Homeland Threat: U.S. Bans Electronics in Flight Cabins from Some Middle Eastern and African Countries

Homeland Threat: U.S. Bans Electronics in Flight Cabins from Some Middle Eastern and African Countries

Homeland Threat: U.S. Bans Electronics in Flight Cabins from Some Middle Eastern and African Countries
Pre Electronics: The Smoking Section, making lungs black again, circa 1970s. (Photo Credit: YouTube)

I’m old enough to remember sitting just one row ahead of the “smoking section” on a flight from California to South Carolina as a teenager. Suffice it to say, the smoke was breathtaking (and not in a good way) and yet, somehow, I managed to survive the flight without an electronic device to seize my attention from the stench-filled cabin.

Fast forward several decades, where electronic devices are routinely employed in terrorist-laden nations like Syria as detonators or to embed bombs. And we’ve probably all heard about the EgyptAir flight filled with passengers that some speculate was brought down with the assistance of an electronic device hidden inside a soda can last year. Why am I rehashing these stories? Because late yesterday, reports surfaced that Jordan has banned electronic devices inside the cabins of flights headed to the United States, starting as early as today. But they’re not alone:

Airlines that fly from certain countries in the Middle East and Africa to the U.S. must require passengers to check in almost all electronic devices rather than carry them into the cabin, said a U.S. official.

The U.S. official said this will impact over a dozen airlines flying into the US. Another U.S. administration official says this covers devices larger than a cellphone.

Shortly after the story broke, Royal Jordanian Airlines tweeted and then mysteriously deleted this message:

Predictably, those who just cannot survive without their third appendage are screeching about the new policy…

Uh…you can put it in your checked bag and complete your tasks when you arrive in the United States safely. And pardon me, but do you have a security clearance where you’re privy to information on security threats?

…while others are shouting “racism!” because everything these days is racist, even inanimate electronic devices:

Odd. I wasn’t aware that electronics are a race. I guess Jim’s logic dictates that banning everyone—including (but not limited to) Muslims—from carrying electronics in flight cabins bound for the U.S. is racist. But I’m thinking, oh, I dunno, they just want to arrive safely, you know, just like everyone else.

Meanwhile, others offered a hefty dose of snark:

See Yasmeen above.

…while at least one keen observer makes an excellent point:

Paging Samsung, whose explosive electronic products have already been banned from many airlines.

So, is this in response to an imminent threat? Some say yes; but our intel folks are tight-lipped on specifics, so it’s not immediately clear:

An aviation official told CNN that there is a security concern regarding passengers boarding non-stop flights to the U.S. from specific countries. This relates to the “screening in [some] countries” for nonstop flights to the U.S.

They added that they believe a threat to the U.S. would be negated if a passenger transferred through a secondary city with additional and more trustworthy screening procedures. The directive is to ensure enhanced security measures at select airports for a limited duration…

Another U.S. official says the ban on some electronics is believed to be related to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or AQAP. The intelligence community has been tracking this threat for some time, but the official said that some information from a recent U.S. Special Forces raid in Yemen contributed to the ongoing concern.

In a written statement, the Department of Homeland Security said, “We have no comment on potential security precautions, but will provide any update as appropriate.”

While the security threat is not explicit, one thing is clear: our new president, hand in hand with his intelligence agencies, is taking national security seriously. And that’s something that’s been sorely lacking—no shade to our intel community—for eight long years, physics homework and Words With Friends notwithstanding.

And one last thought, Barack Obama: Al Qaeda is, in fact, not on the run.

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6 Comments
  • GWB says:

    And pardon me, but do you have a security clearance where you’re privy to information on security threats?

    There’s that elitism, again. If you don’t work in national security, you just better obey and get back in line, right? Oy.
    I thought we were concerned with the “deep state” and the intelligence community having been politicized the last 8 years? (You might be right – but we have a legitimate concern with over-reaction and credibility in these cases.)

