The Problem With This Whole ‘New Terrorist Laptop Bombs May Evade Security’ Thing

Earlier in the week I reported that the reason for the electronics ban on certain flights may be that terrorists have figured out how to hide explosives in iPads that turn on and still function as tablets.

The story has now gained traction suggesting that terrorist laptop bombs may evade security. This is especially concerning because terrorists have reportedly obtained the same expensive boondoggle equipment that the TSA uses to miss 95% of the dangerous items going through the checkpoint.

Heightening the concern is US intelligence suggesting that terrorists have obtained sophisticated airport security equipment to test how to effectively conceal explosives in laptops and other electronic devices.

ISIS Reportedly Purchased an Airport Security Play Set on eBay

The policy is ostensibly urgent, yet stems from an FBI determination last year that “laptop bombs would be far more difficult for airport screeners to detect than previous versions terrorist groups have produced.”

Despite the claims about fully functional laptops-as-bombs there is “no single, overwhelming piece of intelligence that led to the ban.”

The claim used to justify the specific flights from 10 airports operated by 9 airlines in 8 countries targeted for an electronics ban is that the US “has more confidence in detection machines and security screeners at airports in the US and Europe.” That is, to put it mildly, malarkey.

  • The US is confident enough in security screening in Abu Dhabi — where there is separate additional screening for US-bound flights overseen directly by US officers — that inbound aircraft are treated like domestic flights with no additional restrictions on landing in the U.S. whatsoever.

  • Airports in Paris and Brussels have suffered terrorist attacks.

  • The electronics ban doesn’t limit laptops onboard to flights inbound from Europe. There are non-stop flights to the U.S. from Fuzhou and Jinan, China. Electronics are still allowed on flights from Lagos, Nigeria home to Boko Haram but an airport served by Delta, as well as on flights from Santiago Island, Cape Verde (also in Africa) and from Baku, Azerbaijan.

Terrorists Can Circumvent the Laptop Ban by Flying Dubai – Baku – New York JFK instead of Emirates Non-stop, copyright: nordroden / 123RF Stock Photo

The greatest bomb making expertise is reportedly al Qaeda in Yemen yet somehow these specific airports — several of which the UK hasn’t sought to ban inbound electronics from in their own new restrictions — are the only ones that Yemenis can transit through. And while the expertise could have spread to other groups, that’s been a concern “since 2014.”

Canada, Australia, and New Zealand share signals intelligence with the US and UK but haven’t felt the need to impose similar restrictions. Neither have France and Belgium (or Turkey, one of the banned airports) which have themselves been targets of recent attacks.

You know that news stories on the threat are actual propoganda when they end with the claim that laptop bombs could be considered “a testament to the success” of US airport security.

No doubt there’s intelligence suggestive of a threat. But the electronics ban is the typical bungling of the US security state as it attempts to translate information into action.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. If it is true that there are laptop bombs that cannot be detected, then, In essence, the so-called electronics ban is saying that it is okay to bring a bomb onboard as long as the bomb is in the cargo hold.

  2. After reading this Gary, now I understand why your blog remains the best of them all. Well thought out and well written. This article explains it so well. Thanks a lot for the great blog

  3. good thing the terrs stick to obvious packages for their bomps, like laptops, tablets and so on. they would never think of putting a device in lets say a hair dryer, toaster oven, and so on.

  4. I disagree 110%. The electronic devices in the hold are safer as its harder to remote control and they will be in an explosion containment container. Admittedly they don’t contain large explosions but a pad going off next to window is serious. Another thing you are overlooking is employee screening at these airports. That’s something none of us know diddly about. The Russian plane from the Sinai was downed that way as perhaps the Egyptian Air flight from Paris. I hate this with a passion and will curtail my traveling because of it, but I agree with it. Within a few years/months even phones will be taken away.

  5. Times are changing. It’s a shame but I can see why this is happening and if it prevents an attack I’m all for it. Unfortunately flying these days does not hold the attraction it once did and as one that travels a lot usually with only carry on it’s going to make the journey more painful that it current is.

  6. @Brian, not sure what you think aircraft cargo holds are made out of, but they sure aren’t explosion containment containers. And someone can bring one, maybe two, laptops as carry on, but could check many into the cargo hold, allowing them to put considerably more explosives into the cargo hold than they could bring into the cabin.

  7. @Brian: Gary’s point in this post has nothing to do with explosions in cargo holds versus explosions next to windows. His point is that explosions next to windows are 100% AS LIKELY to occur now as they were before– terrorists need only hop on connecting flights– and that the ONLY actual effect of the electronics ban is to inconvenience passengers flying on certain non-US airlines.

  8. So TLiT, what do you suggest as an effective security measure to combat Islamic terrorism?
    Can you go there?

  9. Pete says: April 1, 2017 at 4:50 pm So TLiT, what do you suggest as an effective security measure to combat Islamic terrorism? Can you go there?

    @Pete, can’t you Liberals just for once have a constructive criticism without making such a stupid and idiotic remark. We’re all in this ridiculous situation together and I for one look forward to reading constructive comments. If you can’t say something constructive, say nothing and leave it to the grown-ups who can.

  10. @Farnorthtrader he doesn’t even have to connect, he just have to board a flight operated by a US carrier.

    This whole ban is so poorly thought out it’s beyond believe.

  11. Here here Gary. This security kabuki benefits no one but government contractors and politicians who want to be seen as “tough on terror”. This laptop/tablet/camera ban is even more ridiculous than the liquid and shoe bans.

    And to those quaking in their boots because of some amorphous threat…I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Seriously though, study statistics and direct your fears toward real dangers, like toddlers.

  12. The only logical explanation for the ban is that this is a back door way for Herr Drumpf to get back at the ME3. The American 3 dont have a lot of business to those airports for the large part. By forcing people to connect in Europe, the 3 American airlines stand to benefit. Its crony capitalism and protectionism by any standard.

  13. 747, logically speaking, it is going to be a very long 8 years for you and your ilk.

  14. All you English speakers seem not to be aware of the fact that the expression is: TESTIMONY OF and certainly not ‘testament of’.
    Pity. So much you care for your language

  15. @Dr. Kim: The phrase is “a testament to,” just as Gary used it. See here:

    Native English speakers would never call something “a testimony of the success of U.S. airport security.” In fact, I don’t think “of” would ever be a natural preposition to follow “testimony,” though I can think of examples where it wouldn’t be technically incorrect.

    I imagine you were mistaught when learning the language– or perhaps you just got confused. In any case, it’s no biggie, but I figured I’d chime in in case it’s helpful!

  16. Thank you very much. I will send a copy to Mrs Wordsworth of the British Spectator. From het articles I must have got the wrong ide.

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