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The Revolution: When Airport Passenger and Baggage Screening Went Technological

In recent years, security screening at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport (BGA) has adopted a technological solution to improve the airport’s traditional, cumbersome pre-screening system.  Among the leaders of this revolution was Alon Weiner, who, as former weaponry officer at Ben Gurion Airport, spearheaded the passenger and baggage screening reform in the 1990s, and helped millions of passengers feel a little less stressed.

 

“Ben Gurion International Airport was the first facility in the world to adopt the use of CT technology for security inspection”, states airport security and explosives expert Alon Weiner.  A veteran of the Israeli Airport Authority’s (IAA) Security Division, Weiner is currently CEO of an Israeli security consulting company.

Tell us a little bit about the history of airport security at BGA.

As part of my work scope at BGA I was part of a team responsible for changing the airport’s security measures to be more technologically driven.  I was responsible for identifying and implementing these technologies into the overall security system.  The implementation was generally carried out through trainings alongside the integration of the new technology within the system.  Until the early 90s baggage security entailed only verbally questioning the passenger, and only bags of those individuals who aroused suspicion were interrogated further.  Today, the baggage of every passenger who enters BGA is subjected to a technological screening, a process that saves time and is much more comfortable for the passenger.

What type of technology are these new machines using, and what makes it so unique?

Today’s baggage inspection machines use a technology called CT, and are manufactured in the United States.  In contrast to the classic x-ray machine, which is dependent on an operator or inspector, these intelligent machines are capable of automatic, independent decision-making.  Like medical CTs, baggage inspection CTs use 360 degree technology, and thus have an excellent identification rate.  The machine’s opening is one meter squared, and can accept suitcases or packages weighing up to 70 or 80 kilograms.

But it’s a double sided coin.  The CT produces false negatives because of its distinguishing difficulties.  Oftentimes the machine will alert to an explosive material, when in fact it has misidentified a makeup bag, cheese, or another organic material.  These machines have a fairly high false negative rate (roughly up to 30 percent),which means that out of 100 checked bags, at least several dozen will be opened by hand and checked by airport authorities.  This of course has implications on the airport’s efficiency and passenger comfort.

Compared to CT machines, how does trace detection technology work?

Trace detection machines identify the chemical composition of materials through the analysis gases and particles.  While it’s true that there are fewer false negatives with this technology, they have a significantly lower throughput than x-ray machines.  In the time that an x-ray machine can screen dozens of bags, a trace detection machine will screen only several.

Was Israel really the first country to use CT technology operationally?

Ben Gurion Airport was the first place in the world, preceding even the Americans, to use these machines for operations.  Being the first users of this technology on an operational level, we were able to give feedback to manufacturers regarding improvements that would best suit our specific security needs.  All CT systems that arrived in Israel were essentially given a sort of metaphoric seal of approval.  Through feedback and suggestions we were able to contribute to the addition of imperative functions that U.S. users and manufacturers had overlooked.  Today, CT machines are used for baggage screening worldwide.

What about tourists and passengers? Has this system change affected their security outlook?

Passenger experiences were drastically modified, because until the move towards CTs, screening consisted of a longwinded and tiresome verbal inquiry.  Passengers were asked a plethora of seemingly inappropriate questions that compromised their privacy, without understanding the purpose from a security standpoint. Today, passengers enjoy the benefit of being checked indirectly, without too many personal questions, but rather through having their belongings screened.  Most passengers understand that bag screening is beneficial to everyone’s safety, that all bags are screened, and that they are not being profiled because of their ethnicity or because they appear suspicious.

Tell us about the history of attacks on Israel’s airports and airlines.

For the past 30 years, there have been no terrorist attacks against Ben Gurion Airport or Israel’s national airline, El-Al.  The last attempt was on April 17, 1986 at London’s Heathrow International Airport.  A 32 year old Irish woman named Anne-Marie Murphy, who was six months pregnant, was caught carrying a bag containing explosives under a double panel in her suitcase.  Unbeknownst to her, Murphy’s Jordanian boyfriend, Nizar Hindawi, had hidden the explosives and a detonation device in the form of a scientific calculator in her luggage.  Investigations revealed that Hindawi’s attempt to explode El-Al airline flight 016, with 395 passengers and crew, was actually a Syrian backed plan, and Hindawi was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment later that year.  This incident was one of several cases where terrorist organizations used an “innocent passenger” to load explosives onto an airplane.  Fortunately, since then there have been no terrorist attempts against Israeli airlines and airports.

So what are signs indicating that an individual is in fact involved in terrorist activities?

There are behavioral signs, and there are physical signs.  Behaviorally, the terrorist will appear anxious, fidgeting, eyes darting, or sweating exceptionally.  Physical signs include suspicious bulges on the body, awkward walking, or unseasonal clothing.  Of course those individuals carrying out terrorist attempts also present themselves with alter-identities, so being alert to forged documents is also crucial to airport security.  While behavioral screening and observation is a timeless and invaluable tool for security agents, the use of CT technology is a necessary and priceless complement to our human resources.

