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Self-install is a cinch ... for professionals

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Thursday, February 14, 2008
I came across this feature in a couple different papers over the last week or so (this one's from the Washington Post) about how darn easy it is to install your own home security system. You only need to remember stuff like “try to mount the cameras under an overhang that will keep them dry from all but the most violent wind-driven rain.” (Shouldn't you try to mount it where it will capture the best video?) And this tip, "Installing the cables so they are hidden can be challenging, so consider using wireless security cameras if you intend to install the camera in a place where it will be hard to run thin video cables. Keep in mind that these cameras still need a power supply, which can be batteries or a low-voltage cable from a nearby transformer.” Heck I'm always stringing cable from nearby transformers. This will be a piece of cake! Then I saw that the author of this helpful info is a “home builder, remodeling contractor, licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker.” Now I understand why it's so easy.

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I'm a writer, not a fighter

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Thursday, February 14, 2008
Well, I have to admit that I was mildly troubled by the morning paper today. As you might imagine, Hizbullah (it looks like they spell it with an "i" and a "u" here; not sure if that's universal, but I'm guessing the Israelis are the most acquainted with them) is not overly thrilled about their second in command getting blown up yesterday. Hizbullah legislator Ismail Sukeyir said, "Hizbullah has the right to retaliate anywhere in the world and in any way it sees fit." And where did we go today? That's right, north to Haifa, which lies just 50km south of Lebanon and was attacked by rockets daily during the Lebanese war in 2006, in which Hizbullah played a large role. In the end, today was indeed action-packed, but only because of our dialed-in tour leaders, and not because of any kind of immediate retaliation. The video should be attractive for those of you with military and law-enforcement backgrounds today: You saw there Yaron Klein, manager of security for Haifa Port, which is actually four private ports collected into one government-company-run port for the purposes of security. As with every security manager we've spoken with here, Klein uses the concepts of security rings and profiling to secure his facility, but he has the added burden, like many ports back home in the United States, of trying to figure out what's in the 2,200 containers that flow in and out of his facility every day. It's a nearly impossible job. Because of an attack that almost succeeded just recently, Klein's 350 guards open every empty container and use a laser sighting tool to make sure that each container interior measures either 20 or 40 feet. Why? Because two terrorists hid in an empty container with a false back wall. When they got inside the port of Ashud, down the coast, they cut their way out and then killed themselves with a suicide bomb, trying to blow up chemical materials but failing. For all other containers, Klein must rely on imaging technology and the trustworthiness of the seals on the containers, which are verified by all shippers via email before they are allowed to pass through the gates. Klein is constantly profiling the containers: do they have holes, did they come from a new shipping company or a sketchy foreign port, did the captain sound funny on the radio? And, of course, Haifa Port must screen the thousands of passengers that come through in a similar manner to the way that Ben Gurion screens its passengers. It's still not enough, however. Haifa Port is embarking on a $222 million shekel (roughly $70 million) security upgrade that will be completed in 2013. The port is growing and accommodations need to be made in order to keep up with the traffic. A quick uptick in traffic was at the heart of Dr. Moshe Michaelson's presentation at Rambam Health Care Campus, which has the largest trauma unit in the north of Israel and was literally under fire during the 2006 war with Lebanon. Not only did the center treat many of the soldier casualties, but Kotusha rockets were raining down into Haifa all around the hospital, thus bringing in many civilian casualties and forcing the hospital to set up an underground trauma center in the basement, lest the doctors and nurses treating the casualties become casualties themselves. I won't go into too many details of their mass casualty planning, as it doesn't apply to many of you, my readers, but they did offer one lesson that I think any flexible organization must apply: Strict rules need to be replaced with a mechanism for quick decision making. People must be empowered to be predictive, constantly imagining the worst case as a situation develops, and they must be allowed to create new procedures on the fly. Planning is important, but so it realizing when you had a bad or inadequate plan. They also emphasized the importance of training and "red-teaming" (testing), much like their security counterparts. The hospital runs some kind of trauma-related or security-related test 7 times a day (yes, a day). Dr. Michaelson has participated in such testing in the United States and said we are lacking a sense of reality in those tests: "You Americans put red shirts on critical patients and green shirts on non-critical patients and then tell people to practice triage. This is only practice if you are color-blind." Well, I'm not color-blind, but my ears are definitely ringing after the second half of the day's activities: A visit to the center where Israeli security guards and military special forces are trained. Again, I'm not going to go into much detail, as most of you don't often take on hostage situations, but suffice it to say that the Israelis practice their hostage situations as well as their mass-casualty situations. One thing you didn't see in the video? I played the role of a hostage-taker in a Munich-style apartment, then watched two soldiers repel into the window and shoot me in the face with guns firing very loud blanks. I jumped about five feet in the air. The trade show that followed was mostly full of products that are more military and guard oriented, like weapons and VIP protection training and tools, but these companies seemed like they might make good dealer partners: Elkat, which sells a number of solutions, but looked most interesting for its voice analyzer, allowing you to sell lie-detection as a service. That might come in handy. Green Vision Systems, which uses cameras to detect minute particles in the air and act like a sniffer. If you're working with any large building with a ventilation system, these guys could give you a nice way to prevent airborne agents from causing havoc. So, what do we do for more action tomorrow? We'll be heading to the Golan Heights and the Syrian border. The good news is that you'll get to see video of tanks!

