Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano today rebuffed suggestions that U.S. airports should adopt the practices of airports in Israel, calling the Israeli air travel system “a very different model.”
“We share a common goal, which is to protect the people of our countries from terror or other attacks,” Napolitano told Fox News ahead of a tour of security facilities at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. But there are many differences in the United States system versus Israel. Part of that is driven by sheer size.”
Critics of U.S. security methods, particularly full body scans and the so-called “invasive pat down” used by the Transportation Security Administration, have called for American airports to adopt Israeli-style security measures, which rely heavily on behavioral profiling of travelers.
But Napolitano said that what is effective in Israel, a nation of 7.3 million, wouldn’t necessarily work for 310 million Americans.
Ben-Gurion is Israel’s only major international airport. The United States, however, has 450 such facilities. Plus, about 11 million people pass through Israeli airports each year, while 70 times that many passengers go through American airports each year.
“So there’s a very big difference in terms of size and scale,” said Napolitano, who granted Fox News exclusive access to join her on a week-long, security-focused trip to Europe and the Middle East.
Early today, the head of security at Ben-Gurion gave Napolitano a tour of his airport’s system and a “comprehensive briefing” on Israeli airport security that “covered the spectrum from intelligence to the perimeter security of the airport to checkpoint screening and everything in between,” according to a Homeland Security official.
Ben-Gurion has formidable security measures apparent even to an outsider. Snipers stand watch from a glass-encased booth suspended above the airport’s main entrance, visible from a traveler’s first steps into the airport.
Passengers arriving at Ben-Gurion for flights out of Israel spoke to FOX News about their experiences with the airport’s security system.
Henrich Ditze, a television cameraman from Berlin, Germany, said security officers at Ben-Gurion always ask him “lots of questions,” both new ones and some that are the same each time. He said he is always asked whether he received any gifts while in Israel.
“They’re checking everything,” he said. “They look very seriously into your eyes. … It can make you nervous even if you don’t have to hide anything. But just keep cool, that’s it. Just keep cool.”
Barry Raymond of Orlando, Fla., who comes to Israel every three months to visit his son, a college student here, described a similar experience, including receiving questions about books he may be carrying. One time, he said, one of his books was “so dense” that security personnel couldn’t determine what was inside it from the X-ray machine, so he was delayed for 30 minutes.
He called that type of security “far superior” to the measures in U.S. airports, adding, “I’d love to see American security like this.”
Raymond is not alone. In the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Transportation Security Administration began to come under fire for its enhanced security measures at. In the midst of the firestorm, Rep. John Mica (R-TX), and others called for TSA to adopt Israel’s style of screening.
Napolitano and TSA chief John Pistole have said repeatedly that the new procedures at U.S. airports are so far the best way to keep ahead of the “evolving threat.” A department statement issued late Tuesday noted that the TSA uses a “layered security approach,” including the deployment of behavior detection officers, air marshals and explosives detection canine teams.
Overseas terrorists have repeatedly targeted U.S.-bound flights. On Christmas Day 2009, Umar Abdulmutallab of Nigeria tried to detonate his explosives-laden underwear over Detroit. In October, two packages containing explosives were sent from Yemen to the United States, but they were intercepted overseas after Saudi intelligence officials shared information about the plot. Both attempts have been tied to Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
“We know that there’ve been terrorist attacks that have emanated from this area of the world for years,” Napolitano said, speaking of the Mideast and Persian Gulf regions. So, she said, her discussions with Israeli officials would focus on “what partnerships we have, what information we’re sharing, what kind of best practices we can share in terms of protecting security and safety.”
During Napolitano’s private briefing with Israeli officials at Ben-Gurion, they discussed cargo screening and how to stop non-metallic explosives, such as those used in the recent plots, from getting onto a plane, a Homeland Security official said.
Despite repeated attempts to speak with an Israeli official about using their security model in the United States, the Israeli government declined to talk with Fox News, citing an aversion to discussing their security measures publicly.