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Former Israeli airport-security boss: ‘I don’t quite understand the decision’ to ban electronics on flights

Former Israeli Airport-security Boss: 'I Don't Quite Understand The Decision' To Ban Electronics On FlightsA board listing flight schedules is seen at Ben Gurion International airport Thomson Reuters

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Even in Israel, renowned for its aviation security, a carry-on electronics ban on flights to the United States and Britain from parts of the Middle East and North Africa had a former airport security chief shaking his head on Wednesday.

“I don’t quite understand the decision,” said Pini Schiff, former head of security at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport, pointing to security gaps in the new rules that anyone aiming to smuggle explosives on to a commercial airliner might exploit. Under the regulations announced on Tuesday, electronic devices larger than cellphones are banned from the passenger cabins of planes flying directly from at least 10 airports in 10 Muslim-majority nations. Schiff said that still leaves open the possibility of hiding explosives in a device packed in luggage in the hold of an aircraft, or smuggling a bomb into the seating area of a connecting flight to the United States or Britain.

“What can explode in the plane while it’s in a passenger’s hands can also explode in a cargo hold, because if you put a timer or a barometric pressure switch on it, you endanger the flight to the same degree,” he told Reuters.

Recalling the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 by a bomb that Libyan agents hid in a radio-cassette recorder in the jumbo jet’s hold, Schiff said electronic devices like laptops and iPads have long been subject to scrutiny at airports around the world.

Former Israeli Airport-security Boss: 'I Don't Quite Understand The Decision' To Ban Electronics On FlightsREUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

But Schiff said, “there are airports in the world where the level of screening and expertise of the screeners is not that high, and subsequently there is a level of risk here.” As an example, he said the level of security at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport was lower than that at airports in western Europe. Not so, Schiff said, when it comes to Ben-Gurion airport.

“Screeners at Ben-Gurion attend a course lasting several months until they are certified to operate a screening device. Things are different overseas. I don’t want to disparage anyone, but it’s different,” he said.

Tight security

For departing passengers, the airport experience at Ben-Gurion is a combination of high-tech and thinly disguised profiling. Before reaching the main terminal, vehicles stop briefly at a security checkpoint at the airport’s entrance, where guards signal drivers to roll down their window – a procedure hard to put into effect at busier and larger airports around the world.

The guards expect the car’s occupants to reply in kind to a proffered greeting of “shalom”, or hello the better to detect an Arab or foreign accent. Small stationary cameras point at license plates, apparently checking numbers against a data base. Other plainclothes guards are stationed at the doors to the terminal.

Former Israeli Airport-security Boss: 'I Don't Quite Understand The Decision' To Ban Electronics On FlightsEl Al planes are seen parked at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, during a strike by airline workers, April 21, 2013. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Once inside, departing passengers stand in line with their baggage and passports and answer questions like “who packed your bags?” Foreigners are asked who they met during their visit, and about their broad background. In departure area security lines, laptops but not tablets must be taken out of bags and placed on trays for electronic screening. Shoes, belts and watches usually stay on.

Luggage heading to the hold gets special scrutiny.

“At Ben-Gurion, we have been operating an HBS Hold Baggage Screening system for the past two years that examines 100 percent of the baggage of departing passengers … it works on the same principle as medical CT scans,” Schiff said, referring to computerized tomography that combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles.

“A suitcase that is not cleared 100 percent does not make it to the plane.”

(By Jeffrey Heller; editing by Luke Baker and Mark Trevelyan)

Former Israeli airport security boss: electronics ban makes little …

A board listing flight schedules is seen at Ben Gurion International airport, near Tel Aviv July 24, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Jeffrey Heller[1] | JERUSALEM

JERUSALEM Even in Israel, renowned for its aviation security, a carry-on electronics ban on flights to the United States and Britain from parts of the Middle East and North Africa had a former airport security chief shaking his head on Wednesday.

“I don’t quite understand the decision,” said Pini Schiff, former head of security at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport, pointing to security gaps in the new rules that anyone aiming to smuggle explosives on to a commercial airliner might exploit.

Under the regulations announced on Tuesday, electronic devices larger than cellphones are banned from the passenger cabins of planes flying directly from at least 10 airports in 10 Muslim-majority nations.

Schiff said that still leaves open the possibility of hiding explosives in a device packed in luggage in the hold of an aircraft, or smuggling a bomb into the seating area of a connecting flight to the United States or Britain.