Israel, Day 5

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Before I get into what was a very busy day visiting Ben Gurion Airport, the Azrieli Center (three skyscrapers attached to a large mall), and Israel Railways operations, I wonder if you took note of this story: Hezbollah intelligence chief Imad Mughniyeh was killed with a car bomb in Damascus, Syria (not far from here in Tel Aviv). The Israelis haven't gone so far as to take credit, but I can tell you that no one here is playing violins for him either. It may sound callous, but one of our hosts described the bombing this way: "He took a long flight, without a boarding pass." Of course, Avi was a member of the Israeli Army and fought Hezbollah directly, so you can imagine that he has no love for one of its leaders. The Israelis are not below counter-acts of terrorism, certainly. I asked Amotz, another of our tour leaders, today if it was offensive for me to say that Menachim Begin was a terrorist (you may not know that the former prime minister here began his career as a leader of the Israeli resistance against Great Britain, which would not allow immigrants to come to Israel following the end of WW 2; he quite famously blew up part of the King David Hotel, which was serving at the time as the British army HQ, and where we stayed earlier this week). Amotz said no, he agreed, Begin was a terrorist. He said there are still Israeli terrorists. There are American terrorists. He said the difference is that Israel and the United States make an active effort to keep terrorists within their borders from acting in that fashion, while the leaders of the Palestinians, Hezbollah and Hamas, encourage such acts. What about Mughniyeh's killing? Was that terrorism, counter-terrorism, an act of war? It's unclear, really. We live in a time, I would argue, when old terminology doesn't apply well. I can tell you, however, that terminology isn't particularly important to the heads of security at Ben Gurion, Azrieli, and the rail system. They simply know that people are repeatedly trying to kill their customers and are doing everything possible to both protect those customers and make sure they continue to have customers. As Nahum Liss, technically the head of planning, control and projects at Ben Gurion, put it: "You can have 100 percent security, but then you have zero percent aviation activity." Sadim, the chief security officer at Azrieli, noted, however, that while private security is "a big headache for the client," the customers coming to the mall expect and appreciate the security measures. One customer, he said, asked to speak to him personally, recently, only to say that he had surveyed his security measures and approved of them. "This is the only mall I'll shop in," he reportedly told Sadim. While the three operations all use varying levels of technology, it's clear from their presentations (and from this week's presentations in general) that all three value people and policies much more highly. "We're always upgrading our technology," Sadim said, "we're always looking for ways to do our job better, but technology is just a tool. It can't replace people." This echoed our training from earlier in the week, given by Amotz, if you'll remember, and the sentiment of the Sergeant at Arms of the Knesset. Security, they said is about profiling methods of operation, and has three steps: Detect, Determine, Deploy. The technology can only help with the detecting part. It can't think, or ask questions, and it can't make the decision to deploy (or shouldn't). That said, the all three locations had some pretty cool technology, especially Ben Gurion. But, here, watch the video first (sorry that I seem to be confused as to whether this is my fourth or fifth day here - the time change is messing with me): It 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 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, you guessed it, they're about to implement shoe-screening technology, so you won't have to take your shoes off. Hopefully, they export that to the United States quickly. As everywhere in Israel, and I've mentioned before, virtually all of the security guards here and at the other two sites, are young, no more than 25. They are students, working part-time as they study (they've already been in the military), and they are good at what they do. While you'll see them joking around from time to time, and their silly photos lining break-room walls, they are also decisive, attentive, and they catch things all the time. When they are "red-teamed," meaning tested, they mostly pass, we're told. One of the coolest 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. Today the facility's number was an 89. Because it was clear that Liss had no tolerance for failure, this seemed like a high, and encouraging, number. 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. Sadim spends about $2 million to protect his 45,000 daily visitors each year. He's got 250 cameras, uses prox cards for employees, and also has a conversation with every car that comes to park in his parking garage. His system, like all private security measures, must meet a minimum standard established by the police. He had to apply for a permit before the business could open to the public, and that permit must be renewed each year. Can you imagine that in the United States? I wouldn't hesitate to guess that the Maine Mall would resist such permitting strenuously. Many of us noted, however, that it likely thinks nothing of making sure its fire system is up to code. How many people have died in mall fires? I'm guessing none in the past 25 years. How many people have died in attacks on malls? Unfortunately, we know that number has increased recently. That gunman wouldn't have sniffed the front door here. Speaking of sniffing, we got a demonstration of the effectiveness of the Railways' K-9 unit as part of the day's last presentation. Cute dog. He could probably use some My Good Dog toys (sorry, couldn't help a plug for my old man's business - the rules are looser here on the blog, right?). Yosi, head of security for the Railways, maybe gave the biggest endorsement to his technology efforts; he's about to embark on a campaign to use a camera to cover every meter of the 900 km of rail line he's responsible for (and another 500 km of line is going to be added over the next four years or so). Do the math there. He showed us a demonstration of what the system can do, as it identified a fake terrorist as he walked into a tunnel and placed a bag on the tracks using video analytics, and then the command center contacted patrol guards in the field, who were able to quickly arrive on the scene, and the train operators, who were able to keep their cars from entering the tunnel. He also showed us video of the most recent bombing attempt thwarted: Just last month, five men were apprehended with the detonator for a bomb that had already been placed on the side of some tracks. They intended to move the bomb to the tracks and detonate it when a trail came across it. The Israeli intelligence services won this time. In five other cases, they won as well. Another time, a guard was killed in stopping a suicide bomber before he reached a station. We saw a video that showed how far the head of the bomber was shot up into the sky when he detonated. Gruesome. Another video showed us a 14-year-old boy who was apprehended with a bomb strapped to his chest, sent in by Hezbollah. You can see, maybe, why today's car bomb in Damascus wasn't something these people were overly concerned about.

