Lessons from Israel for the U.S. security market

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

JERUSALEM and TEL AVIV - On a tour of Israel security operations organized by Chameleon Associates, Texas A&M University and Infrastruct Security, this editor was made privy to a holistic approach to security that permeates the entire country here. This is partly due to the mandatory military service that has every man serving three years and every woman two, and it is partly due to a threat that is ever-present, with various organizations-Hezbollah, Hamas, the list is long—pledging to wipe the country off the face of the earth. However, it is interesting to note the differences in the way Israel and the United States conduct their security operations, if only to create conversation and deep thinking about how to do things better and make people safe as they go about their daily lives.

Chameleon Associates is a consulting and training firm comprising a number of ex-Israeli military men who aim to bring some of the Israeli philosophy to the rest of the world's security operations. They focus on security profiling as a technique and disaster preparedness. Much of what they showed us, and many of the people they put us in front of, revolved around these two central ideas: Constantly be profiling people and objects for suspicious characteristics and always be ready for the worst possible outcome.

Simply arriving in the Newark airport from the Portland International Jetport, I found I couldn't go directly to my gate for the second leg to Tel Aviv. Why? Well, there's a second security checkpoint, independent of the one you go through to get to the gates area, just to get into the gate area from which the plane to Tel Aviv departs.

This is a small example of Israel taking security seriously. You do not get on a plane to Israel unless you've been wanded and someone has looked through your bag. It's that simple. Then they check you in a second time, matching your face, your passport, and your ticket. Similarly, once we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, there was a security guy who "black-beaned" me (picked me out randomly, like the black bean in a jar of white beans) and asked me a few questions and looked at my passport before I even got to the passport checkpoint.

In the United States there is a lot of talk about risk assessment and applying scientific rigor to identifying where to put our resources and where threats are going to come from, but when a member of our party asked the Sergeant at Arms for the Knesset, ultimately responsible for the safety of the entire Parliament, how he balanced an event's likelihood and the potential damage it could cause, he almost didn't understand the question.

He said, “what's of interest is what can cause the most damage." To him, the probability didn't matter in the slightest. “In life and security," he said, “there are only two possibilities: you either succeed or you explain. I don't want to have to explain." He said you can't afford to be surprised by a low-probability event happening, so you must plan for everything and have a deterrent for everything. “Everything is taken into consideration."

What baffled him the most was why we in the United States waste so much time on scanning and screening people who are obviously not threats.

We got the fundamental underpinning for this later in the day, from Amotz Brandes, the leader of this tour at Chameleon Associates and profiler for El Al Airlines. For the Israelis, he said, everything is about profiling, and not the silly racial profiling of which Americans are so afraid.

Profiling for the Israelis is a constant process of identifying suspicions and refuting them. If something is suspicious, you start to inquire about it until you discover whether the suspicion can be refuted (the package was actually just left accidentally and is not a bomb) or not (we don't know what's in the package, who it belongs to, or what it might be). If you can't refute a suspicion, it becomes a threat, and threats must be dealt with (call the bomb squad).

“Many times in security systems [outside of Israel, meaning in the United States]," Brandes said, “they react to suspicion as if it's threat, and a threat as if it's only suspicion. For example, a machine picks up something on the X-ray, which is a suspicion, but that's not a threat yet. Unfortunately, they send five cop cars and make it an emergency. They have to first try to refute it. Every officer here is trained to have threat orientation. A guard knows all the methods of operation that apply to them at that time. "Meaning, security guards aren't just worried about suspicious people, they're worried about the actual things those people might do. Are they suicide bombers? Are they “mules," carrying a bomb without knowing it? Is that person going to rush security with a machine gun or a knife? “I know all of [the methods of operation]," he said, “and all of the correlating suspicion indicators [as a security guard, or security director]. It's my job to find the indicators and act on them."

For the Israelis, it's not about law enforcement and putting people in jail. It's about stopping people from harming other people. And they're practical. While we were at the Jerusalem bus station, the security director, took us through his procedures and showed us his central station (which didn't use analytics, but did have megapixel video). He casually mentioned that a military person had just reported a machine gun lost. In the United States, this would have caused panic. Here, it was just something to be concerned about. They knew the most likely scenario is that it had already been ferreted out of the building and would likely be sold to criminals or terrorists. They knew they would have to deal with it later.

