You may be better off not reading this if you're one of the millions of Americans traveling this holiday season. However, one safety expert is desperate for you to know: Airport security in the U.S. is basically a sham.
“Checking luggage is very nice, it looks great, taking away the breast milk of the mother of a one month old baby, that looks great,” said Rafi Sela, the president of A.R. Challenges, a transportation consulting firm based in Israel. “It does nothing for security. It’s just a show.”
For years, Sela has been calling for the “Israel-ification” of America’s airports. Supporters of the tactic -- which involves a great deal more face-time with passengers -- say Israel’s airports effectively deal with much higher threat levels than American airports with way less hassle. At Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion airport, for example, passengers go through a series of screenings and interviews in lieu of dumping out their liquids and submitting to full body scanners. And Israeli airports' security is seldom breached.
For their part, TSA representatives say the agency is constantly updating security procedures based on the latest intelligence and on customer feedback.
“The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is working to find and implement new ways to make travel not only more secure, but also more efficient,” TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein wrote in a statement. “These efforts are part of a system-wide shift away from the one-size-fits-all security model following the 9/11 attacks, and toward a transportation security system shaped by risk, and driven by the latest intelligence.”
But as Sela has argued in a variety of places, including The New York Times, The Toronto Star and most recently humor site Cracked, traveling through an Israeli airport is safer and less of a hassle than in America.
That’s because the system in place at American airports emphasizes checking every single piece of luggage over strategies like making direct eye contact when interviewing passengers, according to Sela, who has consulted with American airports. And there are a variety of political factors that make the agency hesitant to change, he said.
“I don't want to frighten anybody, but today even the stupidest terrorist can circumvent the airport security in two seconds,” Sela said.
While America’s airport security system may not be ideal, there are a number of factors that prevent us from “Israel-ifying” our airports, critics of the tactic say. For one, the U.S. airport system is dealing with a much higher volume of passengers and aircrafts than in Israel. About 5.53 million people are expected to travel through America's airports just during this Christmas season. By comparison, Ben Gurion, Israel's largest airport, hit a record when 70,000 people passed through in one day in August, according to the Globes, an Israeli news site.
"The Israeli airport security model doesn't scale," security expert Bruce Schneier told The National Geographic.
In addition, Israeli airport security relies on a certain level of profiling, which some argue wouldn’t pass Fourth Amendment muster here in the U.S. By their own admission, Israeli airport security forces use what they describe as behavioral profiling -- which hones in on things like where a traveler is from and how they're acting -- as one strategy when screening passengers.