More Effective And Less Obtrusive Airport Security Is Possible

Rather than "nickel and diming" travelers with what now has developed into an excessive security search that has a dubious success rate, a better defense against a terrorist threat would be to focus on locating and neutralizing a suspect at an airport before he or she can even get to the security check. After all, a terrorist could kill as many people in an airport departure hall as on an aircraft.

Curbside handling of luggage is a good start to isolate any baggage that might contain a bomb from where the public congregates.

Indispensible to airport security are canines trained in explosive detection. Their training takes no longer than 10 weeks; they are without a doubt the best method to unmask a suicide bomber and find hidden bombs. Trained dogs ought to be deployed outside and inside terminals in greater numbers, even if on a varying schedule due to restraints on deployment, where they could check the departing passengers. Such a measure is dissuasive as well as being potentially very effective. Even high-volume cargo can now be quickly and efficiently screened using a new method that extracts a small quantity of air from a sealed container, that in turn is then injected into a special filter, the filter is then presented to a trained dog for detection.

In December of last year (2009) I wrote an article on how CCTV systems could be used in airports along with "intelligent" video-surveillance software with digital memory that could vastly improve security without overly stressing passengers. Below is a partial reprint of part of that article.

Terrorists and mentally disturbed persons tend to act differently compared to the run of the mill public, sometimes their behavior is subtly dissimilar, sometimes their actions are blatantly obvious to even an untrained eye.

As a rule, even subtle, unusual activity can now be "read" by trained personnel and sophisticated computers linked to cameras called CCTV systems. They have been deployed in casinos for some time now and EL AL; the Israeli airliner has used them in and about their airline terminals with great success over the years. Considering the dangers passengers now have to confront from terrorists, such systems should be made obligatory at all major airports and if that can't currently be done, due to budgetary constraints, then they should be secretly deployed at selected airports, that way a wannabe terrorist will not know which airport is under such surveillance. 

Scientists are working hard on even more "intelligent" video-surveillance software that can spot subtle variances in behavior that is out of the ordinary. For obvious security reasons, rather than disclose what the operators look for, suffice to say their approach is pretty sophisticated. On the other hand, the software technology flags a suspicious subject using algorithms to profile human behavior in the environment where the system is deployed. If it detects behavior different from the norm it gives a warning signal. It can track the individual even in low light and in crowded spaces having memorized the shape of the person.  The suspect can then be safely intercepted and questioned or given a heightened security inspection.

Digital memory has a prodigious memory, far surpassing what the human mind is capable of; as a result the effectiveness of the surveillance feeds on itself and multiplies. Furthermore, suspects can be fed into the database and will then be spotted as soon as they enter the range of the camera's observation.

This year a new invention by two Norwegian physicists, Vibeke Jahr and Morgan Kjolerbakken involving sonar technology, I believe could be adapted and incorporated into the CCTV system described in my earlier paper of airport security "Identify your Enemy" Dec. 2009.

The Norwegian invention, called the AudioScope consists of an audio zoom that can home in on and pick out any conversation in any sized gathering, such as crowded areas in an airport. It consists of about 300 microphones arranged in circular fixture used along with a wide-angle camera that can zoom in on a subject directly.

The software of the AudioScope, using visual clues, subsequently calculates the time span it takes for the sound to reach the microphones and making use of high-level signal processing algorithms digitally adjusts each audio feed to synchronize them with the target subject, making that single conversation distinctly audible to someone intercepting it.

This device could be used in conjunction with the CCTV system previously mentioned, to aid in indentifying potential suspects and intercepting terrorists proactively.

The front line defense should be on the sidewalk outside the terminal where sniffer dogs could screen incoming people. The second line of defense should be the intelligence gathered inside the terminal using the above-mentioned high-tech systems. The third line of defense should be the TSA security check. This multi-tier defense would be far more efficient than the single layer system now in operation and would help to relieve the delays in screening innocent passengers.