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TSA and Aviation Security: What is wrong with their concepts and strategy

TSA and Aviation Security: What is wrong with their concepts and strategy

Old Oct 14, 07, 7:11 pm
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TSA and Aviation Security: What is wrong with their concepts and strategy

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Aviation security is an almost forgotten topic, commonly confused with flight security because since 9/11 we did not encounter another such terror attack on American soil. This article is meant to remind us that the threat did not disappear as seen a several recent events. The author demands that Israeli aviation security philosophy be immediately adapted instead of reinventing the wheel.

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There is a no better compelling illustration of the current situation approaching the subject of aviation security than validating once again the saying “the chain is as strong as its weakest link”. This article was initially conceived in July 2003, when it was obvious to me that the chosen strategy and implementation by TSA to protect the commercial aviation and its facilities, was far from the best available methods and technologies. I am compelled to reiterate again the still existing aviation security wide flaws and gaps after reading Giving Human Intuition a Place in Airport Security, written by Joe Sharkey in The New York Times a few days ago. In that interview Kip Hawley, the head of TSA, proudly stated that now we put “new emphasis on a layer of screening called behavioral detection” and also “We started off thinking, (pay attention to started - SE), what is it we do better than anybody else? What’s the advantage we have? And it’s that we see two million people every day. We know what normal is”. Eureka, Mr. Hawley, the highly protected secret is finally revealed. My question is: Why did it take six years to reach this obvious conclusion?
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Old Oct 14, 07, 7:54 pm
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Originally Posted by essxjay View Post
This article seems to go with what I've always espoused - look for the wielder, not the weapon. Don't get so caught up in the process that one forgets the objective.

People, not items, are the problem.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 8:20 pm
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Airport security screening should focus on items that are weapons (i.e., not dual-use items) and explosives and get down those basics. They should get there first before stretching into the fantasy world of reading minds to try to get lucky by way of tolerating a lot of false alarms which give proof to the existence of a fishing expedition and wild goose chase that is not tactically reliable and is strategically counterproductive.

As long as airport screeners can't do the basic weapons and explosives interdiction with substantially better results than is currently the case or plug the more obvious holes, they have no business obsessing over something much more complex like trying to figure out which individuals are the "problem". If people are the "problem", airport screeners are still not the people to deal with that problem; and airports are generally not the place to deal with that problem, a problem that's "best" addressed by good intelligence and law enforcement work at some place other than an airport.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 8:40 pm
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Behavior detection works but under certain circumstances. This also means that it will not work in other circumstances. The line at the airport, IMHO, is one of those "other circumstances."

When I worked as an intelligence officer with sources, being able to detect deviation in behavior was absolutely critical. It spelled the difference between running a reliable source and detecting someone who had been "doubled" by the other side. And when I worked as an intelligence investigator, being able to detect behavioral characteristics in witnesses, suspects and sources was also absolutely critical to a successful investigation. And in those instances when I interrogated refugees and/or prisoners, again, behavior detection was a critical skill. None of this applies at the checkpoint (although I still use certain techniques whenever I deal with both passengers and screeners ).

At the checkpoint, I don't see the rationale behind using behavior detection as an exclusive screening methodology. Now I do see the application of certain behavior detection techniques in the regular screening process, but that's in conjunction with standard screening procedures. For example, hand-wanding an individual who appears excessively nervous; however, if that individual clears the hand-wand and limited pat-down, then, from a strictly screening perspective, there's no need for further action.

So if I detect that someone is displaying suspicious behavior while waiting in the line to the checkpoint, that person is going to be screened regardless of whether I think that person is suspicious or not. And while subjecting them to the additional screening of SSSS may be a solution, in my mind, all we're doing is screening the person twice even if they've successfully been screened the first time. (For those who don't know, I'm opposed to the SSSS methodology.)

I see this BDO concept as "spooking up" what should remain a straight-forward, uncomplicated and simple screening process.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 8:48 pm
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Originally Posted by Bart View Post
Behavior detection works but under certain circumstances. This also means that it will not work in other circumstances. The line at the airport, IMHO, is one of those "other circumstances."

When I worked as an intelligence officer with sources, being able to detect deviation in behavior was absolutely critical. It spelled the difference between running a reliable source and detecting someone who had been "doubled" by the other side. And when I worked as an intelligence investigator, being able to detect behavioral characteristics in witnesses, suspects and sources was also absolutely critical to a successful investigation. And in those instances when I interrogated refugees and/or prisoners, again, behavior detection was a critical skill. None of this applies at the checkpoint (although I still use certain techniques whenever I deal with both passengers and screeners ).

