Oops, there goes another one!

I am writing this while watching live TV pictures from Larnaca airport in Cyprus where Egyptair Flight MS181 has landed after being hijacked from Alexandria.  It had been on an internal flight in Egypt between Cairo and Alexandria and was hijacked by an individual, later named as Saif Eldin Mustafa who was threatening to blow up the plane with a bomb.

My initial thoughts were, that couldn’t have happened on an El Al flight because the pilot could have confidentially said “You’re not the Messiah, you’re a very naughty boy” or words to that effect.  He certainly would have been able to refuse his demands by saying “You could not have boarded this plane with a bomb so you are bluffing and if you do not immediately surrender you are about to be shot by one of our Marshalls”.

The difference between airport security in Israel and America or Europe is that the Israelis do not just go through the motions of security; they are looking primarily for the terror suspect, whereas the American and Europeans are looking for weapons, bottles of water or illicit liquids.  The Israelis are advocates of what is known as profiling – building pictures of both passengers and airline staff – not in the manner of stereotyping such as looking for young Muslim men.  Instead it is based on behaviour both prior to flying i.e. when, how and where a ticket is purchased and behaviour at the airport itself.

El Al employs people who have been trained in psychological observation techniques to interview every passenger before he or she is cleared to go through physical screening.  Anyone who arouses their suspicion is then subjected to a further grilling and may be refused permission to fly.  It is thought, (by me), that some of their profiling techniques may be politically unacceptable in Europe. El Al just shrug and say “It works”

In Great Britain and Europe the prohibition on carrying liquids on board was introduced in response to the method of mixing chemicals to explosive effect revealed by a 2006 plot.  If security staff find illicit liquids they deliver a ticking off and confiscate the containers, but still allow the passenger to fly.  Discovery of a gun, by contrast would result in immediate arrest.  Despite the mild consequences nobody has been apprehended trying to get bomb making liquids aboard in a decade.

This is not really because such measures have deterred terrorists from trying such methods again.  The same likewise with passengers having to remove their shoes when no shoe bomber has been detected after Reid’s cack-handed attempt at being a shoe bomber.  The terrorists have succeeded in causing upheaval at every airport with what they did so its mission complete for them.

Both the U.S. and U.K. security is purely a theatrical performance intended to reassure passengers and lull them into a false sense of security.  In fact the American Transportation Administration have proved the inadequacies in spotting determined passengers attempts to get hazardous items on to an aircraft.  A team of Homeland Security succeeded in getting fake bombs and weapons through the standard screening process in 67 out of 70 tests in various airports in America.  Tests carried out by Special Forces teams have had similar results in the UK.

I wonder why? – The security screening process is an incredibly boring job.  Nearly all alerts and warnings are false alarms.  It is incredibly hard for people to remain vigilant in that sort of situation and sloppiness is inevitable.  Disassembled weapons have a good chance of getting through.

I had a lot of brickbats to throw at Sharm el-Sheikh airport security when the Russian Airbus was blown out of the sky, but it is no worse than others at vetting staff.  British airports employ those who follow Jihadist social media sites and at some big American airports, employees are not screened on their way into work if they have an identity card.

Some clue as to how easy it is to put a bomb into somebody else’s bag is shown from the number of valuables stolen from check-in luggage.  In the past 4 years prior to 2014 (last available figures) passengers made more than 30,000 reports of missing property.  This year police at Miami International Airport used a hidden camera to film baggage handlers rifling through bags in a plane’s hold and stealing whatever took their fancy.  Security experts reckon such practice is widespread worldwide.

El Al spends more than other airlines on different types of security with armed Marshals on every flight.  Hold baggage is subjected to pressure testing.  Elsewhere better technology might improve the performance of conventional screening.  Giving everyone a pat down is for too predictable and a waste of resources.  Terrorists don’t like unpredictability.  Confiscating my wife’s nail file and hand cream is too theatrical even for the most bored jobsworth, even if it did relieve his boredom.

Simply offering more airport security by rote also seems a poor idea.  There should be far more emphasis on dealing with insider threats through better vetting and more intrusive vetting of staff.  Plus far more, less predictable screening of passengers like swab tests and more sniffer dogs et al.

Keeping a sense of proportion – statistically everyone will tell you that flying is the safest form of travel.  You are more likely to be fatally crushed by furniture than killed by a terrorist.  Terrorism is effective in doing what it’s name says – Inspiring profound fear.  But despite unremitting coverage of the Paris and Brussels attacks an objective examination of the facts shows that terrorism is an insignificant danger to the vast majority of people in the West.

The last couple of years have been especially bad in plane safety with the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, the shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine and the recent crashes of Transasia Airways and Air Algerie Planes and the Russian Airbus A321 out of Sharm el-Sheikh but back to the sense of proportion – A look at the most recent atrocities will highlight that many more people travel by buses and trains, attend open air concerts and sporting events.  These are all potential targets for terrorists yet receive not even a fraction that air travellers get.  No-one confiscated my Swiss Army knife when I went to a recent Status Quo concert.

On a personal note I would add that enhanced security on airport staff would at least make me feel that far less valuables would be stolen from our luggage.  That could see a reduction in our travel insurance, yeah you wish.  Finally I am pleased to report that the hijack of a domestic Egyptian flight that caused it to be diverted to Cyprus has ended with all hostages released and the hijacker Mr Saif Eldin Mustapha surrendering.  No-one was injured.  Thanks be to God!

About Jake

Long retired travel writer, author and freelance journalist. Educated at Wolverton Grammar and Greenwich Naval College. Happily married since 1958, with a married son and daughter, a married granddaughter and an adult grandson. Hobbies rock-climbing, dinghy racing and ocean racing. Still regularly working out in the gym.

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