A few tips on how the experts spot a terrorist

Israeli security specialists say US system looks for the weapons while Israeli system looks for the terrorist.

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

For years, a T-shirt has been on sale in downtown Jerusalem that reads: "Don't worry America, Israel is behind you."

It is a slogan whose time has come – at least for the Israeli government, which is translating American post-Sept. 11 security concerns into closer ties with the US, and for Israeli businessmen, who see an opportunity to market their army and secret-service experience.

Israel's Shin Bet security service last week instructed a delegation from the New York Police Department on how to deal with suicide bombings. On Monday, eight senior law enforcement officials from Georgia arrived for a week of lectures, seminars, and scrutiny of an Israeli paramilitary border police unit. The bomb unit of the Los Angeles Police Department was here earlier this month. And Israeli police superintendent Shlomo Aharonishky met two weeks ago in Washington with Chief of Police Charles Ramsey and FBI agents to discuss how to handle suicide bombers.

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"There is no question the ties have gotten closer," says Gil Kleiman, an Israeli police spokes-man. "No other law enforcement agency has the experience we have in dealing with terrorism within the constraints of a Western system of law and court systems."

By year's end, Israel will host a convention of police commissioners from across the US, Mr. Kleiman says.

While Israel's security forces are widely reputed to be among the best in the world, not everyone in Israel agrees that the country offers a model of how to reconcile security measures with democracy.

"Palestinian civilians need to prepare for their graves when they approach Israeli checkpoints," says Hashem Mahameed, a member of the Knesset for the left-wing Hadash Party. "I don't think the practices in the West Bank and Gaza are something Americans could take pride in."

But Israeli security specialists say that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which began in 1967, as well as securing Israeli facilities in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, have accorded decades of experience which can benefit the US.

For example, they say, Israel has been grappling with how to stop suicide bombers since 1987, when the Iranian-inspired Hizbullah group began bombing Israeli targets in Lebanon.

"We met with people from the World Trade Center who told us that they thought of everything except for an airplane crash," says Shlomo Dror, a security specialist who works with American clients. "I told them that we began thinking in 1983 about the possibility a plane could be hijacked and crashed into the Shalom Tower [in Tel Aviv]."

Mr. Dror was spokesman for the Israeli defense ministry and before that the spokesman for an Israeli government agency responsible for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He joined the Shin Bet 23 years ago, after his army service, and has been in charge of security for embassies and El Al airline on three continents.

He was watching television in his office in the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Sept. 11. "When I saw the second plane crashing I knew it was a terrorist attack. It made me realize that the United States is really in need of advice from Israeli professional people."

"Israel has been some kind of laboratory to check how the suicide bombers work, and all the conclusions from our experience can be brought to bear in the United States," he says.

Together with American partners with experience in the marines or CIA, Dror and two Israeli colleagues in January formed New World Security, a New York-based company to offer advice ranging from securing buildings to training travelers on how to protect themselves from kidnapping or abuse.

No figures are available for how many Israelis have gone into security consulting for American clients since Sept. 11, but Zeev Schiff, defense correspondent for the daily newspaper Haaretz, says they are carving out niches in computer security and airport security. "These people have a lot of experience and know the tricks of the other side," he says.

Dror says his company's clients include Wall Street firms and a municipality, but declines to be more specific.

Israeli specialists have a low regard for American security searches. They say they tend to cause unnecessary discomfort for travelers, while being prone to missing potential assailants. "The United States does not have a security system, it has a system for bothering people," Dror says.

"The difference between the Israeli and American systems is that we are looking for the terrorist, while the Americans look for the weapons," he adds.

At the heart of the Israeli system is the questioning of the passenger, which Dror says is done not only to get answers, but also to gauge the passenger's behavior. "The reason we open the suitcase is to have another few minutes with the passenger, to ask some more questions," he says. The questioning also serves as a way to quickly decide who to send to the plane without probing more thoroughly, he adds. Dror advocates Israeli-style security clearances for all workers at the companies for whom he consults. They entail checking a person's history by interviewing acquaintances and family "We check the man himself, not documents."

But Dror adds that Israeli methods, even if fully adopted, will not stop all attacks. "There is no 100 percent in security. If you want 100 percent security on flights, every passenger has to take all his clothes off, have his suitcase checked, and be handcuffed and tied to his seat. For sure this can never be. The idea is to enable people to continue their lives while making an attack less possible."

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