At the checkpoint, I don't see the rationale behind using behavior detection as an exclusive screening methodology.
I would never advocate making it exclusive. But it also seems silly not to take advantage of the opportunity to observe screening creates.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 10:18 pm
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The Israeli process is simply unworkable here for so many reasons - and these gasbags that keep bringing it up in the media need to do some homework before they start spouting nonsense.

We need effective screening, there is no question about that. The loopholes that exist are not at the checkpoint, although the checkpoint screening process is a total mess from an effectiveness standpoint.

Technology exists to bring effective, complete, noninvasive, and quick screening to our airport checkpoints, but the TSA has been so slow to get the right technology out and make the right decisions about it, I don't see many lights at the end of the tunnel.

A highly trained terrorist - one actually capable of pulling off a deadly mission - is not going to be found out by behavior detection, and most certainly not by TSA detectors. The Israelis can't even figure out most of the people who detonate themselves in public places and we're just very lucky these criminals haven't started doing those types of attacks over here.
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Old Oct 14, 07, 11:50 pm
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Originally Posted by bocastephen View Post
A highly trained terrorist - one actually capable of pulling off a deadly mission - is not going to be found out by behavior detection, and most certainly not by TSA detectors. The Israelis can't even figure out most of the people who detonate themselves in public places and we're just very lucky these criminals haven't started doing those types of attacks over here.
I agree. I have seen and undergone behaviour detection american style (as described by Bart) and have to say that it is typical of most american security practices - self-important, based on flawed religious and cultural perceptions, and arrogant. Frankly, after being asked the types of questions these american military security .........s ask people, I am at a loss to understand why more people don't try to blow up american military personnel than is actually the case. Being asked if you know any terrorists then watching the self absorbed, ignorant american soldier watch for a speck of sweat to break out on your brow is not behaviour detection - it's mickey mouse security - and easily foiled by most six year olds around the world.
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Old Oct 15, 07, 3:13 am
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Originally Posted by law dawg View Post
I would never advocate making it exclusive. But it also seems silly not to take advantage of the opportunity to observe screening creates.
Of course. This is why I have to shake my head at how TSA is approaching this. I see it as something every TSO ought to apply as part of being vigilant and alert. I just don't know where TSA intends to go with this BDO program or why it's even necessary as a separate program.

By the way, first time I noticed your signature. Then again, it's been a while since I've been on FlyerTalk. Nice motto. HOOAH!
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Old Oct 15, 07, 3:35 am
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Originally Posted by bocastephen View Post
A highly trained terrorist - one actually capable of pulling off a deadly mission - is not going to be found out by behavior detection, and most certainly not by TSA detectors. The Israelis can't even figure out most of the people who detonate themselves in public places and we're just very lucky these criminals haven't started doing those types of attacks over here.
Sorry, friend, but that's just not true. Terrorists are highly committed to their goals, but this is not the same thing as being "highly trained." Don't make the erroneous assumption that they can easily conceal their behavior in such an effective manner. Human nature is what it is; and very few people have the sort of discipline to consistently maintain that poker face; there's always a "tell." Always.

I oppose SPOT not because I don't think TSA is capable of training a cadre of officers to carry out this task. I oppose it because I don't think it is necessary as a separate skill set. The backbone of screening is x-ray image interpretation and good old fashioned vigilance and alertness when dealing with passengers. It's the ability to go beyond simply passing a hand wand over an individual's body or sorting through their undies while looking for a bottle of water. Now that I'm fully engaged in training TSOs, I teach them to screen deliberately: screen with a purpose. And "reading people" is a part of that.

The other reason I oppose SPOT is the so-what question. Let's suppose an individual acts suspiciously when he or she shows up at the checkpoint. If that person turns around, leaves the checkpoint and doesn't fly that day, then it doesn't matter whether or not he/she had intentions of taking down a plane, that person didn't fly. (TSA does not have the legal authority to "catch terrorists" as some in here so erroneously believe.) And if that person stays in line, again, so what? That person is going to undergo screening. Even if we designate that person for pre-selected additional screening, again, so what? Now that person has undergone the same screening process twice over.

