Time to Outsource America’s Air Travel Security… to Israel
Congressman Issa’s call for an immediate and bipartisan Committee investigation and hearing looking at the Christmas Day terrorist incident narrowly averted on a plane heading for Detroit is well intentioned. But we could save ourselves a lot of trouble if we would simply outsource airline security to the same folks who overseeing security for El Al Airlines, the national airline of Israel.
I’m completely serious about this. El Al has been a target for decades, yet the instances of attacks have been rare. No El Al aircraft has ever been harmed by a terrorist act. The only successful hijacking in 1968 ended with no injuries or deaths to passengers or crew. The few attacks with loss of life have taken place at ticket counters in foreign airports in Rome, Vienna… and in Los Angeles in 2002. In 2008, the airline was named by Global Traveler magazine as the world’s most secure airline.
How do they do it? Passengers must report three hours before departure. All El Al terminals around the world are closely monitored for security. There are plain-clothes agents and fully armed police or military personnel who patrol the premises for explosives, suspicious behavior, and other threats. Passengers and their baggage are checked by a trained team and all passengers are individually interviewed by El Al staff to identify possible security threats. At check-in, passports and tickets are examined, and a passenger must have a security sticker on his or her ticket indicating that he or she has passed the interview or you cannot board the airplane.
All passengers’ names are checked against information from the FBI, Canadian Security Intelligence Service, Scotland Yard, Shin Bet, and Interpol databases. Luggage is screened and frequently hand searched. Bags are put through a decompression chamber simulating pressures during flight that could trigger explosives. El Al is the only airline in the world that passes all luggage through such a system.Even at overseas airports, El Al doesn’t trust searches to any other organization. Its own personnel conduct all luggage searches personally, even if they are supervised by government or private security firms.
El Al flights have armed sky marshals on every international flight. All El Al pilots are former Israeli Air Force pilots. The cocktails have double doors to prevent a breach. A code is required to access the doors, and the second door will only be opened after the first door has closed and the individual is identified by the flight crew. All El Al aircraft have infrared countermeasures, developed by Israeli Aerospace Industries to defend against anti-aircraft missiles. No other airline has such a system.
El Al has been the subject of criticism that its security checks use racial profiling. The airline says there is nothing inherently racist about passenger profiling and that any special scrutiny of Muslim passengers in particular is necessary for security.
In the days after 9/11, this very idea was discussed in popular media, including in this story by CNN. Why haven’t we done everything we can to learn from the success of El Al and at least attempt to adopt some of its security measures?
Congressman Issa, I urge you to seek testimony in your hearings from El Al security experts and seek their advice on what we can do here in the United States to make air travel safer. Ask them to help us assess the failure on Northwest/Delta Flight 253 on Christmas Day. Until we do, I’ll join the ranks of many who will fly only when I “have to.” That “have to” bar has been raised quite a bit in the past week.