Dinner at the embassy

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008
So I lied a bit in my last post. I was under the impression we were attending dinner last night at the ambassador's house. Apparently, he was busy. Instead, we attended a reception at the Deputy Chief's house (he's the second in command). It was a very nice affair, with lots of diplomats who are very good at making small talk. The Deputy's name is Luis Moreno and you can see here that we've become fast friends. Deputy Moreno gave a nice short talk on the embassy's support of a two-state solution, and emphasized his security background, noting that his embassy is one of only four in the world that employ a full-time security staff and don't just hire a local private firm to do security. Speaking with some of the local consulate members (people who give the thumbs up or down to visa applications, for example), I found that they very much enjoy it here, but are asked to obey some simple security rules. They can't ride the bus or train, and there are a few cities they're asked not visit. They can't go into the Old City after dark. In terms of industry types, perhaps the most relevant person I met was Guy Zuri, the business development manager for security, safety and Homeland Security at the Israeli Export & International Cooperation Institute. He works with the likes of NICE, Verint, Mate, and other Israeli firms, looking to export Israeli technology to the rest of the world. He'll be hosting a technology demonstration/mini trade show for us on Thursday. He's a good salesman, too. By the end of the reception, he had convinced the Deputy to attend.

The Trouble with Gaza

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008
More relevant news on the cover of the paper this morning: Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak declared an intention of wiping out Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which, as you might imagine, involves invading the Gaza Strip with significant forces, going house to house, and arresting or killing all of the Hamas officials and fighters. So, where did we go today? To Gaza. Well, not really, but, as you saw in the video, we were within five kilometers of the border and we could see the fence that surrounds the West Bank as we got a presentation from Aeronautics Defense Systems’ VP of business development Shai Palti, who develops unmanned aerial vehicles for the purposes of surveillance. Talk about RMR, 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. How about for major sporting events, leasing the surveillance to the local police department who might be concerned about a post-championship riot? Or lease the surveillance to companies with off-shore oil rigs that are unmanned. They get an alert, you fly out there post-haste to see what’s wrong. Or for a remote power station. Why fix cameras there—just lease the surveillance, which would never need servicing or break or have power cut to them. After Palti’s presentation, we went out into the field and got a demonstration. Simply put, these things are cool as hell. First, there is the Orbiter, which can be carried around in two backpacks, put together (without any tools) in less than five minutes, and then launched via a 10-pound high-tech sling shot that uses technology no more advanced than rubber bands. You don’t even really need to fly it. It flies itself. You click on a position on the Microsoft-Windows screen, select circle, and the little plane holds position. Or you click return, and the plane judges the winds, selects a flight plan, and comes back to you, parachuting safely down to earth. All you control is the “payload,” which is a gimble-mounted day-night camera that zooms to 8 cm detail from 1,500 feet up in the air, and can fly as high as 12,000 feet. You can PTZ the camera all over the place, fix the cameras on a certain position, and keep the whole thing in the air for about three hours, the life of the battery. Second is the balloon, which you raise 300 feet up into the air for a temporary eye in the sky that can be put up or taken down in a matter of minutes and uses the exact same payload as the Orbiter. In fact, you can just buy a package of one Orbiter, one balloon, and one