Airport Security Solution: Profiling Travelers?

The best way to protect airplanes isn't with improved technology such as full-body scanners but by profiling and questioning passengers, some aviation security experts say.

But such a move is an extremely controversial one that opponents say would violate travelers' privacy and could unfairly target some passengers for more-intense screenings.

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Isaac Yeffet, the former head of security for the Israeli airline El Al, says the only way to secure the skies is to employ highly-educated, well-trained agents to question passengers. Forget bomb-sniffing "puffers" or scanners that can see through passengers' clothes. Yeffet said that he has seen many terrorists outsmart airport security over the years, and as technology improves, so do the terrorists' methods.

"We are dealing with a sophisticated enemy who knows how to beat our technology," said Yeffet, who now runs his own firm, Yeffet Security Consultants.

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He said that we have learned nothing from our past security breaches, including the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"Did we learn something?" he said. "We changed from FAA to TSA and guys with new uniforms."

The only group being punished, he said, is the American traveler who must now endure longer lines.

Yeffet said profiling isn't about singling out one ethnic group but about asking intelligent questions.

He told the story of an Irish woman several years ago who flew from London to Israel. She had fallen in love with a man, was pregnant with his baby and was flying there to meet his family. He packed her bags, including a gift for his family. Her suitcase cleared airport security without a problem, Yeffet said, but when El Al agents started to question her as part of their routine checks, something just didn't seem right.

Even though she had nothing to hide, they questioned the situation. An inspection of her luggage found 4 kilograms of explosives -- a bomb, planted by her lover, that airport security scanners had missed. She was so upset that this man would try to use her to kill everybody on the 747 that she gave the police all the information they needed to prosecute.

In another case, a German man was smuggling what he thought were drugs from Zurich to Israel. The luggage went through X-ray scans and nothing was found by airport security, Yeffet said.

But the man lost his composure when asked by El Al agent why – as somebody who lives in Germany -- he purchased his ticket to Israel in Switzerland.

Yeffet said the man was so focused on questions related to drugs that an unexpected question threw him for a loop and tipped them off. The bag didn't have drugs but explosives – and the man turned in the supposed drug dealers.

Terrorism Profiling: Better Than Any Scanner?

In both cases, Yeffet said, the Irish woman and the German man didn't fit the national or ethnic identity of the stereotypical profile of a terrorist wanting to take down an Israeli jet.

When hiring people to do profiling, Yeffet said, they must be qualified staff, "very well educated people" with at least a college education and fluent in English and at least one other language.

"We test them always. Anybody who fails is fired. We have no mercy because we are dealing with lives," Yeffet said. "The problem with the TSA is that they don't have experts, they don't have qualified people."

The Transportation Security Administration did not respond to requests for comment.

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