In the last week, various news reports have pointed to specific tactics terrorists have been using to store small but powerful bombs in electronic devices, lending more credence to the likelihood that a ban on such devices might become a reality for travelers.
According to one CBS News report, U.S. officials inspecting newly recaptured facilities in Mosul, Iraq, say they have uncovered evidence that ISIS is developing “a new type of bomb that could pass through an airport scanner undetected.”
CBS News accompanied Iraqi Special Forces in a visit to Mosul University, which experts believe had become a bomb-making testing center, using the school's equipment and labs. They believe they now have evidence of work to develop a “new generation of more powerful explosives that could be concealed in a computer.”
Meanwhile, USA Today, reporting from Brussels where U.S. Homeland Security officials were meeting with their European Union counterparts to discuss the threat of laptops and tablets in airplane cabins, reminded its readers that a bomb in a soda can is suspected of destroying a Russian jet over Egypt in October 2015, and a laptop was suspected of taking down a Daallo Airlines flight in Somalia in February 2016.
Theories about terrorist bomb-making capabilities are only speculation at this point, but in March, the U.S. began banning in-flight laptops and other large electronics for U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa.
The International Air Transport Association estimates an expansion of the ban to inbound U.S. flights from Europe would cost more than $1 billion annually in lost time to passengers. It is estimated that nearly a third of the 100,000 passengers flying daily between Europe and the U.S. are business travelers with laptops.
The reason why the ban is for in-cabin electronics only so far is that cargo luggage generally comes under more stringent screening than carry-ons, and a bomb stowed in an aircraft’s cargo hold would need to be more powerful than a bomb in the cabin.
However, storing more electronics devices in a cargo hold can present other problems. Lithium batteries have been known to spontaneously ignite under certain conditions on aircraft in flight.
At a security summit held earlier this year, Frances Townsend, former assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, suggested that security officials, the travel industry and electronics manufacturers think differently, and move the “protective barrier” further away from airports and aircraft.
She recommended that manufacturers of electronic devices sit down with agencies like the DHS to find ways to engineer electronics to reduce the risk of their being used for terror.