An essential procedure or a slippery slope to racial stereotyping?
Over the past few decades there has been a sea change in the volume of passengers now able to travel by plane. How have airlines and airports security services adapted?
In the beginning of commercial aviation, airlines' security checks focused on the passenger and their documentation. This method was sufficient for a time when flying was a preserve of the select few who could afford it. However, as the cost of aviation has decreased passenger numbers have increased. Boarders to countries have opened and thousands of people from all nationalities, from working class to wealthy business commuters are now using the airways. Planes can take off from British airports at least every 2 minutes; circulate their respective destination sometimes for 20 minutes or more, due to air traffic. Airport neighbouring communities complain of noise pollution with discussions over whether to publish noise maps, by 2007, for all major airports. Over the past few decades there has been a sea change in the volume of passengers now able to travel by plane. How have airlines and airports security services adapted? In light of recent events, what more needs to be done? With the concerns over racial prejudice, is increased passenger profiling the solution? Have the public been correctly informed over what this method entails or have certain fears been encouraged by 'media sound bites'?
Well-publicised events like Air India (1985), Air Lanka at Colombo Airport (1986) or Lockerbie (1988) called for the 1st radical shift in security measures. 100% screening of passenger luggage became mandatory for passenger planes. Using X-Rays to search all luggage before it boarded a plane was, at that time, an effective and logical step to take. The tragic fatalities had been caused by items of luggage that listed passengers had checked in. Screening all bags and using technology to assist was necessary solution to implement. Placing lines of X-Ray machines and operators, trained in the detection of restricted goods, would screen every passenger in the same way, irrespective of age, race, gender or nationality. Check in times for flights increased and queuing became an accepted procedure when flying. But this was O.K. as the reason the time consuming procedures was to unsure the safety of their flight. The security methods, if correctly employed, would prevent exploding passenger bags from boarding their plane. Would this method prevent people intent on martyrdom or people who had not packed their own bag and were unaware they were carrying anything dangerous, from boarding with a concealed device? It takes considerable X-ray training for operators to detect Improvised Explosive Devices (IED's) or knives concealed at obscure angles under dense material. A detonator can be an extremely small, delicate structure, easily concealed in a filled bag. Under X-ray, explosive material has no distinctive shape and appears as an organic mass of orange akin to books, food or drink. There have been test incidents for detection of these items. With the pressured environment and enormity of the task placed on these operators, many have passed without detection.
When Israeli screeners use Profiling to flag a passenger for further scrutiny, a 'smart call' is made. This is a well established and consistently applied procedure.
The last successful hijacking of an El Al flight was in 1968.
If the operator is unsure about the contents of a bag, pausing the machine to apply image enhancement and/or selecting to hold it, adds seconds or minutes to processing just one passenger out of many hundreds queuing to be checked in. And what if a passenger, intent on martyrdom, is carrying half the weapon on their body? Surely, the only method currently available to prevent that passenger from boarding would be to apply profiling. When Israeli screeners use Profiling to flag a passenger for further scrutiny, a 'smart call' is made. This is a well established and consistently applied procedure. A judgment is made on a passenger, based on a variety of factors including: intelligence that may already be known, the passengers body language, ticket details, answers to initial brief questions and other signs which make that passenger stand out. Do the 'other factors' include their race, gender, age and ethic appearance? Yes. Are these screeners trained to apply judgments that are politically sensitive? Absolutely. From the results can one claim this method is necessary? Definitely.
The last successful hijacking of an El Al flight was 1968.
There was a remarkable incident of successful profiling in 1968 when a pregnant Irish Chamber Maid, subjected to detailed questions, revealed a significant IED in her carry on luggage. Had it successfully detonated, there would have been no survivors. This case is significant as the passenger didn't fit the racial, gender and age profile that has provoked hysteria in the media 'sound bites'. She was also ignorant of the fact that she had been chosen as a human bomb. The screeners made deductions from a combination of her pregnant condition, ticket details (one way), social background (not wealthy) and that she was alone. Although this information didn't suggest she was carrying a bomb, it was enough make the screeners wonder what on earth she was doing, whilst heavily pregnant! The careful process of initial questions, leading to further detailed ones and a bag search, eventually revealed the bomb. The perpetrator, a Jordanian called Nezar Hindawi, was also caught and sentenced to 45 years in prison.
This incident shows an effective solution to combating the terrorists' evolving tactics rather than an adjustment each time fatalities occur. When passengers' belongings became the weapon, we adapted technology to scrutinise luggage. When small metal objects became the weapon, anything potentially small and sharp was prohibited and metal detectors were employed. When the weapon was concealed as a ubiquitous liquid, panic ensued and anything liquid was prohibited or tested. Security services responded to each tactical change in a reactionary fashion, rather than proactively.
Fortunately, commendable intelligence work performed by an undercover British Agent, infiltrating the conspirators' network, prevented a catastrophic event on the last occasion. In this case, information gathered by global intelligence services was the only 'life line'. This highlights the essential companion to the profiling method. Intelligence directly contributes to the strength of passenger profiling as a solution to maintaining tight security with an increased passenger volume. Profiling can be used to tighten security for the greater volume of passengers whilst not drastically increasing the cost to airlines and airports. This can only be achieved by focusing resources where they will be of most use; on the select few passengers that may pose a risk. Passengers flying from Ben Gurion International Airport are checked on intelligence and law enforcement databases with a seamlessness that is unparalleled. At this airport all passengers are also carefully questioned, and required to show up three to four hours in advance. Despite the lengthier process, airports and airlines across the world would benefit from adopting Israel's approach to security to some extent.
Renful has been conducting seminars in the UK and internationally on subjects ranging from Suicide Bombers to Profiling Techniques and Document Verification. The company also produces a multimedia training program on Document Verification and is due to start development on a further program addressing Profiling Techniques. Renful's profiling seminar and training program are designed to equip all participants with the knowledge, techniques and practical skills required to organize and implement effective profiling. As the methods required to apply adequate profiling far more complex than 'media sound bites' might suggest, Renfuls thorough training will dispel its associated myths as an application of stereotyping. If security services were to apply such a crude approach to passenger screening, it would swiftly become less effective than the age old technology of X-ray. If the only passengers selected for close scrutiny were those with a Muslim appearance, then a terrorist organization would simply need to recruit a tall, blond, Scandinavian woman. Through its training, Renful intends to prove how the single, most effective approach to our security starts with the combination of global intelligence and intelligent profiling. But, as Israeli officials acknowledge, 'no security system is fool-proof', we can never afford to be complacent.
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