US Cabin Laptop Ban Really Means That No Flight is Safe Anywhere – Ronald K. Noble

Former INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble asserts that the laptop cabin ban cannot be based on security considerations alone and has the perverse impact of actually increasing the terrorist threat confronting Americans.

Recently, the US announced that as a security measure, laptops, tablets and even mini-tablets would be banned indefinitely from the cabins of nine non-domestic airlines with direct flights from the Middle East and northern Africa to the US.

This could mean one of two things:

1. Since the ban implies that laptop bombs cannot be detected with existing resources, then no international flight from anywhere to the US and no domestic flight anywhere is safe from a terrorist bringing a laptop filled with explosives into a passenger cabin, or

2. US protectionism is the ban’s actual underlying motivation, to hurt international airlines from places like Dubai (United Arab Emirates) and Qatar.

There is a very high probability that the US Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’s) laptop cabin ban cannot be based on security considerations alone; in fact, on its face, it has the perverse impact of actually increasing the terrorist threat confronting Americans.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security explained its decision as follows: “We have reason to be concerned about attempts by terrorist groups to circumvent aviation security. Implementing additional security measures enhances our ability to mitigate further attempts against the overseas aviation industry.”

But these security measures—the laptop ban—prohibit laptops specifically from cabins because laptop bombs in a cabin are more dangerous than laptop bombs in a cargo hold.   This is basically an admission that no airport’s security measures can detect bombs in laptops in the first place (or, for that matter, stop terrorists from boarding flights).  If they could, there would be no need for the ban.

The select ban on laptops is disturbing because while it might keep passengers who fly to the U.S. from ten select countries safer, it likely increases the risk for others, shifting it to the tens of millions of travelers who are flying from other countries or who board domestic flights in the US.

It is no surprise, then, that the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association, Alexandre de Juniac, has stated that “the current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate. Even in the short term it is difficult to understand their effectiveness.”

The US should use the bad decision of this cabin laptop ban as an opportunity to enact a framework for “extreme vetting” (to borrow and adapt a phrase from US President Donald Trump) of passengers and their carry-on luggage to address the real security threat of terrorists with laptop bombs that intelligence services have identified.

This approach should:

1. Keep terrorists off planes in the first place, and

2. Screen laptops to ensure that they do not contain explosives.

Passengers who wish to carry laptops on planes would go to newly-created laptop screening lanes at security checkpoints, where they would be interrogated and their laptops would be examined to make sure they do not contain any explosives.

Due to the significant flaws in the cabin laptop ban, the conclusion could easily be drawn that the ban is motivated not by security concerns, but by economic protectionism. In that case, our government should call it as it really is and not use false claims of a security risk as a basis for discriminatory action against certain foreign airlines and airports.

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