First of all, our condolences go out to the families of the Manchester Arena attack last week. It is normal for everyone to have an opinion of what security should have done differently after the fact, – as they say hindsight is 20/20.
I have toured in over 80 countries with bands that drew large audiences, As a tour manager, part of my job was to hire security teams that traveled with the artist and their entourage. I learned early in life to hire the best. I can’t say I was always popular with the accountants, but we always brought the artist safely home and were able to protect the audience at the venue on show day. Of course there is some luck involved, but I have to give a lot of credit to our security teams who were well trained and usually a step ahead of any threat.
There are a few things that intelligence teams are looking at in the Manchester bombing: Alongside any intelligence sharing, the suicide bomber, Abedi, was reported to authorities by members of the local community at least five times in the five years before his suicide attack on the Manchester Arena.
According to investigators, he carried the bomb to the destination in a rucksack and detonated it at just after 10.30pm as the US pop star was completing her last song.
At least five concert attendees said that security at the venue was very relaxed and did not check many of the bags when entering the auditorium (try that at Disneyland). They seemed more concerned with seeing purchased tickets and keeping the line moving.
Many of our best security directors have studied the Tel Aviv security system at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel, widely considered the best in the world. Terrorists haven’t penetrated Ben Gurion International Airport’s security since 1972. What makes Israeli airport security so great?
Profiling. Israeli security, separates travelers into two groups before they ever get to an x-ray machine. All passengers waiting to check in speak to a polyglot agent. The agents, most of whom are female, ask a series of questions, looking for nerves or inconsistent statements. While the vast majority of travelers pass the question and answer session and have a pretty easy time going through security—there are no full-body scans, for example— between 2 percent and 5 percent of travelers get singled out for additional screening. The exact selection criteria aren’t publicly available, but ethnicity is probably a consideration.
There’s more to Israeli airport security than the secondary-screening selection process. Officials think of passengers as passing through a series of concentric circles, with increasing scrutiny as they get closer to boarding the plane. Agents also pay close attention to the parts of the airport that passengers don’t frequent. They monitor the fences around the airport’s perimeter with cameras at all times, and radar systems check for intrusions when the weather prevents the cameras from seeing. Security officials subject all vehicles to a weight sensor, a trunk x-ray, and an undercarriage scan.
Israeli researchers are developing technology that could ease racial profiling concerns, like innovative check-in kiosks to replace the human selectors. When a traveler steps up to the machine, it senses his body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate, just as in a polygraph exam. At some point during the interaction, the kiosk presents a statement that would elicit a reaction from a would-be terrorist. It might instruct him to see an agent, or just remind the passenger that flight security is everyone’s responsibility. If the flyer’s vital signs shift, he would be subject to secondary screening. But while officials in the U.S., Europe, and Canada are considering the high-tech solution, Israeli officials haven’t shown much interest. They think that security risks at Israeli airports require human profilers.
Civil rights concerns notwithstanding, Israeli security screeners can make a claim that their U.S. counterparts probably can’t—they’ve actually foiled many terrorist plots.