payload, and use the two surveillance vehicles as appropriate. And, yes, you can shoot at the balloon and the plane, but the plane is a thousand feet up, almost soundless, and tiny, and the balloon isn’t inflated to a very tight pressure, so if you put a hole in it, it’s just going to leak out slowly, and Palti said you can just bring it down, patch it up with duck tape, and put it back up on the sky. So, obviously, the Israeli military likes using these things to recon what’s going on in Gaza, where, unlike the West Bank, the Israelis do not keep a presence. Amotz noted on the bus ride down, however, that the Israelis still supply all the power and water to Gaza free of charge. For this, Hamas rewards them with a steady stream of Qassad missiles, rudimentary weapons full of anything from nails to aluminum shards, which rain down particularly on Sderot, the southernmost city of consequence in Israel. Roughly 400 rockets were launched in 2007. This week, the Sderotans have been demonstrating in Jerusalem, saying the government is not protecting them. Hence, Barak’s declaration. It is entirely possible that the Isaeli army will enter Gaza while we’re here this week. The fighter jets that flew frequently overhead were not comforting. All of this made Dr. Alan Marcus very nervous. A former Bostonite who moved here 32 years ago (and still retains both an accent and a love of the Red Sox), he’s the head of the planning department for Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 which is at the edge of the range for Hamas’ rockets. He’s so far suffered only eight missile strikes, none of which has injured anyone or caused any significant damage. However, when the Israelis invade Gaza, what happened last year in Lebanon will likely happen here: they’ll unload everything they’ve got, and it’s unclear exactly what they’ve got. Marcus is planning for this week, or maybe next week, to have to send people to shelters to live for as much as a month, until the fighting is contained or the missiles have been exhausted. For communication, they mostly rely on cell phones, and if the cell phones go down he has seven satellite phones to distribute (funded by the city of Baltimore, actually, which is a sister city to Askelon). There’s no fancy municipal wireless system, and the mass notification system consists largely of airhorns and broadcast over city and state radio stations. One cop on our tour asked if they had all of the shelters equipped with hand-crank radios. No. They tell people to use transistor radios and make sure they have lots of batteries. Many of these people will be in private shelters. Since the 1950s, all apartment buildings have had to leave their basements as shelters, and in the 1980s they put in a building code that makes at least one room in the house be of solid concrete, capable of withstanding just about any small rocket fire. Marcus does have some high-tech tools at his disposal, however. Using a GIS system, he’s mapped out the entire city and identified all of the buildings and how many people are likely to be in any of them at any time of day. He can show you a map of the concentrations of elderly, or very young, people who would need more attention in the time of an attack. He can dial down to the site of an attack and tell you how many elderly people, or disabled people, etc., would likely be in every nearby building. This helps him distribute emergency personnel. Again, however, the makeup of Israel’s population makes it very different during a crisis than the United States. Virtually everyone with a military background, and that’s most people who are not immigrants, can be issued orders directly and they can immediately help in the response, organizing and herding those who cannot help themselves. The idea of a civilian defense corps has been virtually abandoned in the United States. Do our community leaders know how to help in the time of a natural disaster or attack? Maybe they do. Maybe the Department of Homeland Security has reached out to someone in West Gray (my little piece of my hometown of Gray) and I just don’t know it. But it doesn’t seem likely. I’m sure the chief of our Fire Department knows what to do (we don’t have a police department), right?

