I have absolutely no doubt that there’s intelligence surrounding attempts to hide explosive devices inside electronics. There has been specific intelligence on this before. That’s why at times we’ve had to turn on electronic devices, and It’s certainly conceivable that the technical know how could have advanced to the point that a real working laptop could be used to hide nefarious objects.
Developing a threat in this way wouldn’t be easy, and aspiring to do this is very different than actually developing the capability, but it’s a claim we simply cannot disprove no matter how much the intelligence community has given reason not to trust its pronouncements.
Even accounting for a desire not to tip their hand — which they’ve done in the construction of the electronics ban — or reveal sources and methods, the government hasn’t provided enough of an explanation for its decision for people in a democracy to evaluate or hold it accountable.
But if there’s a legitimate threat, the electronics ban is a fairly backwards way of addressing it.
- It’s reportedly been developed over months, with advance briefings for legislators, and with airlines given several days to implement — rather than implementing right away.
- It’s not worldwide. Passengers in affected countries can connect elsewhere to avoid the ban. Want to bring electronics onboard? Fly to Tashkent, Uzbekistan and then on to the U.S.
- It doesn’t extend to countries where threats may be more real than in Abu Dhabi where the US manages security enough to be comfortable with passengers arriving here and getting off the plane as though they had taken a domestic flight.
A real ban would have been extended to Boko Haram’s home of Nigeria. But Delta flies Lagos – Atlanta, and the ban isn’t being extended to airports served by U.S. airlines.
And indeed we’ve seen actual attacks in Paris and Brussels, there have been live cells executing non-theoretical missions there, but those airports aren’t on the list.
As I told Forbes,
“This electronics ban is absurd,” says Gary Leff, aviation industry expert and founder of View from the Wing. “If there were an imminent threat it would apply immediately, and to all flights to the United States. Anyone originating in Dubai could connect elsewhere – Europe, Cape Verde, Uzbekistan – and carry electronics on a flight to the United States.”
The UK has now issued an electronics ban covering some of the countries on the US list — Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, plus Lebanon and Tunisia which don’t have US flights. The UK is not banning laptops on flights from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, Casablanca and Kuwait City. They’re looking at the same intelligence that the US is and they’re not using it as an excuse to destroy the viability of flights by the large Gulf airlines.
The ban doesn’t stop people originating in the countries where flights are affected. Those people can fly to an intermediate airport. Instead it inconveniences and redirects connecting traffic. Even if this started out addressing a real threat, the bureaucratic sausage turned it into something with the effect of redirecting traffic away from Gulf airlines and onto US and European ones.
- Over half of Emirates tickets between the US and Dubai are sold in the U.S.
- 20% are sold in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh
- Only 4% are actually sold in the UAE.
This route is all about Americans, and South Asians, connecting in Dubai. Banning laptops on these flights simply forces Americans and Indians to connect over a different city.
Back to Forbes,
“The largest U.S. airlines – the most profitable in the world – have been seeking government protection, higher fares, and fewer consumer flight choices for two years. So far they have been unsuccessful,” says Mr. Leff. “Previously rebuffed, the effect of this ostensible security policy may be to give them what they were after all along.”
It has the effect of giving United, Delta, and American what they’ve been lobbying for over the past two years — hobbling their major competition from the Gulf. And by doing it under cover of security it provides a plausible path towards preserving the Open Skies treaty and Fedex’s Gulf hub. That may not have been the intention, but it winds up looking like evil genius.