Report: Intel for Carry-on Electronics Ban Came from Yemen Raid

Passengers prepare to check in at Miami International Airport, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in Miami. Almost 49 million people are expected to travel 50 miles or more for the holiday, the most since 2007, according to AAA. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Three intelligence sources told the Daily Beast that the intelligence behind the ban on carry-on electronics for flights from several Middle Eastern countries came from January’s U.S. raid on al-Qaeda in Yemen.

Strongly opposed claims have surfaced that not much actionable intelligence was gathered in the raid in which Navy SEAL Ryan Owens was killed.

“Information from the raid shows al Qaeda’s successful development of compact, battery bombs that fit inside laptops or other devices believed to be strong enough to bring down an aircraft, the sources said. The battery bombs would need to be manually triggered, a source explained, which is why the electronics ban is only for the aircraft cabin not checked luggage,” the Daily Beast reports.

One source for this report said the attempted destruction of a jet taking off from Mogadishu last year was “proof of concept” for such a battery bomb attack. The bomber himself was the only fatality from that attack, plunging 11,000 feet to his death after he was sucked into the hole he blew in the side of the plane.

CNN confirms that intelligence “obtained in recent weeks” pointed to al-Qaeda, ISIS, and al-Shabaab bomb-makers developing new techniques for hiding explosives in the battery compartments of personal electronics. It may come as some small comfort to know that ISIS is said to be less advanced at these bombing techniques than al-Qaeda. On the other hand, CNN’s sources said it was unclear how much information these terrorist groups were sharing with each other.

One official said, “there is a growing pool of intelligence all pointing to threats to aviation.”

CNN’s report stresses that the electronics ban was not a “political move” and was made with heavy involvement from “career employees” — a necessary clarification because so many were attempting to dismiss the ban as a heavy-handed, irrational blunder by the Trump White House.

But then CNN gives us another entry in the “Trump can’t win” sweepstakes with this question: “If there is an immediate threat to aviation security, why is DHS giving airlines 96 hours to comply with the ban instead of implementing it immediately?”

“Over the weekend I received an additional briefing by the Department of Homeland Security and I fully support the new security precautions. These steps are both necessary and proportional to the threat,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, according to the Daily Beast.

No matter the reason for the new restrictions, travelers are understandably upset by losing access to their portable computers on long flights from overseas. The New York Post quotes a few of their complaints. One engineer said, “My tablet is my whole office. Now I’m supposed to leave work behind?” Another traveler said it would be difficult for his children, who are accustomed to playing with their computers on lengthy trips.

The Post cites a statement from the Global Business Travel Association, which estimated 49 percent of business travelers get work done in flight and noted that many of them “prefer to keep their devices close for security purposes because they may contain sensitive company information.”

CNN has examples of travelers raising various objections to the policy, including everything mentioned above, plus high-end business travelers worried about theft or damage to valuable equipment, photographers concerned about their electronic cameras, and the brother of a severely autistic child who is worried about her taking long flights without DVDs and video games to “keep her emotional problems relatively at bay.”

Other travelers simply expressed confusion about the new restrictions and what exemptions might be available. The Department of Homeland Security has posted a Q&A sheet covering 30 questions about the electronics ban to supplement its brief fact sheet describing the restrictions.


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