Could the Transportation Security Administration be moving toward the Israelification of airport passenger screening?
Currently, the TSA stations Behavior Detection Officers (BDOs) at 161 airports across the country that look for psychological or physiological signs that a passenger may be up to no good, such as excessive sweating, lack of eye contact, or other telltale sings of suspicion. Still, BDOs stop far short of an Israeli-style interrogation that takes place before a traveler steps onto an aircraft. But that may soon change.
Addressing delegates at the Aspen Security Conference this week, TSA Administrator John Pistole stated:
I’m very much interested in expanding the behavior detection program, upgrading it if you will, in a way that allows us to….have more interaction with a passenger just from a discussion which may be able to expedite the physical screening aspects… So, we’ve looked at what works around the world, some outstanding examples and we are planning to do some new things in the near future here.
Pistole later added, “There’s a lot—under that Israeli model—a lot that is done that is obviously very effective,” but wisely stopped short of endorsing it.
The bottom line is that while the Israelification of airport security screening in the USA would usher in a style of screening that truly enhances security rather than propagates security theatre, it simply is not feasible.
Within Israel, there is only one major airport to deal with: Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International. The number of flights per day into Telv Aviv is a fraction of the traffic at any single U.S. hub airport like San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, or New York. There simply is not sufficient resources to hire enough highly trained men and women to conduct the kind of screenings that would be necessary for this program to be effective. Even if screenings and interrogations were random, the manpower required would simply drain too many resources.
And the Israelification of airport security also raises Fourth Amendment concerns. Do we really want to face government agents interrogating us before we step onboard an aircraft? Why should I have to justify where I am going, what I am going to see, who do I know, how much money I am carrying, and other questions prying questions (all asked of me when I flew from Zurich to Tel Aviv on El-Al). Without launching into a legal diatribe, that sounds like a Fourth Amendment search that is problematic when executed without reasonable suspicion
The other problem is that unlike in Israel, American do not trust nor have confidence in their government. As the latest wrangling over the debt ceiling in Washington has demonstrated, this is not without justification. Persisting TSA antics over the last decade also do not help instill confidence that our government makes the airways safer.
I am not going to condemn Mssr. Pistole and the TSA for trying to improve the BDO program, but I am not convinced the TSA can do more than put lipstick a pig without expending large sums of cash they do not have and should not have.