The Department of Homeland Security recently announced that they would require travelers from foreign airports with direct flights to the United States to possibly turn on their cell phones, tablets and laptops in order to prove they are functional and not concealing an explosive.
This is not without precedence. In the late 80s and early 90s when laptop computers were brand-new and very few of us carried them, travelers were required to turn on their laptop when they came through the screening checkpoint in order to demonstrate that they were a working laptop and not an explosive device. Sound familiar? So why, if terrorists have been able to smuggle explosives and laptops for the past 3 decades, why are we only now worried about them?
This too is also not without precedence. When terrorists attempted to put explosives in inkjet printer cartridges and ship them on air cargo out of Yemen, Homeland Security took similar measures.
They immediately restricted the shipment of printer cartridges.
While this might seem a bit ridiculous on its face, because couldn’t you just smuggle explosives in any other device or object put into air cargo? Of course you could that was not the point. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula at the time not only constructed a device that could be placed in printer cartridges, they publicized those instructions and encouraged many others to attempt the same type of bomb attack. DHS did not know at the time how many other of those types of devices were in the system.
In order to reduce the possibility of more of those same types of bombs from reaching air cargo, Homeland Security just immediately stopped their transport. They would eventually allow them to be transported again. I suspect that in this case Homeland Security is working from intelligence that indicates that an explosive device combined with an electronic device has been conceived and possibly even deployed. These random security measures are meant to increase the likelihood that these devices will be discovered and, by publicizing the search for these types of devices makes the public more aware and also makes potential bombers less likely to attempt this type of attack.
Over the coming weeks look for this to be used as a new screening technique in TSA’s bag of tricks and once the intelligence indicates that this particular threat has passed, or at least been mitigated for the time being, this procedure may be reduced but I doubt it will go away completely. It may even extend here to the United States at some point.
There is always also the question: how do the good guys know when the bad guys have moved on? Well they don’t always know that. But well-planned operations of this nature usually require timing to be on the side of the bad guy. Often times these random types of procedures will throw off that timing thereby delaying a potential attack until the law enforcement agencies have time to roll up the planners, plotters and bombers, just like they did with the liquid bomb plot in 2006.
In that particular plot the intelligence agencies had been tracking the planners and bombers for weeks and months in advance but had to continue gathering intelligence while moving ever closer to the day which the bombs were going to be deployed so that they could find out who else was involved before they started the arrests. It’s a dangerous game, but to grab the bad guys too soon, and you let a lot of other bad guys get away to bomb another day.