The Samovar

Ineffective and paranoid (but I had a nice holiday)

One of the things about the paranoid security measures involved in international travel is how unreasonable and obviously ineffective they are. These new measures only burden the ordinary passenger, they would be pretty ineffective against someone who had malicious intent (as Bruce Schneier keeps going on about). I had my own experiences of this recently, but before I get to that, here is a picture of the view from my hotel window from last weekend:


The first incident was taking the Eurostar from Paris to London. When I arrived at the station I realised I’d forgotten my passport, but I thought it was worth trying to get on the train anyway. You have to pass through two separate passport controls at Gare du Nord in Paris – the French controls and the British ones. The French control didn’t really care, he just told me that it would be illegal for me to come back into France without my passport and waved me on. The British were a bit more paranoid, and after a few minutes of argument, they decided to test my Britishness by asking me questions about where I lived: what is the name of the pub on such-and-such street, etc. Fortunately for me, despite answering that question wrongly, I obviously said it with enough confidence that they were convinced I knew what I was talking about. Moral of the story: if you’re white and can bluff well you can get through security without a passport.


The second incident was travelling to Israel for a conference. Before they let me on the plane, I was questioned by Israeli security for 45 minutes. They noticed that I have a Jewish surname so they started off by asking if I was Jewish and if I had any Jewish family. Intrusive questioning continued, they asked me about why I was only carrying a small rucksack, why I was going for such a short time, who invited me to the conference, what theoretical neuroscience was, … Before they let me on the plane, they got me to log on to my email and show them the invitation to the conference.

Everyone at the conference was pretty surprised at this treatment, but on the way back I met someone at the airport in the departure lounge – he came up to me and said “I just got the 45 minute treatment. They made me do a 10 minute presentation on the talks we heard at the conference!” What if he’d been asleep during them?!

Anyway, after being questioned, they swabbed my bag meticulously and used their “Ionscan” to test for explosives. Very sensible you might think, except that having done that they slapped a ‘checked’ sticker on it and let me wander through the main terminal before checking in. D’oh!

Anyway, here’s a picture of the Golan Heights which you could see from the Technion university:


And the Bahá’í gardens:


Israel is actually a very nice place and I would have been entirely happy to be there if it weren’t for their government and relationship with the Palestinians. As it was, I felt a little uncomfortable, especially about the fact that the people around me would all have been in the army and might even have killed Palestinians.

Still, I’m not going to complain too much – they took me to two excellent restaurants in Haifa after all. 😉