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Laptop & Smartphone Ban
Result of Specific Intel

| published March 23 , 2017 |

By Keith H. Roberts, Thursday Review contributor

Though the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the NSA have been careful to suggest there are no specific threats to the United States or international airlines which serve American airports, insiders for all three agencies say that a recently announced ban on some electronic devices as carry-on is the result of very specific intelligence that both ISIS and al Qaeda may have developed sophisticated forms of explosives which can be easily hidden in laptops, tablets, some smartphones, and other devices.

Earlier in the week, the TSA and other agencies announced a ban on carrying on laptops, tablets and many smartphones onto flights bound to the U.S. from certain airports in about a dozen countries. A similar ban was also announced by the United Kingdom only hours later.

The ban impacts roughly 20 carriers and about 30 airports in other countries—such as Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—and affects at least 12 major airports in the U.S. For flights to London, the British ban includes almost all persons traveling from Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

Passengers can still travel with most electronic devices, but not as carry-on items; instead, travelers will be required instead to check such digital age tools upon arrival at their departing airport. Experts suggest that the specific nature of this moratorium means that intelligence agencies in the U.S. and the U.K. have probable cause to think that explosive experts working for ISIS or al Qaeda (or both) may have developed bomb-making skills sufficient enough for electronic devices to pass through routine screening processes undetected.

Aviation security experts suggest that the fact that travelers can still pack such items into checked luggage means that intelligence analysts have concluded that bomb-makers have not developed sufficient technology to detonate such carefully hidden explosives remotely or by using some form of timer, or that the types of bombs being considered are not powerful enough to crash a plane if detonated in the belly of a commercial airliner. The ban extends only to devices being brought into the passenger areas of the cabin. The ban does not affect medical devices, and will not impact some smaller types of cell phones, smartphones or Blackberries.

News agencies like the BBC and NBC have reported that American and British intelligence agencies have concluded that the potential threat comes from tipsters in several foreign countries and from communications intercepts from ISIS and al Qaeda, as well as online chatter originating in countries where law enforcement believes bomb-making experts now work and reside. ABC News reported on Wednesday that its sources inside several American law enforcement agencies have “credible evidence” to show that ISIS is working steadily and intensely to develop viable explosives crafted to avoid detection inside laptops and tablets.

The announcement of the ban came even as new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was beginning meetings in Washington with top officials, foreign ministers, and law enforcement representatives of nearly 70 countries; the purpose: working out a set of global initiatives to bring about the defeat of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State. The fight against ISIS-developed and ISIS-inspired terrorism is sure to be one of the primary points of discussion, according to those with direct access to the agenda.

ISIS, which gained territorial control of more than half of Syria and Iraq beginning in 2014, and which by 2015 had extended its reach into dozens of countries as terror organizations and militant groups either merged with ISIS or pledged loyalty to the Islamic State, has nevertheless seen its contiguous borders steadily shrink as the militaries of the U.S. and a dozen other countries regain areas once lost to the radical state. Anti-terrorism experts have said that ISIS intends to use acts of terror instead to wage its war of violent jihad.

Just this week ISIS acknowledged responsibility for an attack just outside Parliament in London—an act of terrorism which left four people dead and injured a dozen others. ISIS-inspired or ISIS directed terrorist have, in the past 18 months, launched deadly assaults on civilian targets in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Orlando, and a dozen cities in Turkey. In 2015 an Egyptian militant group with direct links to ISIS brought down a Russian airliner using a bomb hidden in a soft drink can.

U.S. airliners are generally considered among the highest value targets of terror groups; as explosion and successful take-down of an American passenger plane has been one of ISIS’s highest priorities since the inception of the Islamic State during the early months of the civil war in Syria.

The laptop and electronic device ban—though so far strictly limited to specific cities and countries, and limited even in the number of airlines affected—has also been under discussion among members of the House Intelligence Committee in Washington. On Wednesday committee member Eric Swalwell (D-CA) described the potential laptop explosive as “a new aviation threat” in a conversation with ABC News.

Terrorist groups have been seeking to perfect tools which can cause damage to airliners but also pass unnoticed through the increasingly sophisticated forms of security at many airports—especially those with frequent flights to the U.S. and numerous European countries.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that the new ban—which will go into effect by the weekend—could stifle or suppress business travel between the effected countries and the U.S. and U.K., and may also channel massive amounts of business passengers away from direct flights and into the arms of scores of European airlines and nations which do not plan to implement the laptop restrictions. The exceedingly long flights typical of business travelers—from the Middle East or Africa to the U.S., for example—affords those passengers often uninterrupted hours of time with laptops, tablets and other devices.

Neither France nor Germany plan to impose any form of laptop ban, and aviation industry experts suggest that thousands of high-end business travelers will simply avoid the impacted airlines and airports and fly instead more circuitous routes through Paris, Berlin or Frankfort.

Related Thursday Review articles:

U.S. Military Bombing Increased in 2016; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 9, 2017.

Twitter Faces Lawsuit Over ISIS-Inspired Terror; Thursday Review editors; Thursday Review; January 11, 2017.