How Could Someone Have Snuck An Assault Rifle Into LAX?

It’s not that hard considering security begins inside the terminal. The TSA does a decent job separating passengers from their nail clippers between the ticketing desk and their departure gates, but it obviously can’t prevent someone from bringing a gun into the building when it’s not controlling access to the front door. Once the gun is already inside, then the perpetrator can advance as far into the airport as his proficiency in a gun battle will allow, and considering even armed airport security officers only tend to carry handguns, a rifle puts the perp at a tactical advantage.

So how do we prevent what happened at LAX this morning from repeating itself?

Travelers going through Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport are stopped before entering the terminal and asked a series of personal questions by trained military personnel before being allowed to proceed. In related news, Israel, despite being a prime target for terrorism (and even more so now given regional instability), has not lost an airplane to a terrorist attack or hijacking in decades. I think the Israeli system is both overkill and impractical in a country the size of America with dozens of major international airports (Israel has one), but a half-assed security plan does an incomplete job keeping people safe.

Reports that the shooter was a TSA agent makes our system look even worse. A make-work, security theater entity like the TSA, in granting badges and access to employees with minimal training and clearing a very low background check bar, might actually create more security vulnerabilities than it plugs. [UPDATE: It appears the TSA shooter rumor was inaccurate]

Here are Jeffrey Goldberg’s conclusions about the relative merits of the Israeli and American approaches to airport security. Goldberg is a white American Jew, which should be taken into account here, but he makes an interesting point. Would travelers prefer an effective, if uncomfortable, interrogation or an ineffective, but impersonal, one-size-fits-all object-based process? Regardless, if the security check doesn’t take place outside of the building, does it really matter?

The TSA finds it necessary to take naked pictures of your body because it refuses to actually engage in the level of smart security employed at Ben-Gurion. I’ve heard all the arguments against the adoption of the Israeli approach in American airports — volume of traffic, particular American sensitivities about probing questioning — but the simple fact is, passengers board planes out of Israel highly-confident that the security protocols at Ben-Gurion work as well as humanly possible. And I find answering a series of questions about my travel less invasive than posing like a mugging victim in a machine that takes pictures of you naked. Of course, if the TSA were to ask me if I’m Jewish, I might have a problem with that. Context is everything.