In an era of fake news, fake security threats

Fake air travel security threats have joined the current fake news fad. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration, as well as their British counterparts, have announced a ban on laptop computers, tablets, cameras, Kindles and other e-readers, DVD players, and game consoles in carry-on baggage on the flights of certain airlines originating from or destined to a series of predominantly Muslim nations. Passengers flying from the designated airports are required to pack laptops and tablets in their check luggage. The decision has resulted in criticism from technical experts in the fields of communications, information technology, and improvised explosive devices or IEDs. Unlike the American ban, the British ban on carry-on items includes certain types of cell phones.

The British ban applies to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia. The U.S. ban applies to Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. While the British include Tunisia and Lebanon on their list, the U.S. does not. On the other hand, while the U.S. list includes Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE on its list, the British do not. U.S.-flag carriers are not affected by the ban, which is unusual since the threats are said to be with the particular airports of departure and destination. American, United, and Delta, which all fly to some of the airports subject to the ban, remain free of the device ban in passenger cabins. Some air travel industry experts believe the Trump administration has imposed the ban as a method of giving the U.S. carriers an advantage over Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, which all receive subsidies from the governments of Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Qatar, respectively. Canada may initiate a similar ban in coming days.

The airports covered by the U.S. ban are Queen Alia International Airport in Amman; Cairo International Airport in Egypt; Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul; King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah and King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Kuwait International Airport; Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, Morocco; Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar; and Dubai International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport in the UAE. The British ban applies to Ataturk in Istanbul, Rafik Hariri International in Beirut, Lebanon; Queen Alia in Amman, Cairo International, Jeddah and Riyadh airports, and Tunis-Carthage International Airport in Tunis.

The ban does not apply to crew members and it exempts medical devices.

The ban was initiated as a result of some unspecified threats picked up by U.S. and British intelligence from the Middle East, particularly on alleged newer and stealthier explosive device capabilities developed by Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, the chief bomb-maker of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Some intelligence sources claim the ban arose from the detonation of a laptop computer bomb aboard a Somali-flag carrier, Daallo Airlines. The plane managed to land safely and the only casualty was the terrorist. However, that explosion occurred over a year ago, in February 2016.

What makes no sense about the ban is that it assumes that a dedicated trained terrorist could not take advantage of on board WiFi networks to link from a smart phone to a WiFi- enabled component in a laptop or tablet contained in checked bags sitting practically below him or her in an aircraft’s luggage compartment. An anonymous senior security official with an international travel organization was reported in the March 21 Washington Post as saying, “Why should I feel safer if the laptop is stowed in the belly of the plane and the perpetrator can use his iPhone to set it off? . . . I’m not personally privy to what the TSA or DHS has, but I just don’t get it.”

WMR surveyed the airlines affected by the laptop/tablet ban and discovered which of them offer in-flight WiFi connectivity. Of the 15 air carriers covered by the U.S. and U.K. ban, nine offer in-flight WiFi connectivity.

Airline WiFi Service
Emirates Yes
Turkish Airlines Yes
Royal Jordanian Yes
EgyptAir Yes
Etihad Airways Yes
Qatar Airways Yes
Royal Air Maroc No
Kuwait Airways Yes
Saudi Arabian Airlines Yes
British Airways Yes
EasyJet No
Jet2 No
Monarch Airlines No
Thomas Cook No
Thomson No

Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.

Copyright © 2017 WayneMadenReport.com

Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist and nationally-distributed columnist. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).

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