Fox News interviewed Isaac Yeffet, the former head of El Al airlines, explains why Umar Abdulmutallab would never have made it onto one of El Al’s flights. The first reason is the most obvious — when someone’s father rats them out as a potential terrorist, El Al tends to take that more seriously than the American State Department did. But there’s more to the El Al approach than just taking threat information seriously:
Yeffet says body scans are more provocative than effective, which is an interesting argument. The Israelis have a better method of screening passengers anyway, which is to send agents into the terminal to check out all of of the people looking to board flights. I wrote about this more than three years ago, and the US even tried a pilot program in 2006 based on the Israeli method. Some question (as did one of the Fox anchors here) whether that can be applied in the much larger airports and markets in the US. But that’s a question of scale, not of possibility, and it would just take a commitment to training enough agents to find key indicators of problems rather than statistical sampling as a means of screening passengers. Yeffet himself says that the US could use that same system, if we are willing to discard our political correctness and use the right kind of expertise on the problem.
Obviously, we need to improve our performance if an Umar Abdulmutallab can get onto a flight bound for the US. However, we need to do more to copy the success of El Al, and stop trying statistical sampling as a security measure.
Along those same lines, Tunku Varadarajan wonders when we will stop punishing all travelers for the terrorism of the few:
Of course, there has been a homeland reaction. The Transportation Security Administration went predictably into Pavlovian overdrive, announcing a series of new security measures that would take immediate effect. This is the other, less reassuring, side of the episodic nature of the terrorist threats against us. We seem always to react, never to anticipate—and in this form of hasty reaction, with its flavor of humiliation, and of having been outwitted by a wearer of dangerous underwear (or shoes), there lurk always the seeds of over-reaction. No one can move from his seat for an hour before landing. No electronics. No coats on laps.
The broader point is that we need, constantly, to recalibrate our bandwidth of stoicism. We are at war with al Qaeda; that organization is doing its best to kill us. Our need is, of course, to make it as near to impossible for it to do that. But our reaction to each new threat must not be to grant al Qaeda small, but important, victories, in the form of an imposition by the TSA of inconveniences on travelers that have not been thought through, inconveniences that are, themselves, a form of theater—the extempore theater of homeland security.
Here are two modest proposals. First let’s have a TSA head, for Pete’s sake: a year after President Obama got to the White House, he has yet to appoint an administrator to the outfit that’s paid to weed out the dangerous fliers. And second: instead of denying my 10-year-old boy the right to take a pee when his destination is a whole hour away, why can’t we be radically more careful about those we let on board our planes? Abdulmutallab’s name was not on the terrorist “no-fly” list, which has fewer than 4,000 names in total. It was, however, on a larger database of some 550,000 individuals, called TIDE (Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment)—and it was inserted there, it seems, only last month.
Why is anyone on this list allowed to board a plane to the United States? Why not convert TIDE into a “no-fly” list? Let anyone on that list who believes his name is there erroneously, or undeservedly, appeal—through legal channels—for removal. If he has a case, it will surely be heard, and yield a just, airborne outcome.
This echoes Yeffet’s point. There is no “right” for people abroad to board an airplane and enter the US. Derogatory information such as that supplied by Abdulmutallab’s father should have resulted in the suspension of the visa immediately. How can we expect fliers to undergo the humiliations of the TSA’s new procedures when the State Department doesn’t take that kind of information seriously?