Beliefnet
Rabbi Shmuley Unleashed

Sunday,
January 3, 2010, 11pm – I’m sitting at Newark airport waiting for my
entire family – my wife and nine children – to disembark from an
aircraft that landed hours ago. They arrived from Chicago where we all
attended a beautiful family wedding. The kids have school tomorrow and
would have had a mostly decent night of sleep. Except that some guy
wandered backward through an exit and into the secure area of the
Continental Airlines terminal, sending the entire airport into
lockdown. (Sometimes I wonder if G-d is playing a trick on me by making
me the Forrest Gump of current events. How did I ever get into this
story?). My wife is calling me every ten minutes with an update that
doesn’t exist. The pilot will only say that they are delayed
indefinitely. The entire terminal is being cleared out. All the
departing planes are being unloaded and the passengers are having to go
through security all over again. And all because one guy walked
backward through an exit. They’ve scoured the airport and they can’t
find him.

How embarrassing.


This is the level of farce that passes for airport security here in
the United States. Just over a week ago a Nigerian man sewed explosives
into his skivvies and would have blown up hundreds of innocents except
that his underwear thankfully failed to ignite. The fact that his
super-credible banker Dad had gone to the American Embassy to warn that
his son was an extremist nut – just think of what it takes to blow up
that part of your anatomy – wasn’t enough to get his visa revoked or
get his name on a no-fly list. And here we are, just a few days later,
and one of New York’s three premiere airports is shut down because a
man walked straight through a secure exit without being stopped. Nice
to know we’re being protected by the keystone cops.

Let’s state the obvious. They can install the most sophisticated
machinery in every American airport. They can X-Ray our boxers, they
can check for explosives in every bodily orifice. We’re still not going
to be safe. It’s not only people’s bodies you’re supposed to check but
their backgrounds, their nationalities, and especially their eyes.
Israel has the most secure airport in the world. I cannot imagine for a
moment that a man with nitroglycerine in his undies would ever have
made it on a plane. And why? Because they would have asked him some
simple and direct questions with the purpose of studying his reaction
as he responded. You’re from Nigeria. You’re going to the US. Why? How
long are you staying? What is your purpose? And where is your return
ticket? All along they would be scrutinizing not his bodily bulges but
his twitches. What Israel excels at is not even ethnic profiling so
much as psychological profiling.

But how can we ever hope to study people’s suspicious behavior when
the TSA agents are wasting their precious time on the most innocent of
passengers who don’t fit any kind of terrorist profile whatsoever. On
the way to Chicago last week my eleven-year-old daughter’s backpack
somehow merited secondary screening. For ten minutes a TSA agent
performed about seven explosive swab tests on every knickknack a young
girl might carry on a plane. Her reading books seemed to be of
particular interest. I could only roll my eyes and pray for patience.
While this went on approximately fifty adults passed through without
any secondary screening because my eleven year old occupied the rapt
attention of the TSA. Could this have gotten any more ridiculous?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes. I travel often. They degree of
silliness I have witnessed is staggering. I have seen seventy-year-old
grandmas with hip replacements being combed by two TSA agents (who
knows what those surgeons implanted there!) I once saw an octogenarian
man with a cane forced to remove his neck brace as it was repeatedly
swabbed for explosives.

Good you say. Terrorists come in many forms. And if we principally
look out for young men from known terrorist countries to carry
explosives on planes, the terrorists will quickly adapt and activate
their sleeper-agent Edith from Valley View Retirement Home to detonate
the nitroglycerine hidden in her dentures. I concede that indeed there
have been unsuspecting young women who have been given bombs by their
terrorists boyfriends to bring on planes, which is why we have to
absolutely check everyone. But airport security is never going to be
omniscient. And you need to focus your energy on those who pose the
greatest threat. Nationality is not any real predictor of terrorists.
Richard Reid was a Briton who was half-Jamaican. Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab is not from the Middle East but Nigeria. Timothy McVeigh
was an American. But these and nearly every other terrorist bomber was
a male of a certain age group. None were eleven-year-olds with
schoolwork stuffed in their backpacks who happened to be travelling
with eight other siblings. Would it not therefore make sense to
concentrate on those who most fit the terrorist profile while letting
up on the three-year-olds with their toy tractors?

Here is where Israel has a unique opening. A country that routinely
gets terrible press because of how effectively its enemies portray it
as repressive can come to the West’s rescue with sound advice on how to
secure airport and air travel. In the process the West will gain a
greater understanding of the level of threat Israel is up against. I’m
surprised that Prime Minister Netanyahu has not already given a major
address sympathizing with the American people for the intended attack
on Christmas Day and offering Israel’s assistance in securing American
air travel. Israel, after all, often dispatches humanitarian rescue
teams to various parts of the world after an earthquake or a Tsunami.
Why not immediately dispatch a high-level security team to Washington,
DC, to advise an increasingly hapless Homeland Security Administration
about the right way to deploy limited resources in securing a vast air
network. I realize that Israel is a tiny country and has to secure only
one major international airport. But then again, unlike the United
States it lives surrounded by terrorists yet has an exemplary record in
protecting air travel.

Well, here I am at the end of my column and my family is still stuck
on the plane. Aside from the subject matter this unfortunate nuisance
has provided for this column, this has been a real hindrance to nine
children who have school tomorrow. I can only hope that by the time
next week’s column is due I’m not still here waiting for the TSA to
find a man who, in this age of extreme terror, simply waltzed into one
of America’s most guarded airports.

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