Aviation security expertAviation security expert: technology is not enough

Published 9 January 2006

Airport security is about more than machines and technology, but the human component is not yet what it should be

Former El Al security head Isaac Yeffet, now head of Yeffet Security Consultants, was interviewed by MIT’s Technology Review on the issue of aviation security. Here are a couple of his answers:

TR: How can technology make security screening for air travel safer?

Yeffet: Technology works well when used to help qualified and well-trained human beings. Technology can never replace the human being. And in the U.S.A., technology is the only security that we have and rely on for baggage and carry-on screening in our airports. The people we have are not qualified, and the technology we have at the airports around the country, which has a 35 percent false-alarm rate, is the wrong concept.

TR: What kind of technology do U.S. airports use today?

Yeffet: The majority is in vision, with the CTX, a chemically blind x-ray machine that we see at airports. It can drive us crazy by identifying chocolate, cheese, pizza, cakes, et cetera, as something suspicious. Thirty-five percent of the time we get a false alarm, so you have either to rescreen luggage or open it for hand search. When we know that we send to U.S. air carriers alone 1.5 billion pieces of luggage and carry-ons every year, it comes to between 1.2 and 1.3 million pieces of luggage a day that we have to rescreen or hand search. Now this is wrong, because you cannot drive the screeners crazy by [making them open] luggage after luggage to find out there is no explosive. One of the biggest enemies of security is routine. After a while, it becomes a routine, and the screeners will not pay attention anymore. They are not even trained to do a professional hand search, especially when we deal with a sophisticated enemy who knows how to conceal explosives in a double bottom.

-read more at Technology Review’s Web site


Anxious about the chances of Arsenal in the Champions League or the Chicago Bears in the playoffs? Sweating over a recent plunge in the stock market? Fidgety about a coming job interview? Then perhaps you should consider postponing that trip your were planning. Shifty eyes, beads of sweat, and hesitant speech long have been some of the clues that police look for in possible lawbreakers. Screeners at about a dozen U.S. airports have been trained in recent years to look for unusual behaviors among passengers. In 2006 the program will expand to forty more airports, although TSA officials will not say where. As we reported a few weeks ago this is part of a greater emphasis on behavioral screening of passengers. Report


Transportation security: A daunting task

- The United States has 6.3 million kilometers of roads, more than 160,000 kilometers of rail, 41,000 kilometers of waterways, nearly 600,000 bridges, more than 300 ports, more than 300 airports capable of accommodating jumbo jets, nearly 15,000 smaller airports, and approximately 500 railroad stations.

- The European Union has more than more than 4.7 million kilometers of roads, more than 225,000 kilometers of rail, more than 53,000 kilometers of waterways, and more than 3,100 airports of all sizes

Air cargo security: Another daunting task

- 11.3 million metric tons of cargo passed through U.S. airports in 2003

- Less than 10 percent of it was screened for explosives

- 100 percent of air passengers and their baggage are screened for explosives

- Virtually all passenger flights carry air cargo

- American Airlines spent $70 million to provide more legroom in coach class

- Boeing spent $1 billion to launch a satellite-powered, high-speed in-flight Internet service

- DHS will spend $4.8 billion this year on passenger and baggage screening

- DHS will spend $115 million on air cargo security

- Last year, two-thirds of DHS’s transportation security R&D budget went to technology for countering attacks on commercial aircraft with shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles

Sources: DHS, TSA, ABI Research, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Group, GAO, and American Airlines