There’s a man that U.S. intelligence agencies are watching named Ibrahim Al-Asiri who has been called a master bombmaker for Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). He allegedly is skilled in constructing bombs out of ordinary material that can escape the detection of most airport screening equipment. With “chatter’ that another terrorist attack against commercial jetliners is in the works, the Transportation Security Administration has increased scrutiny on electronic devices on flights from Europe and the Middle East to the United States.
So I will admit, my first reaction with news coming out of the TSA is just to roll my eyes. Mr. Al-Asiri does seem like a threat (he even hooked his brother Abdullah up with a rectum bomb, but Abdullah lost his life trying to blow up a Saudi government official by instead blowing himself in half), but is the proper reaction to prohibit (as the Daily Mail suggests) laptops and mobile phones that are not charged from being taken onboard airliners bound for the USA? Wow, that was a run-on sentence…
I appreciate the concern and the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” problem that the TSA faces, but once again we see the aim of terrorism achieved – a disruption of our way of life. I often bring uncharged devices through security checkpoints – I will use the lounge or the flight to charge them. To prohibit phones and computers onboard is to prohibit commerce and productivity. Imagine (well, perhaps it is easy for some of you but not for me!) a flight with no cell phone or computer. I would die…I mean it though–and I am very curious what exactly this intelligence looks like. Surely in the post-Snowden world the federal government can reveal the nature of the threat with a bit more specificity.
It still puzzles me why U.S. allies are so willing to comply with security demands placed on incoming flights to the USA. Already, we have to play 20 questions with a “security agent” who verifies that our bags have been with us at all times and that no one gave us anything to take onboard among other life or death questions.
If you watch the CNN interview below, you see an analyst from the Rand Corporation posit that full body scanners cannot pick up the sorts of explosive devices Al-Asiri specializes in. We see once again that airport security is more theatrics than substance:
We’ll see what the TSA actually does, but the agency has a rich history of overreacting so prepare for travel delays for upcoming flights to the USA from Europe or the Middle East–and make sure your electronic devices are charged!