Terrorism has changed the game. In the early days of air travel, well-dressed, affluent people used airplanes to travel. Airplanes were like the limousines of the skies. As times changed, air travel became less expensive and more people began flying. This created a perfect hijacking situation.
The first US airplane to be taken hostage or hijacked was a single pilot plane that was forced to go to Cuba. The first major US airline hijacking was on November 24, 1961 when Luis A. P. Soltren, Jose R. R. Cruz and Miguel Castro forced the pilot of Pan Am Flight 281 out of New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on a scheduled route to Puerto Rico to divert to Havana, Cuba. The 1960s was in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis which came to a head in October, 1962. Radical nationalists were using our own airplanes against us, already.
From the 1960s to early 2001, the modus operandi of dealing with hijackers was to capitulate to their demands in exchange for the safety of the hostages. While I’m sure (naively?) the authorities were performing some types of background checks on passengers, the types of people willing to hijack a plane was evolving and the US wasn’t keeping pace. As we all remember, on September 11, 2001, radical terrorists hijacked planes using only minor weapons like box cutters to threaten passengers. Because we were comfortable being in the hands of our federal government, we never suspected that these hijackers were different. They didn’t want to go somewhere other than to death. By the time word reached United Airlines Flight 93, Americans had adopted a new modus operandi – never yield to a hijacker’s demands. Never again will a terrorist be able to use box cutters to hijack a plane. The American people have learned.
This begs the question: How do we keep terrorists away from our airlines altogether? The latest decade has seen a resurgence of the cry of “racism” and a new cry of “Islamophobia”. Certainly there was an initial distrust of all Muslims after September 11th. A new breed of terrorists who declare Allah had made themselves known and the American people were trying to make sense of it all. However, it’s been 13 years and the majority of Americans understand that not all Muslims are terrorists. What’s keeping the US from using proven profiling techniques to keep terrorists away from our airlines? I don’t just mean off the actual plane – I’m including the staff of the airlines, the airports and everyone who works there.
El Al. Just saying that name raises all kinds of controversy. Racism, small airport, etc. I traveled with my husband on El Al from Paris to Tel Aviv. We went through their security process. The interview was more in-depth than “Did you pack your own bag?” but the interviewer was pleasant and the interview took about 4 minutes. It didn’t slow down the line because the line is driven by the number of open ticket windows and how quickly an agent can check in passengers. It was reassuring that even after 9/11 there was a better than average chance that we were going to make it safely. Interviews are a type of profiling but better than the standard computer algorithm because this type of profiling detects human behavior in person.
We all profile daily without being aware of it. It’s part of our subconscious fight-or-flight system. Walking in the parking lot, in the store, down the street – our brains are constantly assessing our surroundings if we aren’t nose-deep on our smartphones. It’s called “situational awareness”. By training airline/airport security personnel to hone their brain’s situational awareness, they can quickly profile travelers and potential employees to determine whether more questions need to be asked. If we were smart, we’d train all our security personnel more deeply in situational awareness profiling.
Terrorism isn’t about race or country origin anymore. More often, it’s not even about religion. Terrorism is about control using any means necessary including and often preferred, large-scale violence. We can outsmart the terrorists. Let’s train our security forces to profile intelligently. Let’s start profiling at airports, now.