This week at Frankfurt Airport a woman entered the departure area without a security check. People still slip through at airports everywhere. The control concept ignores the actual problem, says a German security expert.
Deutsche Welle: At Frankfurt Airport this week, a woman entered the departure area without a security check. How is it possible that people still slip through controls at German airports?
Jörg Trauboth: That has little to do with German airports as such, it happens everywhere. And it'll continue to happen. If someone wants to enter the security zone, they will find a way even if you turned the airport into a fortress. The problem is that in the EU, we're focusing on technology and water bottles. If you're looking for water bottles, you won't find bombs.
The concept at German airports isn't constructive. Instead of using all these body scanners, we should concentrate on the people, like they do in Israel. Airports need sufficient well-trained personnel - with or without a uniform – to check who is checking in. that can go hand in hand with technology. At Ben Gurion Airport, the Israelis use face recognition, and they use monitors to watch for suspicious or conspicuous people. Such people are approached, and if anything seems out of the ordinary, they are pulled out and questioned by staff trained in psychological techniques. That can take an hour or two.
Test persons regularly manage to smuggle dangerous objects into the security area. Is security control in the right hands?
The service providers are the second-best solution. They are not public servants. Usually, they have short-term contracts and leave airport security again after a few years - with considerable expertise. Humans are the weak point at our airports, in addition to a less than optimal prevention concept! I urge leaving airport control to the police, instead of passing it on to outside firms.
Jörg Trauboth: "The next attack won't be prevented"
How should security staff be trained?
It takes six weeks to become an airport security assistant. In that short period of time, no one can become an expert in recognizing suspicious persons, in particular because the technology changes all the time. Security companies train their staff to handle the technology, check people's bags for liquids etc and to ask standard questions - but they don't scrutinize people's faces. If the screening is okay, a person is deemed "clean." They rely on one or two federal police officers stationed behind the security control area. It's a very static system, and the private firms can't so much about it. But I'm convinced that it can't prevent another attack.
Add to that another area: the airplane itself. The problem begins outside of Europe's borders. You can expect baggage security controls to have been much more lackadaisical in a plane flying in from Africa. What's so alarming is that the airport of departure is responsible for baggage safety, not the pilot who flies the German plane to Europe.
Does setting up security controls at the entrance to the airport, which was discussed after the attacks in Brussels, make sense?
Brussels Airport is the only European airport that is set up like that. The Israelis do it, too - but in conjunction with a lot of security cameras, an overall system that allows them to filter suspicious elements.
In all reality, it's something we couldn't do in the first place. There would be long waiting lines, and terrorists would then no attack outside, where the masses are, inside of inside the airport building. To be fair, one has to say that the volume of air traffic in Tel Aviv is not comparable to Frankfurt or other large European airports. And if security at large German airports were upgraded along those lines, terrorists would simply attack smaller regional airports.
Controls at German airports need to be more creative: identify people, use complimentary technology. That means total video surveillance, certainly within the building. Despite the Brussels attack, people don't want intelligent total surveillance at all EU airports - but they'll have to decide whether they want to go in this new direction after all.
Jörg H. Trauboth has worked as a crisis manager and a pilot, and is an ex-colonel in the German Luftwaffe. In the military, he was Germany's representative at NATO for security issues. In his capacity as a risk consultant, Trauboth was engaged in cases of blackmail and kidnapping. He is also a writer - his most recent book is a thriller entiteld "Drei Brüder" (Three brothers.)
Interview: Friedel Taube.