“What can explode in the plane while it’s in a passenger’s hands can also explode in a cargo hold, because if you put a timer or a barometric pressure switch on it, you endanger the flight to the same degree,” he told Reuters.

Recalling the destruction of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988 by a bomb that Libyan agents hid in a radio-cassette recorder in the jumbo jet’s hold, Schiff said electronic devices like laptops and iPads have long been subject to scrutiny at airports around the world.

But Schiff said, “there are airports in the world where the level of screening and expertise of the screeners is not that high, and subsequently there is a level of risk here”. As an example, he said the level of security at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport was lower than that at airports in western Europe.

Not so, Schiff said, when it comes to Ben-Gurion airport.

“Screeners at Ben-Gurion attend a course lasting several months until they are certified to operate a screening device. Things are different overseas. I don’t want to disparage anyone, but it’s different,” he said.

TIGHT SECURITY

For departing passengers, the airport experience at Ben-Gurion is a combination of high-tech and thinly disguised profiling.

Before reaching the main terminal, vehicles stop briefly at a security checkpoint at the airport’s entrance, where guards signal drivers to roll down their window – a procedure hard to put into effect at busier and larger airports around the world.

The guards expect the car’s occupants to reply in kind to a proffered greeting of “shalom”, or hello – the better to detect an Arab or foreign accent. Small stationary cameras point at license plates, apparently checking numbers against a data base.

Other plainclothes guards are stationed at the doors to the terminal.

Once inside, departing passengers stand in line with their baggage and passports and answer questions like “who packed your bags?” Foreigners are asked who they met during their visit, and about their broad background.

In departure area security lines, laptops – but not tablets – must be taken out of bags and placed on trays for electronic screening. Shoes, belts and watches usually stay on.

Luggage heading to the hold gets special scrutiny.

“At Ben-Gurion, we have been operating an HBS – Hold Baggage Screening – system for the past two years that examines 100 percent of the baggage of departing passengers … it works on the same principle as medical CT scans,” Schiff said, referring to computerized tomography that combines a series of X-ray images taken from different angles.

“A suitcase that is not cleared 100 percent does not make it to the plane.”

(Editing by Luke Baker and Mark Trevelyan)

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References

  1. ^ Jeffrey Heller (www.reuters.com)

SITA forms group to address US airport security threats 20 March 2017 16:06 GMT

SITA has announced the formation of the Secure Journeys Working Group to address today s airport security threats in the US and to work towards creating a secure and efficient passenger experience throughout the airport. The launch of the Secure Journeys initiative is in response to the current security climate and recent attacks on non-secure areas of the airport, including the Brussels airport bombing and Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. Members of the working group cite these incidents as examples that demonstrate the need to rethink the approach to getting passengers through the airport quickly and safely.

Because CVG is a mid-market airport, we have the unique ability to quickly test the effectiveness of emerging technology on security and efficiency, says Brian Cobb, vice president of Customer Services, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). As a member of Secure Journeys, we can use our knowledge to help shape recommendations to the TSA and CBP based on real-world experience rather than untested concepts. We look forward to collaborating as a community to ensure the safety and convenience of the traveling public. Secure Journeys is an evolution and expansion of SITA s Border Automation User Group which was formed in 2015 to facilitate implementation of the US Customs and Border Protection s (CBP) Automated Passport Control program.

The newly extended group will address growing challenges, including:

Moving passengers and baggage more rapidly through non-secure areas of the airport, such as check-in and baggage claim areas
Reducing and effectively managing security wait times to reduce lines of people in non-secure areas
Incorporating biometrics for passenger screening authentication
Addressing ways in which identity management solutions can be used along with data analytics to reduce the growing concerns around the insider threat.

According to SITA, the value of Secure Journeys is its ability to bring together experts and representatives from across the air transport spectrum to provide input and recommendations based on their unique perspective and experience. Given the Administration s focus on transportation security and commitment to large-scale investment for the nation s infrastructure, the solutions and recommendations identified by Secure Journeys are vital to informing key decision makers.

As the US government looks for answers to a new set of threats passengers face, Secure Journeys will identify solutions to common soft target challenges, passenger screening and insider threats and develop a set of recommended standards for US airports to adopt, says David Menzel, sales director Government Markets, SITA, founding member, Secure Journeys. We look forward to continuing work with the Department of Homeland Security and our airline and airport partners to make America s airports safer and improve the overall passenger experience from reservation to destination.

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