How secure can we make our airports?

November 2, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Rafi Ron, an airport security expert, discusses the recent shooting of a TSA agent at LAX and the future of airport security in America.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And now back to that attack at LAX yesterday. For more about its possible repercussions, we’re joined from Washington by Rafi Ron, he’s a security expert and the former director of security at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv.

So Mr. Ron, I think the first thing most people are asking this morning is, “What did we miss? How could we have stopped this?”

RAFI RON: Well, I think that, uh, for the last 12 years, uh, we have focused tremendously on the security of the aircraft, or the flight. And we paid relatively little attention to the security of the airport facility. Um, we, uh, obviously, uh, seem to have forgotten about some of the experience that the European airports have suffered way back at the peak of attacks against aviation in Europe – way back in the 70s and 80s – where most of the major airports in Europe, including Paris, Munich, Zurich, and others were attacked on the ground, leaving many casualties behind.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But one of the things people are considering is arming the TSA. Good idea? Bad idea?

RAFI RON: No, I think it’s a bad idea actually because we need to keep in mind – we’re looking at about over 50,000 screeners that were not selected on the basis of their ability to carry a weapon. And if a weapon would have to be used, it will have to be used under very extreme conditions or for an extremely crowded area where the [UNINTL] or the weapon user cause more damage sometimes than help. And that requires, uh, the basic prerequisites and good training and a dedicated person to be able to do that. So, the idea of now trying to change the nature of TSA screeners from people that watch for behavior and watch screens, to people that are using weapons and fighting the terrorists or other people that are using the weapon, it’s not a good idea.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. So should we possibly move the screening process outside the airport? You’ve had experience in Israel, they check every car. I know it would be inconvenient, but is that a solution? 

RAFI RON: Well, of course it is inconvenient and I don’t think the Israeli model is exactly adequate for the American environment. I don’t think that the, uh, level of threat here in the U.S. is similar to the one in Israel and it requires the, uh, I would say far reaching solutions. It isn’t. But at the same time, we cannot neglect all these area, the public area of the airport, whether it is on the curbside and the public lobbies and the public side of the checkpoint because this is the area where things can happen. And it’s happening in quite a few airports lately. And just to remind you that a couple of years ago a suicide terrorist walked-in to Moscow airport and blew himself up, killing a large number of people. American military personnel were shot at in Frankfurt Airport on the curbside. So these events happen, rather frequently and we need to prepare for this.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Rafi Ron, joining us from Washington. Thanks so much.

RAFI RON: Thank you.