TR: Is there any technology in use now that’s helpful?
Yeffet: If you go to Newark airport, Continental Airlines has a high level of security on the flights to Tel Aviv [in Israel] and to Amsterdam-fantastic security. They have a machine that within three to five seconds can tell you if your passport is fake or real. Why can they have it and other air carriers cannot? Why cannot we do this in other airports? Yes, it will cost them money, but this is the richest country in the world.
Yeffet: Every small thing can help. The question is, is this the solution? Definitely not. Let’s assume you bought a one-way ticket, or you paid cash, which is not normal in the U.S. And it is in the computer. Who will interview you? Who will do the investigation? I want to know. Who will use the information, when we do not interview passengers? Who will determine who is suspicious, when we only train people how to operate x-ray machines and do body searches only when the alarm goes off?
TR: If the CAPPS II system has already identified which passengers are the risks, is it still necessary to question everyone?
Yeffet: Every passenger should be questioned. Most of the passengers are bona fide. I need to question them maybe two minutes, and they will be released. Now, say somebody is coming with a passport from Syria, Sudan, Iran, where we know that they support terrorist organizations with millions and millions and millions of dollars every month. Why cannot I treat this kind of passenger differently, not hurting his dignity, but to make sure he is not a risk? If he is bona fide, he has to appreciate the fact that I am checking him, because it will be also for his safety.
TR: This raises the question of privacy, which some activists say this new computer system will invade.
Yeffet: Privacy is important, but the lives of innocent people are much more important. After September 11th, we all are willing to give up some of our privacy and convenience to save lives. I have done many surveys for the media around the country in the last 17 years. We interviewed thousands of passengers. All of the people I interviewed are ready to give up some privacy for security-if we can prove that they really are more secure.
Now, what is privacy? I am not going to ask who is your boyfriend, how many children you have-questions that are nonsense. I am going to ask about security. And you will understand that my concern is your safety and security, because I am staying on the ground, and you are taking the flight.
TR: But some of the checks CAPPS II proposes to make-for instance, into financial data or criminal records-seem to enter those sensitive areas.
Yeffet: This is wrong, wrong, wrong. Stop digging in the heart of everybody. We are looking for terrorists and not for somebody that owed money or didn’t pay taxes. I am not worried about people smuggling money or whatever. I am worried about explosives and weapons. These are the terrorists that I’m looking to arrest on the ground before it will be too late. If we start to investigate anyone who drove while he was drunk, anyone who hit his wife, anyone who stole from the IRS, you will have lines 10 times worse than today. Stop it: concentrate on terrorism and security. And leave the nonsense. This is not aviation security.
Technology cannot replace the human being; it only can help. And if we rely on technology alone, I’m afraid that at the end, only the enemy will celebrate. I don’t want the enemy to celebrate any more. Let us build a proactive security system that will rely on the human being with the help of the technology, but not only technology, technology, technology.