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Posted By Aryeh Shmukler
In recent years, security screening at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport (BGA) has adopted a technological solution to improve the airport’s traditional, cumbersome pre-screening system. Among the leaders of this revolution was Alon Weiner, who, as former weaponry officer at Ben Gurion Airport, spearheaded the passenger and baggage screening reform in the 1990s, and helped millions of passengers feel a little less stressed.

 

“Ben Gurion International Airport was the first facility in the world to adopt the use of CT technology for security inspection”, states airport security and explosives expert Alon Weiner. A veteran of the Israeli Airport Authority’s (IAA) Security Division, Weiner is currently CEO of an Israeli security consulting company.

Tell us a little bit about the history of airport security at BGA.

As part of my work scope at BGA I was part of a team responsible for changing the airport’s security measures to be more technologically driven. I was responsible for identifying and implementing these technologies into the overall security system. The implementation was generally carried out through trainings alongside the integration of the new technology within the system. Until the early 90s baggage security entailed only verbally questioning the passenger, and only bags of those individuals who aroused suspicion were interrogated further. Today, the baggage of every passenger who enters BGA is subjected to a technological screening, a process that saves time and is much more comfortable for the passenger.

What type of technology are these new machines using, and what makes it so unique?

Today’s baggage inspection machines use a technology called CT, and are manufactured in the United States. In contrast to the classic x-ray machine, which is dependent on an operator or inspector, these intelligent machines are capable of automatic, independent decision-making. Like medical CTs, baggage inspection CTs use 360 degree technology, and thus have an excellent identification rate. The machine’s opening is one meter squared, and can accept suitcases or packages weighing up to 70 or 80 kilograms.
But it’s a double sided coin. The CT produces false negatives because of its distinguishing difficulties. Oftentimes the machine will alert to an explosive material, when in fact it has misidentified a makeup bag, cheese, or another organic material. These machines have a fairly high false negative rate (roughly up to 30 percent),which means that out of 100 checked bags, at least several dozen will be opened by hand and checked by airport authorities. This of course has implications on the airport’s efficiency and passenger comfort.

Compared to CT machines, how does trace detectiontechnology work?

Trace detection machines identify the chemical composition of materials through the analysis gases and particles. While it’s true that there are fewer false negatives with this technology, they have a significantly lower throughput than x-ray machines. In the time that an x-ray machine can screen dozens of bags, a trace detection machine will screen only several.

Was Israel really the first country to use CT technology operationally?

Ben Gurion Airport was the first place in the world, preceding even the Americans, to use these machines for operations. Being the first users of this technology on an operational level, we were able to give feedback to manufacturers regarding improvements that would best suit our specific security needs. All CT systems that arrived in Israel were essentially given a sort of metaphoric seal of approval. Through feedback and suggestions we were able to contribute to the addition of imperative functions that U.S. users and manufacturers had overlooked. Today, CT machines are used for baggage screening worldwide.

What about tourists and passengers? Has this system change affected their security outlook?

Passenger experiences were drastically modified, because until the move towards CTs, screening consisted of a longwinded and tiresome verbal inquiry. Passengers were asked a plethora of seemingly inappropriate questions that compromised their privacy, without understanding the purpose from a security standpoint. Today, passengers enjoy the benefit of being checked indirectly, without too many personal questions, but rather through having their belongings screened. Most passengers understand that bag screening is beneficial to everyone’s safety, that all bags are screened, and that they are not being profiled because of their ethnicity or because they appear suspicious.

Tell us about the history of attacks on Israel’s airports and airlines.

For the past 30 years, there have been no terrorist attacks against Ben Gurion Airport or Israel’s national airline, El-Al. The last attempt was on April 17, 1986 at London’s Heathrow International Airport. A 32 year old Irish woman named Anne-Marie Murphy, who was six months pregnant, was caught carrying a bag containing explosives under a double panel in her suitcase. Unbeknownst to her, Murphy’s Jordanian boyfriend, Nizar Hindawi, had hidden the explosives and a detonation device in the form of a scientific calculator in her luggage. Investigations revealed that Hindawi’s attempt to explode El-Al airline flight 016, with 395 passengers and crew, was actually a Syrian backed plan, and Hindawi was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment later that year. This incident was one of several cases where terrorist organizations used an “innocent passenger” to load explosives onto an airplane. Fortunately, since then there have been no terrorist attempts against Israeli airlines and airports.

So what are signs indicating that an individual is in fact involved in terrorist activities?

There are behavioral signs, and there are physical signs. Behaviorally, the terrorist will appear anxious, fidgeting, eyes darting, or sweating exceptionally. Physical signs include suspicious bulges on the body, awkward walking, or unseasonal clothing. Of course those individuals carrying out terrorist attempts also present themselves with alter-identities, so being alert to forged documents is also crucial to airport security. While behavioral screening and observation is a timeless and invaluable tool for security agents, the use of CT technology is a necessary and priceless complement to our human resources.

 

 

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