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A pat-down is better than a blow-up, but we could do better

A pat-down is better than a blow-up, but we could do better

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Imagine my horror when I read that two male Transportation Security Administration agents had singled out Orlando passenger Eliana Sutherland for further airport screening because of the size of her breasts.

As a woman, I was offended, outraged, disgusted -- not to mention jealous. What does Eliana have that I don't have? No TSA agent has ever singled me out because of the size and shape of my breasts or any other body part.

All the outrage about full body scans and pat-downs seems off the point. What's the alternative? Yes, we could do it smarter (TSA, please contact Israel's Shin Bet immediately). Absent that, the latest techniques beat getting blown up in an airplane at 30,000 feet.

The objection to a full body scan from a vocal 15 percent of the populace, according to a CBS Poll, seems lame. It's hard to imagine the grainy images -- about as racy as an X-ray -- arousing anyone when far more graphic material is available at a newsstand in most airports.

The TSA employs 56,000 people and has a budget of $8.2 billion, with $5.5 billion going toward airport security and screening. Airlines take security precautions as well. How many potential terrorists have been snagged by asking travelers, "Did you pack your own bags?" If you answered zero, you would be correct. What about, "Has anyone asked you to carry anything aboard this aircraft?" (Yes, and that ticking sound is driving me nuts!) One wonders what these employees would do if the passenger answered "no" in the first instance and "yes" in the second. Probably ask a supervisor.

In the same way the United States enacts new regulations to make sure the last financial crisis doesn't happen again, it excels at preventing a recurrence of the last terrorist attack. We haven't had another shoe bomber since Richard Reid attempted to blow up a plane in 2002 because we dutifully remove our shoes before going through security. But the TSA couldn't quite bring itself to institute strip searches after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to light up the skies last Christmas with a pair of explosive-packed Jockey shorts.

Could we do smarter security? Of course. We could learn a few things from the Israelis, maybe even outsource airport security to the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security agency, which is charged with protecting El Al, the national airline. Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv has been recognized as the safest in the world. By the time passengers arrive at the airport, Israeli security agents know who they're looking for. The screening process begins when a ticket is booked.

Israel employs ethnic profiling, spending more time interviewing a young Arab male with a one-way ticket paid for in cash than an elderly Jewish grandmother or Hebrew University students off on a summer holiday. Muslim Arabs may be singled out unfairly, but they're the ones committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. It's this same group -- albeit a small minority -- that's targeting the United States.

Another thing: Israeli security agents are highly trained military veterans. They aren't looking for box cutters, toe nail scissors or liquid explosives. Israel's strategy is to "find the bomber, not the bomb," as the saying goes. Practical necessity trumps political correctness. El Al has at least one plainclothes armed marshal on all its flights. In 30 years it can boast a perfect record of no hijackings or hijacking attempts.

Israel has clearly figured out what works in a small nation surrounded by enemies. With two airports and 50 flights a day, it's easier to manage than our 450 airports and thousands of daily flights. Still I'm sure we would benefit from our Middle East ally's experience under fire.

Caroline Baum is author of "Just What I Said."

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