    And the folks wanting to work on their computers in-flight aren’t just a bunch of over-connected millenials. When you’re stuck on an airplane for 10 hours, on your way to a business meeting, you need that time to work on your presentation or dive deep into the proposals you’ll be receiving.
    Or, maybe, you just don’t want to watch the dreck on the in-flight movie list (though this is better than it used to be), or listen to the crappy selection of music (this is NOT better than it used to be).
    People have a right to complain about it.

    (BTW, if this is really a big problem, the larger issue is their lack of security, is it not? Note the bit about passing through a secondary location with better security?)

    • Jodi Giddings says:

      I don’t think it’s “elitism,” GWB. I think the arrogance lies with those who think the ban on (insert noun) on flights is unwarranted without having knowledge of the reasons why. We are not privy to the info that our intel communities are; and from what I’ve read, Al Qaeda is seeking ways to employ things like laptops as bombs on flights. Does that sound unwarranted? Is it unnecessary? I don’t know; but I’m not going to second guess them.

      Phones are not banned. Mine, which is almost as large as a small iPad, has a text editor and apps that I can use to create presentations if I needed to, or review any documents. Or, I can work on it before or after I arrive. Is it inconvenient? Yep. But so is every other security measure we jump through before boarding a plane. Work around it. I’ll take inconvenience over not arriving to my destination at all any day.

      And no one is saying that folks have no right to complain about it; go for it. Just as I have a right to point out why I think it’s silly. And you know I respect your opinion. 😉

  • George V says:

    The part of this I don’t understand is how placing devices in the cargo hold makes things safer. The Pan Am flight that was brought down over Locherbie, Scotland was, I think, brought down by a bomb inside a boom-box stereo that was in checked baggage.

    • Jodi Giddings says:

      That’s the sticker, isn’t it. I’ve yet to hear an explanation.

      • GWB says:

        I’ll venture a reply, based on some knowledge of aircraft and things that go boom.

        1) Items that you bring onto the airplane can be used to breach the cockpit door (or threatening passengers and cabin crew), allowing you to pull a 9/11.
        2) Items you bring with you can be directed specifically against certain critical areas of the aircraft – the lavatory behind the cockpit backs up to a lot of electrical/electronic stuff, or an exterior aircraft door or skin, for example. In the hold, a small bomb (laptop battery size) is very likely to not provide crippling damage (the Lockerbie bombing was a largish device*, iirc) if it isn’t placed precisely against a critical piece of the aircraft.

        This is the same reason you can have as big a tube of toothpaste as you want in your luggage (even if it’s Jihadident), but you can’t bring more than a couple of ounces into the cabin. (For that restriction, there is also the advantage that you can’t mix a binary compound in your checked luggage very easily. At least not while it’s in the hold.)

        Having said that….
        1) The reason for picking these airports is because their security is inadequate (supposedly). So, why again are we making prohibitions based on our level of security?
        2) Why aren’t we merely stopping aircraft from these airports from coming directly to the US?
        3) If a planeload of Americans is ever taken hostage on a flight again, without dismembering the jihadist and scattering his pieces from 30,000 feet, then there’s really no point in defending our country since we have already capitulated.

        (One of the immediate responses to the proposed security theater immediately after 9/11 was an idea to bring potential passengers into a school gym, lock the doors, then allow in a large, burly man with bad BO and a fork, who attempts to take them hostage. Any group that allows him to take them hostage is never allowed to fly commercially, again. Upgrades to business class allotted for such things as the hostage-taker being found in a basketball hoop or on top of a scoreboard.)

        (* A boom-box is a fairly large device. An 80’s one could conceivably pack a cubic foot or more of boom. A laptop battery is more like 1/100 of a cubic foot.)

  • GWB says:

    Looks like Britain is following suit. This bit supports my thoughts on why they are pursuing this ban:

    The ban applies to any device larger than 16cm [6.3″] long, 9.3cm [3.7″] wide or 1.5cm [0.6″] deep. It includes smart phones, but most fall inside these limits.

    Sounds like they put a large safety factor in there, too.
    (BTW, we used to stop this by insisting people turn on their device at security – if it’s packed with boom, it won’t be packed with battery power or electronics. It’s pretty much impossible to build an effective device with the tiny amount of leftover space in any modern laptop or tablet.)

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