Security guards

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Monday, February 11, 2008
After going out for dinner on my own last night for the first time, I wanted to post quickly about the role of security guards here. See the people in the bright yellow/green vests here, standing outside the bus station? They're security guards, and they're everywhere here, posted at the door to almost every restaurant, outside every major gathering place, etc. They're working for private security firms, mostly, and they're almost universally about 22-24 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." Though I guess they're not necessarily paid well, but that's less of an issue because the cost of higher education is less and they have universal health care. 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 here and at home is that security guards here 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 surveil an area, checking to see whether security will catch them. This is something almost never done in the United States, and it's partly because of the fear of failure, I think. Oh no, if my boss gets something by me, I'll be fired! That's not the intent here. 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. Notice that 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. Think about that.

Israel, day 3

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Monday, February 11, 2008
When the Israelis won control over all of Jerusalem, during the Six Days War in 1967, they also won control of the Old City of Jerusalem, home to three of the most holy sites for the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built in roughly 1100 on the spot where Jesus Chris was killed and entombed; The Western Wall, where Jews were forced to pray for 1900 years because it was the closest they could get to the place where they believe God lives on Earth; and the Temple Mount, which is to this day controlled by Muslims, though it is on the site where the Jews believe God lives (this is a major point of tension resulting from a decision made by Menachem Begin on the day of Israel's greatest victory). What this also gave the Israelis was the major headache of securing these places against any number of potential dangers. Further, these sites don't actually belong to the Jews or anyone. Inside and along these places, any number of religious sects have agreed to ownership and this makes protecting them very dicey, as you'll see in my video below. Who are they protecting these places from? Any number of people, as we learned in presentations given by an ex Major General in the Israeli Army and the chief of the Old City Police, whose job it is to protect these places. Israel is constantly under siege by Muslim forces who are gathered in the north and south, in Lebanon and Egypt (Hezbollah), and from the West Bank (Hamas). It is the West Bank that surrounds Jerusalem, and from which suicide bombers started streaming into the country, particularly in 2002 and 2003, when tactics changed significantly. Shalom, the Major General, said that he implored his superiors early in his career to consider that suicide bombers could become a major tactical threat. "In the first years of suicide bombers, 1983-2003," he said, "whenever I came to my bosses, I told them, 'Suicide bombers are a strategic threat to Israel.' They always laughed at me. Not some of them, all of them. Becauses it was only every three or four months that we were attacked. I said, 'If it’s three times a day, which we had at times in 2003, that could brings us to our knees.' But they could not imagine such a thing. Intelligence people need to have the vision to see how things combine and develop when you have a security threat. That breeds a lot of imagination. