Airline passengers traveling to the United States might want to add one more item to their pre-flight checklist: make sure their electronic devices are charged or the gadgets may not make it on board the plane.
The Transportation Security Administration has announced new security measures pertaining to electronic devices for certain international airports operating direct flights to the United States. Passengers will be asked to power on their laptops, phones, and other devices during routine screenings. If travelers are unable to do so – even if their battery simply petered out – they will be unable to bring the devices onboard the plane and the passengers may be subject to additional scrutiny.
The announcement Sunday of new security protocols followed Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s request that international airports beef up the screening of passengers boarding US-bound flights. American intelligence officials had grown concerned that Yemen-based Al Qaeda bomb-makers had traveled recently to Syria and could be aiding affiliates there.
Additionally, some US citizens have traveled over the past year to Syria to join the fight against the Syrian government, prompting concerns that terrorists could employ an individual with a US passport – who likely would be subject to reduced screening – to carry a bomb onto a plane.
In the past, members of Al Qaeda have been caught attempting to smuggle explosives onto planes inside their underwear and shoes and in printer cartridges. The shells of electronic devices such as laptops could theoretically be used to disguise a bomb, explosives expert Roland Alford of UK-based Alford Technologies told David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” Sunday.
Secretary Johnson declined to offer additional information about whether or not domestic passengers in the United States might face similar scrutiny, saying that the DHS will “continue to evaluate the situation.” He stressed that the new measures should not prompt alarm among the American public.
“This is not something to overreact to or over-speculate about,” Johnson told Mr. Gregory. “But it's something we felt was necessary. We do this from time to time. We ratchet it down from time to time."
While TSA does not have jurisdiction over airports in foreign nations, the agency can set screening criteria for US-bound flights, according to an anonymous DHS official.
TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein declined to respond to questions about how many airports will be affected by the new security measures.
“Information about other specific enhancements and locations are sensitive as we do not wish to divulge information about specific layers of security to those who would do us harm,” Mr. Feinstein offered in an e-mailed statement.