U.S. intelligence agencies have reason to believe that terrorist groups have developed ways to implant explosives in laptops and other electronic devices that are undetectable by airport security screening, according to CNN.
The Hill reports that several tests conducted by the FBI at the end of 2016, which reportedly focused on specific airport screening equipment used worldwide, uncovered alarming evidence that these new and more sophisticated “laptop bombs would be far more difficult for airport screeners to detect than previous versions terrorist groups have produced.”
FBI testing also found that laptops could be modified using common household tools.
“As a matter of policy, we do not publicly discuss specific intelligence information. However, evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation, to include smuggling explosive devices in electronics,” the Department of Homeland Security told CNN.
“The U.S. government continually reassesses existing intelligence and collects new intelligence. This allows DHS and TSA to constantly evaluate our aviation security processes and policies and make enhancements when they are deemed necessary to keep passengers safe. As always, all air travelers are subject to a robust security system that employs multiple layers of security, both seen and unseen.”
CNN reports that intelligence gathered in recent months has played a significant role in Trump’s decision to ban travelers flying out of 10 airports in eight countries in the Middle East and Africa from carrying laptops and other large electronic devices when aboard planes.
The airline restriction took effect on March 21 and prohibits electronic devices larger than a cell phone to be allowed in the cabins of airplanes flying directly to the U.S. from airports in eight countries.
Three intelligence officials reportedly told CNN that the ban on laptops was instituted after an accumulation of intercepted and “human” intelligence, and one of the officials called the intelligence “hair-raising.”
U.S officials also described a layered approach to security screening used by the U.S. and Europe, not just relying on X-ray equipment, but also including bomb-sniffing dogs and explosive-trace detection.
US authorities have said the electronics ban is focused on the eight countries in part because of intelligence indicating a greater threat there. Intelligence and law enforcement assessments done in recent months also indicate that, though the broader vulnerabilities exist, the US has more confidence in detection machines and security screeners at airports in the US and Europe. Advanced technology and training helps mitigate the risk.
Robert Liscouski, a former Homeland Security assistant secretary for infrastructure protection, told CNN that limiting the ban to eight countries makes sense based on the capability and locations of terrorist groups.
“We don’t have the same level of confidence in other areas of the world because we don’t have the government bodies and stature to assure compliance,” said Liscouski.
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