Monday, January 11, 2010

Airport “security” measures as a huge job-creation scheme (boondoggle)

The Israeli case

The alleged anti-terror measures in the airports seem to be mainly a huge job-creation scheme for the "security" industries and services and actually reduce the safety of, and of course the comfort of the passengers.

As an example we can take the Israeli Ben-Gurion Airport, which boasts of having one of the tightest "security" operations in the world, allegedly effectively eliminating terrorist hijackings. In fact, Ben-Gurion's safety ranking is nothing to brag about. In November 2008 even the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Israel's aviation safety ranking and since then there has been no improvement.

It is difficult to believe that Ben-Gurion's tough “security” measures really raise Israel's safety; the ever extending profiling creates fuming passengers whose feelings toward Israel are ever more hostile. “Special treatment” applies not only to Arabs but also to Israeli peace activists and foreign tourists.   Even Israeli Jews living abroad have to declare if they are members of a Jewish community, visit a synagogue etc. The tough measures are not only racist but are based on a primitive psychological assumption: if a passenger reacts aggressively to an intrusive personal question they are automatically suspect.
At the same time reports persist of people who were able to board the plane with a gun in the “secure” Ben-Gurion airport. Even so, Israeli “security” companies boasted that with Israeli know-how the failure at Schipol Airport that enabled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board Northwest flight 253 with explosives would not have been possible. Now it turns out that Schipol uses the system of the Israeli firm ICTS International . 
For comparison take the Larnaca Airport in Cyprus, which serves many destinations in the Middle East, including Tel Aviv, Damascus, Teheran etc. The “security” checks in this airport, as I experienced them in 2007, flying with Cyprus Airways to Tel Aviv, were nonexistent. It was really funny after a harmless shampoo bottle had been taken away from me at Zurich airport on my flight to Cyprus.  An Israeli retailer was very happy about this Swiss “security” confiscation because I had to replace the shampoo when I reached Israel.
In 1996 an Ethiopian Airlines plane was hijacked by three Ethiopians. Although none of them was in possession of arms or bombs, one of them took a towel and wrapped it around his arm and claimed that he had a bomb underneath. No one dared to call the bluff and the pilots complied with the demand to fly toward Australia. The plane crash-landed in the Indian Ocean near Comoros after running out of fuel. Among the dead passengers were seven senior directors of the Israeli Aviation Industries who were returning to Israel from Ethiopia after a mission to convince the Ethiopian government to let Israel upgrade its fighter jets Migs-21. With their death the deal also died and there is speculation that this was the actual aim of the strange hijacking (I investigated the case for a German TV).
One way or another, no security check in the world could have prevented it, as the terrorists were not carrying weapons of any sort.
I am not aware of any attempt to smuggle a bomb on an El Al airplane in Ben-Gurion airport that was prevented, but on the other hand there are many reports of technical problems with this company's jets. At least some of them obviously are due to poor maintenance, as the airline had to cut its expenses. It would be advisable for Israel to discharge a large part of the inflated force of “security” personal at the Ben-Gurion airport and instead invest more money in real airline safety.
This lesson of course applies as well to other airlines and airports  and it is not surprising that more and more aviation companies, worried about their business, ask the logical question: Are new airport security measures actually keeping us safer?
The question should go further and read: who needs these “security” measures at all? 
Just imagine what would have happened if after the suicide bombing in London’s  public transport system, there had been an effort to apply airport security procedures to the entire London Transport system.  Obviously the “anti-terror industry” knows it limits and realizes that it has no chance to expand its business into this huge “market”.

Shraga Elam
Israeli investigative Journalist based in Zurich/Switzerland

Edited by Eve Segal PhD, Professor Emerita of Psychology.


  1. Sorry Shraga but I think you are conflating two unrelated matters. The US ranking related to civil aviation matters such as aircraft controllers and the chances of miltary and civial aircraft straying into each other's paths. It has noting to do his "homeland security" issues.

  2. Sol,

    Of course I know the difference between the two issues, but if the bottom line is about the safety of flight, then you cannot separate the two elements and for you as a passenger it doesn't matter if you crashed because of a bomb or because the airport authorities saved money on flight controllers and the airlines on maintenance etc.

  3. I fully agree with the views on current airport non-security.
    I also believe that the increased number of inexperienced security personnel going round and round checking and double checking shoes, belts etc of all pax without real cause, creates great opportunities for the real baddies because the increased number of security personnel will of course make them think that somebody else will do the job properly and find the terrorist.
    Additionally, if there is a failure, if a baddy really goes through, the security boss will ask for more inexperienced personnel under his control drawn from the unemployment lists; more payroll means more muscle for the boss; it also means giving jobs to oblige any who asks of him a favour. The security boss will also ask for more machinery, x-ray more and more people without reason, and of course this means a selection to where the money will go and where the returns will be deposited.
    I believe that taxpayers' money spent nowadays for such "increased security" measures is simply wasted.

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