After the Christmas 2009 alleged terrorist attack on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, everyone and their brother had an idea or two about how to strengthen airport security. Spurred on by cable TV talking heads and talk radio, home-grown solutions ranged from shutting down the U.S. border to bringing in more technology and from sniffer dogs to the Israeli answer.
Sorry, but things aren’t so simple.
Sniffer dogs? Well, it takes longer and more dollars to train the dogs than TSA screeners. Plus, the dogs need handlers and they must be rested often.
But what about the Israeli model? That answer, which involves personal interaction and profiling, would grind American air traffic to a halt.
Drive-in SecurityHeading to Atlanta’s airport by car, you can take I-85 and turn on to Camp Creek road. And your biggest headache is the traffic, poor signage and expensive parking fees. Travel out of the Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel and it's a different story. Cars heading to Ben Gurion’s terminal are stopped by security agents, who ask one or two questions. Depending on the answers or accent, some cars move into the “More Questions” lane.
In the terminal, security agents search for suspicious behavior – and that’s before check-in, where expensively-trained personnel examine travel documents and ask more questions. The Ben Gurion screeners concentrate on tone and body language. Some folks, again, find themselves in the “More Questions” line.
The Israeli system works.
That’s thanks to the willingness of Israel to spend a lot of money and the fact that Ben Gurion handles, at most, 10 million passengers a year, which is about the same as Puerto Rico’s San Juan airport and a bit fewer than Hartsfield-Jackson’s 90 million passengers. Of course, Ben Gurion isn’t the only airport game in Israel. There are 31 others, and some are really highway strips. Out of about 5,000 paved runway U.S. airports, 376 have regularly scheduled airline service.
The Israeli answer just doesn’t scale to America. And it never will.
But you just cannot stop the so-called experts and those mom and pop observers from spinning their good ideas. One of those interesting ideas is to turn airport security totally over to the marketplace. “Let’s Go Private” suggested a recent USA Today column. There probably was similar talk at January’s Shooting, Hunting Outdoor Trade Show at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in Las Vegas. But talk there suddenly turned to other matters when federal agents arrested 21 military and law enforcement products industry executives and employees following an indictment charging them with engaging in schemes to bribe foreign government officials to obtain and retain business.
Changing the Corporate Playbook“This ongoing investigation is the first large-scale use of undercover law enforcement techniques to uncover Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations and the largest action ever undertaken by the Justice Department against individuals for FCPA violations,” says Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. “The fight to erase foreign bribery from the corporate playbook will not be won overnight, but these actions are a turning point. From now on, would-be FCPA violators should stop and ponder whether the person they are trying to bribe might really be a federal agent.”
The indictments allege that the defendants engaged in a scheme to pay bribes to the minister of defense for a country in Africa. In fact, the scheme was part of the undercover operation.
Also, it’s a slap in the face of our military, police and first responder heroes.
Still, there is always the corporate overachiever.
The director of a British company (He worked out of a converted rural English dairy; red flag, please.) that supplies bomb detectors to Iraq was arrested in January on fraud charges. Iraqi officials had paid a reported $85 million for the detectors, which are hand-held wands with no batteries or internal electronic components, allegedly powered by a user’s static electricity.