Israel, Day 5

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02/13/2008
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.