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Is the ‘Israeli Model’ of Airport Screening Ahead?

With so much focus on how to make flights safer, one thing I’ve heard a lot about recently (from experts as well as in comments from readers) is the idea that the U.S. should use security strategies similar to those at Israeli airports, specifically spending more time talking to passengers and asking questions to assess threats. Now that idea is gaining more traction as President Obama’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has floated the idea in the ongoing Senate confirmation hearings.

Robert Harding, a retired Army major general, points out that TSA airport screener training is already headed in that direction. CNN reports that Harding said that screeners now take a one-week course in engaging passengers in conversations, learning to ask questions and determine whether passengers are a threat to flights. In Tuesday’s session, Harding said, “I would look forward to working with my 48,000 (screeners) and ensuring that their training goes even further than where we are presently in ‘engage’ and move toward the Israeli model of training and drilling. And I think you would see a change very fast.”

Effective is good, but one thing that strikes me is that U.S. passenger culture would have to adapt to this style of security. I’m not even particularly surly, but I’m pretty sure my kneejerk response would be annoyance to a barrage of personal questions from a stranger while standing in my socks trying to keep an eye on my purse on the conveyor belt.

Luckily, annoyance is a totally surmountable obstacle. But it still seems like just as security screeners would need training in the new techniques, so would passengers need some basic preparation for a new style. We know we’re pretty adaptable as a traveling public: We take off our shoes automatically now, and dutifully drop our quart bags of toiletries into the gray bins, but it took a while for us to get there.

Of course, there are plenty of other concerns, including how to manage a slower security process (my vote: Open up more of those security lines!), and the scalability of adapting a technique used at a few airports in a small country to the thousands of airports in the U.S.

Though it’s unlikely to be an either/or, I’m still curious: If given the choice of a full-body scan or a series of questions, which would you opt for?

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