September 10, 2006

The Israeli airport interview system has been 100% effective in preventing terrorist attacks.
The sure-to-be cult classic, Snakes on a Plane, is now showing at a neighborhood theater near you. No doubt, a plane full of snakes would certainly be a frightening experience. Hollywood even makes the threat seem realistic.

After learning more about the terrorist suspects arrested in the United Kingdom and Pakistan, it’s clear that there are many “terrorist snakes” eager to do more than generate fear. Instead of depending on Hollywood special effects, they planned on killing thousands of people 10 planes at a time. Evil again has a face, and our war on terrorism moved another step closer to American shores.

As a very frequent flyer, I’ve experienced my share of airport-screening experiences. After the recent terrorist plot was thwarted, airport security forces around the world went into action. As I arrived at the Columbus Airport, I was prepared for delays and new rules. I was relieved to find out that I could carry on my computer and briefcase, and I placed all liquids into my checked luggage.

As a man, it was easy – no perfume, lotions, gels or lipstick would get in my way. The TSA professionals checked my briefcase twice – at the initial screening and again before we boarded the plane. I passed screening without incident. There were no passenger complaints. We were all eager to safely get on our way.

Once on board, I noticed that I had left my small plastic bottle of Scope in my pocket! I had gone through all that security and still had a “liquid” with me. As I shared my discovery with my neighbor, we noticed the final passenger walking down the aisle. The older gentleman slowly made his way. On the outside netting of his carry-on, there was a clearly visible bottle of water. He had walked past security and the flight attendants without a problem. My neighbor and I decided that stopping liquids was not going to be easy for our security professionals.

Our security system is based on profiling possible weapons and stopping them from getting on board. Stopping metal box cutters and nail clippers was hard enough. Now, we’re searching millions of travelers daily for items that our equipment can’t detect.

Explosive charges can take almost any possible shape, color or smell and can be produced from a great variety of materials. Simple manual search is not enough. Thorough checks can take up to an hour for a single passenger with one checked bag. Such checks would bring our airlines to their knees!

There are very expensive screening units that can detect liquid substances, and dogs can be trained in days to detect certain liquids. But by the time such plans are in place, what is to stop terrorists from finding another weapon? After all, weapons don’t kill people; people kill people. People are more constant than the weapons they use. It’s time to switch from targeting weapons to profiling terrorists.

Unfortunately, terrorists don’t walk through airports waving a banner announcing who they are, and profiling passengers is fraught with legal and ethical challenges. So how can airport security identify potential terrorists?

Capitalizing on expertise developed by Israeli police and Mossad intelligence experts, Israel’s Suspect Detection Systems has developed an automated filtering tool for identifying potential suspects based on the belief that the terrorist’s fear will be reflected in measurable psycho-physiological parameters.

With a success rate of 95 percent, the SDS-VR-1000 system uses artificial intelligence to imitate polygraph capabilities, making an initial assessment within three minutes. If the system identifies a suspect, that person is interviewed by a personal agent, completing the investigation. The automated system does not rely on ethnic or religious profiling.

When passengers approach the machine, they put their passport in a scanner and their other hand on a sensor. They respond to a series of written questions in the language indicated by the passport; an audio mode with earphones is also available.

The SDS-VR-1000A measures physiological responses. Based on their responses and the data, the passenger is either cleared for the flight or is referred for further questioning. They’ve created a single-minded machine with only one task: identify a terrorist.

This frees security personnel to invest their time in checking the “high-risk” passengers. The follow-up interviews, modeled to imitate those used in Israel, involve checking documents and asking questions regarding their journey and background.

Interviews can be as short as 90 seconds or as long as 20 minutes. The interview techniques used by Israel have been 100 percent effective in preventing terrorist attacks on airplanes for more than three decades.

Shabtai Shoval, the chief executive officer of SDS, confessed that this unique product could only have been developed in Israel’s political climate, where terrorism is common. Are conditions in our war against terrorism bad enough yet for us to consider passenger profiling, or do we have to wait for 10 planes to be destroyed and thousands to die?

I’m ready. Are you?

(Originally appeared in The Ventura County Star)

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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