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Jewish Journal

To Catch a Terrorist

by Tom Tugend

April 4, 2002 | 7:00 pm

When Uri Tauber went to a party as a young man, before checking out the availability of girls or drinks, he would first compute in his mind how much dynamite it would take to blow up the place.

This unusual preoccupation stood Tauber in good stead while serving with an elite Israeli commando unit, after joining his country's intelligence service, and now as a private anti-terrorism expert and consultant.

"To catch a terrorist, you have to think like a terrorist," he pointed out during an interview at the Canoga Park offices of The Chameleon Group, a full-service security organization founded and staffed by Israelis.

Tauber was in town to participate in the one-day Security Forum 2002, co-sponsored by Chameleon and the Israeli Economic Mission in Los Angeles.

The forum drew 170 officials, representing the FBI, sheriff, police and other law enforcement agencies, aerospace companies, port authorities, private security companies, and such diverse organizations as Amtrak, UCLA and the John Paul Getty Trust.

"There are some things Americans can learn from Israelis, not because we're more intelligent but because, unfortunately, we have had more experience," said Tauber, a heavyset man of 51 wearing a turtleneck sweater and horn-rimmed glasses.

Through such bloody experience, Israelis have developed cutting-edge technology in the battle against terrorism.

An example, Tauber said, is a sophisticated computer and surveillance system to protect shopping malls and sports stadiums. The system integrates aerial photography, constant monitoring on the ground and simulation of worst-case scenarios with training and testing of security personnel.

The system is still evolving, but has been implemented at the Knesset in Jerusalem and other sites in Israel.

Just as important is to raise every citizen's awareness level to terrorist threats, said Muky Cohen, Chameleon's CEO, who helped found the 10-year-old company that now has operatives and training projects in Europe, Asia and Latin America.

"There are limits to what the police can do, so every trained eye is needed," said Cohen. "Citizens must know what to look for, as well as the risks they might encounter."

Complementing personal awareness is the need to enhance physical protection. "Every new Israeli apartment house must have a bomb shelter and an airtight room," Cohen said.

As problem solvers, Americans and Israelis bring different virtues to the battle against terrorism.

"Americans are better at organizing, and we are better at improvising," Tauber said.

When confronted with a problem, Israelis will say, "Let's somehow fix it immediately," he noted. Americans tend to move more deliberately, looking first at the budget, then at likely liability and marketing possibilities, and only then fixing the problem.

Since Sept. 11, U.S. government agencies are learning to move faster, but most private firms are still lagging behind, Tauber said.

The first step in gauging the vulnerability of any potential target, from a private business to a government installation, is a threat analysis. "Where other people might see a fence, our job is to look for the holes in the fence," he said.

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