By Dmitriy Shapiro/JNS.org/Washington Jewish Week
What’s the cure for the recent ills of the United States Secret Service? American officials might consider taking some advice from their Israeli counterparts at the Shin Bet security agency.
White House security breaches have sent the Secret Service scrambling to restructure itself in order to prevent similar or more serious mistakes in the future. But former Israeli security and intelligence officials note that the Shin Bet, which also protects top dignitaries, has virtually the same tactics, rules of engagement, and training procedures as its American equivalent – without experiencing the same hiccups, at least in recent years. In 1995, the Shin Bet did experience its own crisis following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“I don’t think [Israel’s protection of dignitaries] is different from what the Americans do,” former Israeli Mossad agent Gad Shimron, who was never part of the Shin Bet’s VIP security service but is familiar with its operations, told JNS.org. “It’s the same training, more or less. It’s like the training of an elite soldier, whether he is in the Israeli army or the American army.”
A former senior Israeli security official told JNS.org that working on culture, rather than changing tactics or overhauling organizational structure, can help the Secret Service fix its problems.
“Every organization is built out of people, procedures, and culture,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. “So if this is true, take out the written procedures, take out the people one by one as private individuals, and try to figure out whether there is something left.”
Questions were raised about the effectiveness of the Secret Service after Omar Gonzalez, carrying a knife, on Sept. 19 jumped the White House fence, ran inside the front door, and passed the presidential living quarters into the East Room. More embarrassment for the agency came when it was uncovered that President Obama rode in an elevator with an armed security guard who possessed a criminal record. The last straw came with the revelation that the Secret Service delayed confessing that shots fired at the White House in 2011 hit their target.
In Israel, the Shin Bet has a dual role: part VIP security agency and part anti-terrorism organization. With a large portion of its members coming from other Israeli intelligence agencies, the anti-terrorism branch offers protective service agents on the ground with clear alerts on threats.
The Shin Bet’s meticulousness was recently demonstrated in a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who came to the U.S. to attend the U.N. General Assembly. Reporting on a dinner between Netanyahu and Jewish philanthropist Sheldon Adelson at a New York City restaurant, a New York Post reporter mused about the 30 security personnel tagging along – closing off the block and making the restaurant’s patrons go through a metal detector.
Yet the Shin Bet is also no stranger to security failures, in particular the 1995 assassination of Rabin by an Israeli extremist. After the murder, the Shin Bet went through its own upheaval, which included the resignation of its director and a change in tactics.
The Shin Bet shifted its focus when protecting dignitaries toward surrounding them with more agents. Now, whenever the Israeli prime minister goes anywhere, “the whole regiment of security people are busy making sure that there will be as little contact and as little exposure as possible,” Shimron said.
In situations involving large groups of people, the Shin Bet now utilizes casually dressed agents among the crowd who look for potential threats – often using women for the job.
“Something interesting that we found was that women have a much better capability to detect strange behavior in a potential threat than men,” said the former Israeli security official. “They probably don’t have the physical power [as male agents], but when it comes to detecting suspicious behavior that might lead to a potential threat, they are much better than men.”
The official also pointed out that in Israel, Shin Bet agents are usually much younger than their American counterparts and usually serve between five and seven years. In the Secret Service, the older average age means more seasoned agents, but they may lose some of their sensitivity and alertness.
CBS News correspondent Dan Raviv, who co-authored the book
, which offers a history of Israeli security and espionage, told JNS.org that lapses like the recent White House intrusion are less likely to occur with the Shin Bet.
“Would anything so ridiculous as what happened at the White House occur at an Israeli government building – or specifically, at the home of the prime minister in Jerusalem? It’s not at all likely,” he said. “Israeli facilities have fences that are far more serious, including sensors that high-tech Israeli industries developed. And, frankly, Israeli guards – [who are] part of Shin Bet – would be far more likely to open fire on an intruder.”