Waiting for security clearance at BG Airport
Waiting for security clearance at BG AirportIsrael news photo: Flash 90

An Israeli security expert told Canadian officials their multi-million-dollar investment in full-body scanners for airports across the country was “useless” and could easily be hoodwinked by terrorists.

Rafi Sela, former chief of security at the Israel Airport Authority, spoke with members of Canada's House of Commons Transport Committee via video hookup from Kfar Vradim last Thursday. He told the lawmakers, who were investigating the state of Canada's aviation safety, that the 44 imaging machines – each costing $250,000 – were a response that was too little and too late.

Sela, who helped design the security system at Ben-Gurion International Airport, has some 30 years' experience in the field. He warned the lawmakers, “You are reacting to incidents instead of being one step ahead of them” when the acquisition of the scanners was announced, days after a Nigerian national tried to blow up a U.S. airliner in December.

“I don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines,” Sela commented. “I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747. That's why we haven't put them in our airport.”

Junior Transport Minister Rob Merrifield contended that the scanners met the country's “stringent requirements,” adding that “full-body scanners are used by dozens of countries around the world and are considered one of the most effective methods of screening.”

The scanners are being used for secondary screening to detect non-metallic threats. A passenger may choose a physical “pat-down” instead, according to the Vancouver Sun; some with specific medical conditions or implants may not be able to pass through the scanner.

University of Ottawa aviation security expert and political scientist Mark Salter also testified, agreeing with Merrifield that the scanners were a “genuine leap forward” and calling them a “much better mouse trap.”

Sela recommended instead that Canada use a “trusted traveller” system that sorted pre-approved, low-risk passengers, who could quickly be moved on with an expedited screening process, from those who might require more investigation. Such investigation would employ enhanced screening areas where automatic sniffing technology could be used to rule out explosives on a person's body or in baggage. He added that Canadians should also be using behavioral profiling.

Israeli security officials routinely use both.