Further, there is the way that security guards are trained and viewed in Israel. They're everywhere here, posted at the door to almost every restaurant, outside every major gathering place. They're working for private security firms, mostly, and they're almost universally about 22 to 24 years old. Why? Because most of them are students, recently discharged from the military. The theory here is that students are wasted as baristas and waitstaff, since they have the cognitive ability to profile people and question them correctly, and they have a dedication and regimen stemming from their military service.

They're also often immigrants, looking to show their patriotism and dedication to the country.

This is possible because security guards are valued members of society here, not “rent-a-cops." Can you imagine military men in the United States returning from Iraq and working as mall security? I can't, but they'd be perfect for it, right? The other major difference between security guards in Israel and in the United States is that security guards in Israel receive an enormous amount of training, and are constantly “red - teaming," which is what they call testing vulnerabilities. On as often as a daily basis, higher ups will try to smuggle something in, or lie to a guard, or survey an area, checking to see whether security will catch them. It's simply to check vulnerabilities. If someone fails, they're given more training. If the system fails, they fix the system. It's all to a common purpose.

One other thing: Security here is always outside the building they want to protect. They don't let people in, then check to see if they have a bomb.

Those security forces are then augmented with technology. We visited with Aeronautics Defense Systems—vice president of business development, Shai Palti, who develops unmanned aerial vehicles for the purposes of surveillance. It's actually an RMR play. What Aeronautics does is create the technology, build the UAVs, then sell surveillance to the military as a service—they call it, jokingly, “pay per view." Right now, most sales are going to various governments all over the world, including the Israeli military, of course, with whom ADS does 30 percent of its business, but it also sold equipment to St. Petersburg for the 2006 G8 summit, and does work with the U.S. military, Chad, and a number of other countries.

It's also looking for a private security play, however, looking at major sporting events, leasing the surveillance to the local police department who might be concerned about a post-championship riot. Or leasing the surveillance to companies with off-shore oil rigs that are unmanned.

Technology in Israel is mostly focused on increasing security without decreasing productivity. As Nahum Liss, head of planning, control and projects at Ben Gurion Airport, put it: “You can have 100 percent security, but then you have zero percent aviation activity."

Ben Gurion has 2,300 security employees to serve its 10.1 million annual passengers, and they use all manner of profiling techniques along with the universal concept here of “security circles." The first circle is the Israeli intelligence operation, the second is the fence line: Ben Gurion is the only airport in the world that has a fence around all public areas. There are only two gates through which to enter, and everyone entering is spoken with and profiled. Those who show suspicion indicators are questioned further, and those and everyone entering is spoken with and profiled. Those who show suspicion indicators are questioned further, and those who have suspicions that can't be refuted are searched.

This can take up to an hour. Do not make jokes at the gates to Ben Gurion. And keep the heater down. You don't want to be sweating.

Then the circles move in as you might imagine, with such measures as $3,000 blast-proof trash cans and very-armed guards patrolling everywhere. We were told to try to spot the snipers, but I'm not sure if they were kidding or not. I didn't see any, but I'm guessing I wouldn't.

Then they have all manner of CT-scan, X-ray, video analytic, license plate recognition, bollards, and more than 700 cameras throughout the airport and airfield. Their access control system for employees involves a prox card tied to a biometric, very similar to HSPD-12/FIPS 201. And they're about to implement shoe-screening technology, so you won't have to take your shoes off.

One of the most interesting things Liss had in place at Ben Gurion was software that gave him a quick representation of his preparedness for an attack. All employees, and the technology, are graded constantly for effectiveness. If a guard doesn't pass a test, he or she doesn't work the next day. It's that simple. They are given more training to get their numbers up. On the day we visited, the facility's number was an 89.

There is no doubt, as Liss said, that Ben Gurion is the safest airport in the world. I asked him if he felt unsafe when he traveled through the other airports of the world.

“You're an American?" he asked immediately. He laughed. He had been asked last year to evaluate the efforts at LAX and Denver. He thought their front doors were well secured he said, but “the back doors of most American airports are wide open." He felt the perimeters were less than secure and that we needed to secure them, “but that's not an easy thing to do." He also felt we needed to develop our own profiling system and that we needed to get higher quality guards. “Employees are paid much better here," he said, “and the quality is much better." He also spends $60 million a year on security.

That's just one indication that the realities of security are different in Israel from those in the United States. See my editorial on page 24 for my thoughts on what lessons the United States could take away, however. SSN