The U.S. implemented a ban on electronics larger than a cell phone as carry on items for flights departing from several airports that no U.S. airlines fly from back in March.
The most charitable case for the ban — that has been interpreted to include electric toothbrushes and noise cancelling headphones — was that there was credible intelligence that terrorists were trying to hide bombs inside of iPads, and that those would be harder to detonate inside a cargo hold than in the hands of a suicide bomber on the aircraft.
Yet looking at the same intelligence, foreign allies of the U.S. didn’t mirror the ban (the U.K. adopted a more limited one from fewer countries). The U.S. didn’t include airports like Lagos, Nigeria (the major international departure point for Boko Haram). And they didn’t include airports like Baku, Azerbaijan (making it easy to fly Dubai – Baku – New York JFK).
And they didn’t include European airports, suggesting that those airports were safer (despite actual airport attacks in Paris and Brussels). It was a strange claim consider that electronics-banned Abu Dhabi is a US preclearance departure point, meaning that the US is intimately involved in managing security and so confident of the procedures there that passengers arriving off flights from the airport get off in the U.S. as though coming from a domestic city with no further security or immigration controls.
A month ago word leaked that the U.S. was considering extending the ban to flights from Europe. A couple of weeks ago there were credible reports that the ban was days away.
In fact, Delta even had signs made and deployed.
— JT Genter (@JTGenter) May 12, 2017
However European governments objected — despite seeing the intelligence they viewed it as absurd — and consultations ensued.
The electronics ban on flights from Europe was reported to be off the table, though I wrote it was at least as likely just delayed.
Not only isn’t a ban on electronics on flights from Europe to the U.S. dead, according to the Homeland Security Secretary it may be extended to flights departing the U.S. too.
When asked whether it is true that he has hinted the laptop ban could expand to US soil, Kelly said that those characterizations of his thinking are accurate.
“No, they didn’t misread me,” he answered. “I would tell you that the threats against passenger aviation worldwide are constant. The good news is that we have great intelligence collection overseas — US intelligence collection. We also have great sharing with partners overseas. So, we are doing everything we can to get after these threats — but they are real.”
…”The protocol where we put large electronic devices down inside the cargo compartments, … I made that decision based on intelligence from a certain part of the world — sophisticated threats,” Kelly said Friday. “We are now looking at kind of a worldwide hard look at raising the bar, the minimum bar, on aviation security. So, still contemplating extending the ban, as we work with partners.”
He added, “We will make a decision when the time is right.”
The intelligence was ‘from a certain part of the world’ but we might as well ‘raise the bar’ on passenger inconvenience and risk of fire in cargo holds worldwide, according to Secretary Kelly, as long as we can ‘work with partners’ to extend the stupidity.
Implementation delays (until ‘the time is right’) suggest that the threat isn’t as existential as previously portrayed by the US administration. The lack of policy mirroring abroad over the past two months (though the US has pressured Australia to follow suit and they’ve said they’re considering it) also is suggestive that the specifics here are weak and the actual safety improvements from such a policy modest… at best.
Although making the ban reciprocal may be a way of getting European governments onboard. It was unacceptable to ban laptops on flights to the U.S. suggesting European security was somehow insufficient. But as long as the laptop ban can inconvenience customers in both directions there is no diplomatic slap at Europe, security theater is equally applied, then European governments will be more likely to government.
Of course when laptop batteries catch fire in the cargo hold, we’re toast.
And the cost to the economy – estimated at a billion dollars – is surrendering to the terrorists we supposedly want to be protected from. Reduced business travel and the concomitant reduction in economic activity that follows, reduced productivity, risking exposure of data and theft of devices are all real concerns.
Airport security that can’t catch dangerous items now — even when they’re not hidden inside laptops — is a real concern. And we’re never going to be 100% safe… nor would we ever agree to do the things which could get us close to that.
Get ready to route your international travels via Canada, as long as our Northern neighbors don’t go along. Otherwise pick up a Chromebook or burner laptop and work from the cloud while abroad (don’t save any sensitive information on disposable machines that you have to check thereby leaving your data outside your possession or leaving machines vulnerable to theft or installation of malware).
(HT: Lufthansa Flyer)