White House: No Comparison between U.S., Israeli Airport Security

November 22, 2010 - 4:58 PM

body scanner, airport screening

A passenger inside a body scanner at Schiphol airport, the Netherlands, on Monday, Dec. 28, 2009. The scanners, like small walk-in closets, reveal the outline of a passenger's body to detect any concealed objects under the clothing. (AP Photo/Cynthia Boll)

Washington (CNSNews.com) White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said it is difficult to compare the Israeli model for airport security to the much larger United States, but he never criticized the Israeli airport security, which profiles.

In light of the controversies surrounding the X-ray scanners that view under clothes, or pat downs by Transportation Security Administration officers, some commentators have suggested that the U.S. profile and target rather than treat all air passengers the same, a model similar to that used in Israel.

The two international airports there are Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv and Ovda International Airport in Negev. Israel has five other airports, mostly for domestic flights.

Gibbs said Monday that the two countries cannot be compared.

“I would point out that I think the Israelis have two international airports,” Gibbs said. “We have 450. There is a scale. I’ve watched and read the stories of can’t you just do what Israel is doing? Understanding the scale is infinitely different.”

The TSA increased scanning after “underwear bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to explode a plane over Detroit, using explosive hidden in his underwear.

“As the threat has evolved, our screening process has evolved,” Gibbs said. “In order to address the most up to date threats possible, we have instituted the very best in technology and screening efforts in order to detect that threat.”

Michael J. Totten, an independent foreign correspondent, wrote in the New York Post on Friday, “Security officials should pay less attention to objects, and more attention to people. The Israelis do.”

“They are, out of dreadful necessity, the world's foremost experts in counterterrorism,” Totten wrote. “And they couldn’t care less about what your grandmother brings on a plane. Instead, officials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

The article continues, “And Israeli officials profile. They don't profile racially, but they profile … I’m a white, nominally Christian American. Because I fit one of their profiles, it takes me 15 or 20 minutes longer to get through the first wave of security than it does for most people.

“The agents make up for it, though, by escorting me to the front of the line at the metal detector. They don't put anyone into a "porn machine." There's no point. Terrorists can't penetrate that deeply into the airport,” the article added.

Gibbs avoided answering many questions saying he did not want to reveal national security matters. Another reporter asked if the TSA’s screening measures were targeted and justified.

“We are used to, from the understanding of a profile, that looks at a range of people for instance 18-35. Yet we’ve seen just in the past year people who have been arrested in this country for terrorism that would not fit into the range of those ages,” Gibbs said.

“We know specifically that AQAP was targeting, in Mr. Abdulmutallab somebody who did not have the characteristics of those previously that had attempted to do harm to an airliner,” he added.

Gibbs has a point about the size and scope when comparing Israel to the United States, said Jenna McNeill, a homeland security policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation. But, she said there is much that the U.S. could emulate and does emulate from Israel’s airport security.

“One of the things we have learned from the Israel model is to focus on a lot of intelligence,” McNeill told CNSNews.com. “Look for behavior. Develop a watch list. Those are all really good lessons.”

See Earlier Story:
Former Israeli Airline Security Chief: U.S. Needs to Profile Air Passengers (Nov. 16, 2010)