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, but i remember that I was very adamant about the suicide bombers. It was a strategic and existential threat. It can bring us to a full paralysis if we do not deal with it." As we were told, Israel society nearly ground to a halt, and this is why they have the heightened and constant state of security they have now (though it was previously very vigilant) and why they have a large wall that encircles virtually all of northern parts of the West Bank, and surrounds Jerusalem. This wall, combined with intelligence efforts that went into the West Bank and searched houses door-to-door, has reduced suicide bombings in Israel from more than 225 in 2003 to only 4 in 2007. Israel has basically won that front of the War on Terrorism. It has come at quite a cost, however. The wall, as you saw in the video, is imposing, and it has hurt the economy both in the cost of its construction, and in that Palestinians are now rarely able to work in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, depriving Israel of a labor force and the Palestinians of a livelihood. This has caused great resentment on the part of the Palestinians, as you might imagine. This has only furthered tensions in the old city. On Fridays, we were told by the police chief, he must deploy hundreds of officers to the gate to the city nearest the Western Wall, as Muslims will frequently start riots by hurling rocks, chairs, bottles, etc., over the Western Wall and onto the heads of Jews praying there. We saw on their video archive, gathered by more than 300 cameras deployed in one square kilometer (17 of them have analytics deployed, including some impressive object-left-behind rules) that things can get very hairy, indeed. We were shown one video, akin to a Hollywood movie, where a terrorist stalks two police officers (they dress very casually, but carry weapons and a full police belt), sneaks up on them, grabs one of their weapons, shoots one officer, and then runs away. The cameras are daisy-chained so that they follow the terrorist through the streets, and we see the police officer chase him down and shoot him dead. It was surreal. The police chief was sort of chuckling as we watched, and admonishing his officers for not checking their surroundings more often. As I said yesterday, security is a way of life. Yesterday, I got that impression because of the singular way in which the Israelis go about protecting themselves. Today, I got that impression because of the casualness with which they take security measures, meaning things that I found remarkable, even scary, they found commonplace. For another example, as we were viewing the wall separating the West Bank from afar, I turned around and saw Achi, one of our tour leaders, standing there with an M-16. For some reason, I was taken aback by this. Did I really need to be protected in this area, a tourist spot with a sign explaining it was the hill on which Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac? (By the way, another thing the Isrealis take for granted is the historical nature of their surroundings; I remarked how cool it was to be on this hill where Abraham had faced his decision and Amotz said, "yeah, everything's like that around here. We just passed through the Valley of the Shadows of Death and you didn't even know it.") Later, in similar fashion, it was clear that Achi really didn't like a Muslim man who was watching us as we heard from a traditional tour guide deep within the walls of the Old City. He eyed him, and the bag he was carrying, very closely. It was the first time I felt actually unsafe here. And you don't have to pay much attention to realize that the threat here is real, and it is daily. We woke up to a photograph on the cover of the paper delivered to our rooms of a little girl who'd drawn, for her class the day before, a picture of a rocket injuring one of her school mates. Why? Well, because the day before a Qassam rocket had been launched into her southern town, taking the legs off two brothers and sending their sister to intensive care. All of this simply made me feel the irony all the more distinctly when our tour guide pointed out this simple fact: Jerusalem translates literally to, "City of Peace." Of course it does.

