Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


"Israeli Style Profiling"

Less useful is another call for “Israeli style profiling,” in Bill West’s Bolstering Transit Security the Old Fashioned Way:

The more such officers there are, and the better trained they are, especially if they are trained in behavioral profiling techniques like the Israeli security services have used for decades, the better protected these transportation systems will be. Having a lot of well-trained officers who know what and who they are looking for, with the authority to stop, question and when legally appropriate search people acting suspiciously, can make the difference.

There are two issues that I’d like to discuss here. First is that Israeli profiling is the very last line of defense. The first line of defense is a well-run intelligence service that has been penetrating Palestinian militant groups for years. Second is a series of checkpoints, roadblocks, and a wall. Finally, there’s a broad set of people trained to look for suicide bombers.

The second comparison that must be made is that in Israel, those attacks are common. That frequency has an unfortunate benefit, which is that the techniques of the attackers and defenders can be studied and learned from. Did a bus driver miss something that in hindsight was obvious? Did the mall guard not notice the way a bomber was acting? In the US or Britian, such attacks are rare enough that if the training is wrong, or the implementation is wrong, it will be a long time before there are enough incidents to demonstrate that.

So, lots of well trained officers might make a difference, but much more likely, they’ll be harassing the wrong people most of the time. For example, the TSA is no better at finding weapons than private screeners were. It was an expensive shift.

Far better to spend our resources on intelligence officers who can speak Arabic. On talking to people. On training the public what to look for. (I shudder every time I get on the local train system, which still has “luggage spaces” where riders are encouraged to leave their bags, and go take a seat. A few hundred thousand dollars to fix that would go a long way.

I can think of many ways to spend money on counter-terror in the West which don’t impact the lives of the average American at all. If we were more concerned with security than security theater, we’d be pursuing them.

8 comments on ""Israeli Style Profiling""

  • mohamed says:

    I absolutely agree with you. israeli agents are very good at profiling militants and recognizing their techniques because they (the israeli agents) were and still are, themselves committing the very same terror crimes. It was militia like the irgun, and hagana among others in the past, and now it’s the IDF, the Shin Bet, the mosad and the rest of mob… and talking about terrorists does anybody remember Baruch Goldstein for instance?? wasn’t that terror too? where was the israeli genius then?? i’m just asking.

  • izar says:

    One thing I think is more important than training officers to do profiling is educating the population. While civilians see terror prevention as the sole responsibility of the security branches, a very important resource is being left unused. To give an example: yesterday I was sitting at a Starbucks in Boston. A well dressed (and, let me add, very well proportioned) lady entered with a bag and a purse. She went to the counter, got a coffee, came to the table in front of me, left the coffee and her bag under the table and quickly exited the shop.
    It was automatic for me to take my chair to the side, look at the bag and actually head off outside the shop with the intention of seeing her whereabouts. I was happy to see she had only ran outside to put quarters in the parking meter. None of the other shop patrons seemed to have been at all aware of anything.
    Of course any normal person would be completely into their rights to call me paranoid. But where I come from, it is a way of life. People (in general, but definitelly not everyone) are more aware of their surroundings, sometimes even if they don’t know it themselves. That comes from knowing (I think) that terror can strike anywhere, from an important landmark with world news coverage to a pizza place in the corner.
    I understand the Washington DC Metro is handing cards with “See it? Say it.” messages imprinted on them. This, I believe, goes well further than having a handfull of wonderfully trained officers that unfortunatelly cannot be deployed everywhere, or closed circuit tv and ID cards and biometrics and databases. Helping the population help itself is, I think, empowering in face of an unknown enemy. Of_course there will be false positives, many caused by pure racism and bigotry. That is an unfortunate by-product of having humans as part of the filtering process. But IMHO it is enough for one person to notice a left-behind bag and not being scared/shy to notify the police for a catastrophe to be averted.
    To Mr. Mohammed, the horrific and unexcusable crime of Baruch Goldstein was condemned by a huge proportion of the Israeli people, in all media channels, in a variety of languages. With no intention whatsoever of turning Adam’s blog comments into yet another arena, I would just like to ask you to reflect on the way that other (since his was definitelly one too) terror acts perpetrated by other terrorists in the same region are treated by the population where they come from. One side makes criminals of its own terrorists (judged and imprisoned would-be ones for example) while another makes heroes of their suicide bombers. I would suggest we keep comments in the scope of Adam’s writings. There’s enough space in a lot of different places to distribute blame and bile.

  • beri says:

    Re the suggestion that we hire Arabic speakers to infiltrate places like mosques…….
    Readers should recall that several Arabic speakers at Quantanamo, all military officers in the US Army, were accused of treason by paranoid fellow military personnel becuase they believed that anyone who spoke Arabic was automatically in league with terrorists. the careers and probably the lives of these Arabic speaking American military officers were ruined by baseless accusations.
    I don’t think we’re ready to hire a lot of Arabic speakers.

  • Chris Beck says:

    “For example, the TSA is no better at finding weapons than private screeners were. It was an expensive shift.”
    I thought that the TSA had outsourced most of it back to the same people who were doing it in the first place. At a much higher cost, of course. But not higher salaries or hourly rates.

  • Adam says:

    Mohamed, your logic seems off again. Baruch Goldstien, the asshole, was an abberation, and happens every few years at most. I explicitly discussed the unfortunate effect that rare terror attacks are harder to prevent (although the Israeli police do seem to arrest Israelis planning things.)
    Izar, thanks for keeping us on the level. I think we can, and must discuss these things with level heads.

  • mohamed says:

    Adam, I’m participating at this forum only out of respect and consideration for this Blog, and the people intervening on it. Now if this is going to turn into insults, and calling names… then it’s useless to continue. You could have simply asked me to stop commenting on your Blog. period.

  • Izar says:

    Mohammed, I think you misread – Adam used the a-word referring to Goldstein, none other.
    Heh, I can’t even _imagine_ Adam resorting to name calling – he’s the kind of person that uses wit and class to deliver surgical amounts of verbal offense…

  • Shimrit says:

    Actually. Much of the profiling done in Israel would never work in the UK and that is because the security officials spend as much time learning racial characteristics as they do learning behavioral ones. I know people who have worked as airport security screeners in Israel and they have been taught check lists of how to differentiate between a dark-skinned Israeli jew with asian/north african ancestry and an Arab.
    In places like Tel Aviv,where it is not particularly common to see Arabs (apart from say, Jaffa) the arrival of anyone who looks or sounds like an Arab will immediately arouse suspicion, regardless of whether they are acting “suspiciously” or not. In the UK, there is a very large Arab/Asian population and I seriously doubt it would ever be possible to define a large section of the population “suspicious” because of their race.
    I do agree about the need to educate the population here to be more guarded, though.
    In Israel, we all grew up with TV ads and special lessons in school about how to spot a suspect package and what to do when we see one.
    Here, we had that crazy Brixton bomber a few years back who placed a nail bomb in Brixton market. Some kid found it and carried it outside, where it exploded. The papers were raving about how this brave kid prevented a much worse disaster by taking the initiative. Had that bomb been made by a “professional” terrorist, it would have probably been set to explode on contact, killing everyone before the police could ever have a chance to do a controlled explosion and save lives. The next bomb set by the madman was picked up and driven around police stations by a do-gooder who wanted to save the day (the first station he tried was closed). I am not sure placing a few signs on the transport system telling people to keep their luggage with them and watch out for unattended luggage is going to beat this sort of ignorance straight away.

Comments are closed.