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Experts debate security clampdown at U.S. airports

Rescuers remove one of the victims from the Los Angeles terminal.
Rescuers remove one of the victims from the Los Angeles terminal.  

By Thom Patterson

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- The deadly Independence Day shooting in Los Angeles has sparked questions about U.S. airport security.

Should American airports adopt a more stringent security system, perhaps similar to Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport, one of the most secure airports in the world? And if so, would passengers be willing to wait longer before boarding aircraft and would airports be able to afford the increased cost of stepped-up security?

On Thursday at Los Angeles International Airport, Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, 41, opened fire at Israel's El Al airlines ticket counter, killing a ticket agent and a diamond importer, police said. He was shot dead by El Al security. El Al is Israel's national airline.

Should U.S. airports expand security to cover check-in areas and ticket counters?

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The shooting occurred despite the fact that Los Angeles police were at "maximum deployment" for potential terror attacks.

If LAX's security was similar to Ben Gurion's, perhaps Hadayet would never have reached the ticket counter with the two pistols and a knife police said he was carrying.

At LAX, people are not screened before they reach the ticket counter, unlike Ben Gurion.

"There is no real security from the curb to the ticket counter other than foot patrols," said U.S. security analyst Kelly McCann.

Single entrance to airport

When passengers approach Ben Gurion they must pass through a perimeter with a single checkpoint manned by armed guards. Suspicious people are questioned. Some are asked to show identification. Some are searched.

After parking, passengers proceed to the airport terminal by passing through one of several doors also attended to by armed guards. Everyone checking in is questioned by trained interrogators.

McCann said establishing a perimeter around LAX would increase the waiting time for passengers, which has already become longer since the September 11 terrorist attacks. "That may be the answer," McCann said. "The question is, are the American people ready for that kind of inconvenience?"

"What's very unpalatable here in the United States is [the Israeli model calling for] a secret police, an internal intelligence agency," McCann said. "But to say that we would be able to employ the same measures, I think, is a huge leap."

Former El Al security director Isaac Yeffet disagreed.

"What's very unpalatable here in the United States is ... a secret police, an internal intelligence agency."
— Kelly McCann

"[The United States has] to start having undercover security people armed at the curb side of the terminal, inside the terminal at the security checkpoint, at the gate, at the aircraft, at the perimeter of the airport," he said.

LAX handles about 700,000 flights each year. In 2001, about 61.6 million people passed through Los Angeles' airport, according to its Web site. By comparison, approximately 84,000 aircraft move though Ben Gurion annually, according to Israel's Airport Authority.

Ben Gurion Israel's only international airport

An Authority official said comparing Ben Gurion with American airports is like comparing apples and oranges.

"It's not a question for comparison because security is a matter of how much you invest at an airport," said Pini Shif, the authority's deputy director. Israel invests millions of dollars a year in security, he said.

Shif said it is easier for Israel to concentrate so much security at Ben Gurion because, unlike Los Angeles, it is the nation's only international airport.

McCann agreed.

"The United States is not directly analogous with the situation in Israel," McCann said. "It's the size of Maryland. They have one international airport. Their ability to cover that space with people is significantly more enhanced than ours is."




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