Country roads, take me home

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Monday, February 11, 2008
Very quickly, as we get ready to head up to Tel Aviv (dinner at the Ambassador's house tonight might make blogging tough before the day is through), I wanted to mention a cool experience we had at dinner last night. Walking out of the hotel, Andrew Wray (read his blog here) and I passed by a few others from our tour group. We asked them if they'd gotten anything to eat. They said they went to Sbarro, up the street. "But don't expect to find anything with meat on it, man, all they had was vegetables." I told them that was because meat isn't allowed to touch cheese here, something to do with not boiling meat in its mother's milk, an Old Testament thing. And I'm not trying to call anyone out, but how can you go to Israel and eat at Sbarro? Maybe they were homesick and wanted some comfort pizza. I guess I can understand that. Anyway, we found a cool Israeli/Spanish tapas bar called Sol that not only had a number of Israeli cheeses and wines for the sampling, but also featured an Israeli duo playing pop songs on two guitars and singing (I knew they were pop songs because there were in Hebrew and everyone was singing along - no way a local band has that kind of song recognition for originals). The woman had a particularly fine voice and seeing the huge, shaved-head guy crooning was pretty entertaining. Still, I must be a little homesick, too, because I won't deny the kick I got when they broke into a perfect-English version of John Denver's "Country Roads." That was pretty cool.

Israel, day 2

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Sunday, February 10, 2008
Well, while all of you were taking Sunday off, we had a very busy day today, visiting the Knesset, which is Israel's Parliament, and Jerusalem's central bus station. Here's the quick recap, via video. It's short, and I'm kind of testing out the medium, so give me feedback if you want it longer, more detailed, etc. I think it's nice as a snapshot, and I'm going to give a lot more detail down below. So, I've got pages and pages of notes, but I think you see from that video that the thing I really came away with on my first full day here is how fundamentally differently the Israelis view security. In the United States, for example, we talk about risk assessment and we think we're so scientific in identifying where to put our resources and where threats are going to come from, but when a member of our party asked Yatchko, 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 a former Israeli military man (all boys serve three years in the army; girls serve two years, starting at age 18) and profiler for El Al Airlines. For the Israelis, he said, everything is about profiling, and not the silly racial profiling that Americans are so afraid of. 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, basically]," 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. Unfortuantely, 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 a suicide bomber? Are they a "mule," 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, where Benny, 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. I'll blog more later about these topics as I visit other installations, but, for now, check out this video. It's a public service announcement that's shown here. It's in Hebrew, so you might not understand all of it, but you'll get the central point. It's teaching little kids to identify suspicious packages and then run away and tell someone about it. Here, everyone helps with security, and they are empowered to know what to do in dangerous situations. Even a little kid can understand that a package can be profiled, recognized as suspicious, and then dealt with. Why can't adult Americans?

Snowed in

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Saturday, February 9, 2008
Except for a couple post-college years in Washington, D.C., I've lived in New England my whole life. It's not for everyone, I know, but I like it here, and in my opinion, one of the best things about this part of the world is The Snow Day. There's nothing like getting 'snowed in.' As a kid it meant no school, as a grown-up it means work-from-home, and it always means get in the car and drive to the ski slopes. Thursday was the first not-fun snow day in a lot of years, really maybe ever. I'd hoped to have an update for you on the BarnesBuchanan conference which took place Thursday through today in Palm Beach, Florida. This is a great conference: a who's who of residential security companies, as well as the up-and-comers, all the relevant financial folks, and it all takes place at a swank seaside hotel in February. Instead, I got snowed in. Oh well, here are the official notes from Richard Ginsburg's (CEO of Protection One and featured speaker at BB) presentation.

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