Spotting Terrorists? The Eyes Have It


Pop quiz:

You are working for the Transportation Safety Board at a major airport.

The Department of Homeland Security has raised the terrorism threat level to “Red”.

Where should you best focus your attention?

A. On unattended luggage

B. On nonconforming bottles and containers in carry on luggage?

C. On passengers with Arabic names?

D. On passengers with one way tickets?

Actually, the answer is:

E. “None of the above”.

At least according to the people tasked with providing security for the number one preferred target for terrorism in the world – Israel.

Israel has a radically different and amazingly efficient counter terrorism strategy than we do.

And believe it or not, it is based upon a solidly biblical concept.

The Toronto Star provides a fascinating appeal for what has been called the “Israelification” of airport security.

The ‘Israelification’ of airports: High security, little bother

While North America’s airports groan under the weight of another sea-change in security protocols, one word keeps popping out of the mouths of experts: Israelification.

That is, how can we make our airports more like Israel’s, which deal with far greater terror threat with far less inconvenience.

“It is mindboggling for us Israelis to look at what happens in North America, because we went through this 50 years ago,” said Rafi Sela, the president of AR Challenges, a global transportation security consultancy. He’s worked with the RCMP, the U.S. Navy Seals and airports around the world.

When the security agency in Israel (the ISA) started to tighten security and we had to wait in line for — not for hours — but 30 or 40 minutes, all hell broke loose here. We said, ‘We’re not going to do this. You’re going to find a way that will take care of security without touching the efficiency of the airport.”

That, in a nutshell is “Israelification” – a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death.

Despite facing dozens of potential threats each day, the security set-up at Israel’s largest hub, Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, has not been breached since 2002, when a passenger mistakenly carried a handgun onto a flight. How do they manage that?

“The first thing you do is to look at who is coming into your airport,” said Sela.

The first layer of actual security that greets travellers at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport is a roadside check. All drivers are stopped and asked two questions: How are you? Where are you coming from?

“Two benign questions. The questions aren’t important. The way people act when they answer them is,” Sela said.

Officers are looking for nervousness or other signs of “distress” — behavioural profiling. Sela rejects the argument that profiling is discriminatory.

“The word ‘profiling’ is a political invention by people who don’t want to do security,” he said. “To us, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, white, young or old. It’s just his behaviour. So what kind of privacy am I really stepping on when I’m doing this?”

Once you’ve parked your car or gotten off your bus, you pass through the second and third security perimeters.

Armed guards outside the terminal are trained to observe passengers as they move toward the doors, again looking for odd behaviour. At Ben Gurion’s half-dozen entrances, another layer of security are watching. At this point, some travellers will be randomly taken aside, and their person and their luggage run through a magnometer.

“This is to see that you don’t have heavy metals on you or something that looks suspicious,” said Sela.

You are now in the terminal. As you approach your airline check-in desk, a trained interviewer takes your passport and ticket. They ask a series of questions: Who packed your luggage? Has it left your side?

“The whole time, they are looking into your eyes — which is very embarrassing. But this is one of the ways they figure out if you are suspicious or not. It takes 20, 25 seconds,” said Sela.

The rest of the article details the common sense approach Israel takes concerning issues like unattended luggage, or the spotting of a suspicious object in X-ray.

But the recurring principle that makes the system work is again emphasized when a passenger gets to the body and hand luggage check.

“Here it is done completely, absolutely 180 degrees differently than it is done in North America,” Sela said.

“First, it’s fast — there’s almost no line. That’s because they’re not looking for liquids, they’re not looking at your shoes. They’re not looking for everything they look for in North America. They just look at you,” said Sela. “Even today with the heightened security in North America, they will check your items to death. But they will never look at you, at how you behave. They will never look into your eyes … and that’s how you figure out the bad guys from the good guys.”

That’s the process — six layers, four hard, two soft. The goal at Ben-Gurion is to move fliers from the parking lot to the airport lounge in a maximum of 25 minutes.

Sela goes on to say that attempted airline bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab would have never made it to the gate at David Ben-Gurion Airport.

Did you catch the simple biblical principle that undergirds the Israeli security effort?

It goes back to a statement Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount:

“The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23)

Isn’t it interesting that in our culture fixed eye contact tends to make us uncomfortable?

It’s as if we know that a long look into our eyes will put all our cards on the table.

It is also interesting that such powerful results have been achieved by Israel in the crucial area of airport security by consciously or even unconsciously applying a simple biblical principle.

It makes me wonder how different our lives could be if we made it our aim to skillfully and practically apply even the most basic teachings of Jesus in our day-to-day lives?

But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)

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