The US has already implemented a system of security interviews for many international

  • flights to the US however these are generally conducted by less trained contract workers.

  • Brussels airport, after its terrorist bombing in 2016, now positions officers trained in

  • behavioral detection at its entrances.

  • Plenty of other airports have sent delegates to Ben Gurion airport to evaluate their security

  • techniques as well and have quietly made changes to closer emulate Israel.

  • But few ever stop to question if we even want an increase in airport security.

  • If it comes at the expense of time, maybe we don't.

  • As mentioned, the US has not had a successful terror attack on an airplane since 9/11.

  • Worldwide, airplane hijackings are now almost nonexistent, but security has a consequence.

  • In the most direct way, tickets for every single flight leaving from a US airport include

  • a $5.60 fee that goes towards paying for security.

  • This may n ot be much in the scope of a multi-hundred dollar flight to Europe or Asia, but if the

  • US ever wants to get to the point where Europe is of having $10 or $20 budget airline tickets

  • between domestic destinations, this fee has to go.

  • A study found that the TSA's average cost per life savedhow much money it spends

  • to stop one human deathis $667 million.

  • You can certainly say that you can't put a price on a human life, but the security

  • that saves these lives costs lives.

  • The plane is empirically the safest way to travelits hundreds or thousands of times

  • safer than drivingso stopping people from flying is in and of itself deadly.

  • Economists found that the increase in airport security in the US post 9/11 can account for

  • 6% of the decline in air travel.

  • Given that, in 2002, more than 500 people died because, as a result of longer security

  • times and more extensive searches, they chose to drive over fly and were involved in a fatal

  • accident.

  • Flying being easy helps everyoneit lets people travel faster and it helps airlines

  • as businesses, just as long as it doesn't result in a decrease in safety.

  • In Israel, passengers arrive three hours before their flights just to clear security which

  • means plane travel is inefficient while in some places in Europe, airports encourage

  • travelers to arrive a mere hour before their flight.

  • The goal is to keep security fast, efficient, but also secure.

  • No country or airport has the perfect system but to achieve this, one likely needs to combine

  • elements of the strictest security systems with those of the fastest.

  • Israel can get away with invasive, unethical, yet effective security measures because they

  • need to.

  • They are a country seemingly constantly at war.

  • Many other areas of the world just aren't big targets for terrorists, though.

  • Its hard to know whether or not security measures are effective.

  • There's no control group of developed countries that don't have airport security to compare

  • to.

  • The most effective security systems stop attacks by the mere threat of consequences rather

  • than through physical screening so maybe airport security works.

  • In the US and Europe and Asia and all the other developed, safe areas of the world,

  • one must therefore ask whether airport security is actually saving lives or ending them.

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How to Design Impenetrable Airport Security

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/10
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