Security chief criticises EU approach to air safety
12.11.10 @ 09:28
LONDON - The head of security at one of Europe's busiest airports has said that EU governments should invest more resources in old-fashioned human intelligence and fewer in new regulations and screening technology.
Speaking on a panel at the Global Security Challenge (GSC) event in London on Thursday (11 November), Marijn Ornstein, the manager of security policy at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, said: "If you look at all the recent terrorist incidents, the bombs were detected because of human intelligence not because of screening ... If even a fraction of what is spent on screening was invested in the intelligence services we would take a real step toward making air travel safer and more pleasant."
Ms Ornstein noted that EU and national-level regulators have entered into an "arms race" with terrorists in which they are always one step behind.
"With every incident that happens, the regulators ask for more measures, more measures, more measures," she said. "As soon as they heard about this [the recent plot to load PETN explosives into printer ink cartridges] we got letters from the US and the UK telling us to take out all the ink cartridges coming through, which means we are fighting yesterday's war because there is no terrorist in the world who is now going to put PETN into an ink cartridge anyway."
The security manager explained that Schiphol airport is reaching the limits of how much extra security equipment and staff it can put in place due to physical space and labour market constraints.
Security costs have climbed 175 percent in the past five years and the airport currently employs 4,000 security guards, equivalent to about 1 in 10 of all security guards working in Amsterdam.
Ms Ornstein's concerns were echoed by Kevin Riordan, the UK technical director of private security company Smiths Detection.
"We need to move to dynamic screening - we need to know where you've bought your ticket, where you've been before, not just what you keep in your bag. We need to move away from devices and materials to passenger intent. There's all sorts of information available out there and we're not using it," he said.
Speaking on behalf of Contest, the UK home office's security and counter-terrorism bureau, Adam Ogilvie-Smith noted that the UK is already profiling people who espouse radical ideas as part of its so-called Instinct programme, but that there are limits to what is acceptable.
"Its not about controlling radical opinion. We're not in the game of controlling people's thoughts - that's not what we're about. You cross the line when you want to become violent," he said.
Schiphol airport's Ms Ornstein also criticised the EU's unilateral decision to begin lifting restrictions on liquids from April 2011.
Under current rules, passengers are not allowed to bring large volumes of liquids on board the plane even if they have bought them in a duty-free zone in a non-EU airport or on a non-EU airline and carry them in a sealed transparent bag. From April next year, they will be able to bring them on board in a sealed bag which will have to be specially scanned in a time-consuming process.
"I strongly believe they do not understand the impact of their decisions at an operational level," Ms Ornstein said.
"Under sever pressure from the European Parliament, they now plan to repeal that regulation. But they do not see whether or not the threat still exists and they do not realise the extra delays and the confusion that they will cause ... As a normal passenger you will not be able to understand this. You will not know where and when the material is allowed to be in your luggage."
The GSC event in London is the culmination of a year-long talent-scouting competition for new ideas in the security industry funded by the US Department of Defence.
Two of the winners for 2010 announced on Thursday were Ghanaian firm mPedigree, which has designed an SMS-based method for detecting counterfeit medicines, and Australian company iWebGate, which works in the Internet security arena.