There is a hue and cry across the land for tighter security at airports following the thwarted Christmas day terror attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on board the Northwest Airline flight bound for Detroit. As if making us take off more clothes at check points, or demanding we sit in our seats for the last hour of a flight or removing blankets from our laps will insure safer flights.
I cannot jump on this bandwagon.
Concentrating on more ways to punish all the rest of us because of a delusional student terrorist from Nigeria makes about as much sense as what happened after another failed Christmastime terrorist, Richard Reid, tried to ignite explosives in his shoe on December 22, 2001. After Reid's try at martyrdom, America decided we should all have our shoes X-rayed ... and ultimately our computers, our coats, our carry-on fluids and, if an airport has the right equipment, our full body.
Life at the airport has been an evolving scene of humiliation and loss of personal freedoms ever since. And after all our sacrificial efforts, terrorists have now proven they can go through coat-belt-shoe X-rays and still get on board jetliners carrying explosives.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm all for strict security measures against terrorism but agreeing that we should all be eyed as equally potentially guilty at the airport just never sat right with me. From the get-go it felt like a huge injustice. It feels like junior high when the teacher kept all of us in detention for a week because one moron let loose with a spitball. I thought back then and I think now we're better off in the long run figuring out a way to grab up the bad guy to beat him at his own game.
If we're really serious about making our airports safer we need to stop thinking so narrowly, stop thinking that full body scan machines and more tension-filled TSA X-ray lines are going to do the trick. They won't. Just as Abdulmutallab's terrorist buddies figured out a way to sew explosives into the crotch of his underwear other fanatics will discover new ways to get around security procedures.
We need to think in a completely different way. We need to take a look at the airport widely considered to be the safest in the world: Ben Gurion International in Tel Aviv. There are stark differences between their security methods and ours and, frankly, their way seems much smarter.
First, passengers aren't put through indignities like removing clothing or items from their luggage. They aren't even allowed inside the airport until they've been screened by intelligence officers (think our Secret Service agents) who actually engage passengers in conversation. Imagine! Unlike our TSA agents, who merely bellow out commands at the X-ray machines, Israeli personnel use their intuition to look for telltale signs of hostility or nervousness. Luggage in Israel is never checked at the curb. Once a person has been cleared to enter the building their bags stay with them for a full luggage check. Of course, the Israelis' look for weapons and explosives but they don't concentrate on finding things the passenger might be carrying - they concentrate on each passenger. They also use more air marshals on flights and highly trained staff watching for any odd airport behavior like wearing bulky clothing or displays of anxiety.
Do the Israelis engage in profiling passengers? You bet, and the results speak volumes - no flight leaving Ben Gurion has ever been hijacked and not one of the state's El Al planes has been attacked by terrorists in 35 years.
America has to start thinking outside the box on this.
We have to create a much more robust and intelligent TSA force that is fully engaged in keeping air travel safe. It's got to be more than agents who simply bark out robotic orders to empty pockets and toss water bottles.
All U.S. intelligence agencies have to share information on suspected terrorists. We now learn the CIA had information on "The Nigerian" who was plotting with terrorist elements in Yemen but that information wasn't passed on. The Department of Homeland Security maintains both the "No-Fly List" (four thousand suspects who are not allowed to board any plane bound for America) and the "Terror Watch List" for mere suspects. Abdulmutallab was on the second list but the dots were never connected. Not even after his own father reported him to the CIA as terror threat.
This is just not acceptable.
Diane Dimond can be reached through her web site: www.DianeDimond.com