I just don't see the value added as a separate, stand-alone screening methodology. I do, however, see it as a part of the regular screening process. As I said before, though, even if a person is acting suspiciously, it's incumbent upon TSOs to do a good job screening that individual, and once they're cleared, then that's it; they're cleared. Nothing spooky about that.
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Old Oct 15, 07, 3:37 am
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Originally Posted by PhlyingRPh View Post
I agree. I have seen and undergone behaviour detection american style (as described by Bart) and have to say that it is typical of most american security practices - self-important, based on flawed religious and cultural perceptions, and arrogant. Frankly, after being asked the types of questions these american military security .........s ask people, I am at a loss to understand why more people don't try to blow up american military personnel than is actually the case. Being asked if you know any terrorists then watching the self absorbed, ignorant american soldier watch for a speck of sweat to break out on your brow is not behaviour detection - it's mickey mouse security - and easily foiled by most six year olds around the world.
I'm curious if you've ever truly undergone the behavior detection I've described. What you described is not what I described. Seems that you just wanted to get your little digs in against those who have served in the military. "douche bags?" "ignorant American soldier?" "why more people don't try to blow up American military personnel?"

Last edited by essxjay; Oct 15, 07 at 4:07 pm Reason: Argumentative comments removed
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Old Oct 15, 07, 7:00 am
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Originally Posted by bocastephen View Post
The Israeli process is simply unworkable here for so many reasons - and these gasbags that keep bringing it up in the media need to do some homework before they start spouting nonsense.

We need effective screening, there is no question about that. The loopholes that exist are not at the checkpoint, although the checkpoint screening process is a total mess from an effectiveness standpoint.

Technology exists to bring effective, complete, noninvasive, and quick screening to our airport checkpoints, but the TSA has been so slow to get the right technology out and make the right decisions about it, I don't see many lights at the end of the tunnel.

A highly trained terrorist - one actually capable of pulling off a deadly mission - is not going to be found out by behavior detection, and most certainly not by TSA detectors. The Israelis can't even figure out most of the people who detonate themselves in public places and we're just very lucky these criminals haven't started doing those types of attacks over here.
The idea that "Israeli style" screening could work in the USA is ludicrous. El-Al operates a limited network of a few dozen long-haul flights every day. They are not even permitted to fly to a large number of destinations because they are either not diplomatically recognised or they are under sanctions. You may be able to convince people to line up 4 hours before departure time for intensive screening prior to an 11 or 12 hour flight from Tel Aviv to New York or Buenos Aires, but you are not going to be able to convince people to do the same for a hop from Syracuse to Buffalo. You may be able to cover a per-passenger security cost of 25 or 50 dollars with tickets for long-haul flights costing 1000 USD or more, you cannot do so with commuter or discount airline tickets that may cost less than 10 dollars. You may be able to recruit and train a few dozen highly skilled screeners, you cannot find thousands of them.
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Old Oct 15, 07, 8:07 am
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We're rather close to putting man on Mars, we can get missiles to hit their targets with near surgical precision and we're on the brink of some stunning medical breakthroughs.

And after five and a half years of the TSA being around we can't tell if water bottles contain water?

Enough with this "security" charade.
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Old Oct 15, 07, 11:11 am
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Originally Posted by PhlyingRPh View Post
I agree. I have seen and undergone behaviour detection american style (as described by Bart) and have to say that it is typical of most american security practices - self-important, based on flawed religious and cultural perceptions, and arrogant. Frankly, after being asked the types of questions these american military security .........s ask people, I am at a loss to understand why more people don't try to blow up american military personnel than is actually the case. Being asked if you know any terrorists then watching the self absorbed, ignorant american soldier watch for a speck of sweat to break out on your brow is not behaviour detection - it's mickey mouse security - and easily foiled by most six year olds around the world.
Wow. How can anyone argue with that thoughtful, well-articulated, erudite statement?
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Old Oct 15, 07, 11:17 am
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Originally Posted by bocastephen View Post
A highly trained terrorist - one actually capable of pulling off a deadly mission - is not going to be found out by behavior detection, and most certainly not by TSA detectors. The Israelis can't even figure out most of the people who detonate themselves in public places and we're just very lucky these criminals haven't started doing those types of attacks over here.
Lots of suicide attacks have been, if not prevented, then limited solely because of the strange actions, thousand-yard stare, nervousness, etc. of suicide bombers. Pretty much any story you read where a security person (usually a doorman or some sort) and the bomber were the only one's killed, there you go.

Public places are much easier to do this kind of work in because most people have the situational awareness of a lemming. They don't pay attention.

Passing through security checks, though, that's a bit harder.

Trust me, if they could, you don't think some of the terror groups over there wouldn't love to hit El Al? To show they could do it? Or even the terminal or gate area.

If they would like to, why haven't they? If it's so easy?
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Old Oct 15, 07, 11:59 am
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There are just not that many suicidal terrorists and aviation never was the most favorite popular terrorist target.
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