The United States’ ban on passengers taking laptops, tablet computers, and other electronic devices on flights from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa was spurred by increased chatter picked up in recent weeks from militants saying they want to hide explosives in computers, a US official told BuzzFeed News.
The ban was being pushed by the White House, the official said, and Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly subsequently signed on to it.
“It was driven by intelligence,” deputy White House spokesperson Michael Short told BuzzFeed News when asked whether the electronics ban originated in the White House as the official indicated.
While the official said the ban was being implemented because of rising threats, the US has yet to increase the threat level. The ban — which caught the airline industry off-guard — goes into effect at 8 am EST on Saturday and remains in place “indefinitely.”
The official’s statement — that the ban is in response to relatively recent chatter — seems to differ from a statement from the Department of Homeland Security released earlier Tuesday saying the “2015 airliner downing in Egypt, the 2016 attempted airliner downing in Somalia, and the 2016 armed attacks against airports in Brussels and Istanbul” were examples of why increased security was needed.
“Evaluated intelligence indicates that terrorist groups continue to target commercial aviation and are aggressively pursuing innovative methods to undertake their attacks, to include smuggling explosive devices in various consumer items. Based on this information,
Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Transportation Security Administrator Acting Administrator Huban Gowadia have determined it is necessary to enhance security procedures for passengers at certain last point of departure airports to the United States,” the statement said.
It does not appear intelligence gathered during the Jan. 29 raid on a suspected al-Qaeda compound in Yemen was part of the US assessment as officials began discussing the rising threat before the Inauguration.
There is also no evidence that the US picked up a specific threat amid the chatter it had intercepted, such as discussion of a future attack.
The department said airlines would have 96 hours to comply with the new rules and the ban would remain in place until “the threat changes.”
Here’s the list of every major air travel hub that is affected by the ban:
Hamad International Airport, Doha, Qatar
Dubai International Airport, UAE
Abu Dhabi International Airport, UAE
Ataturk International Airport, Istanbul, Turkey
Queen Alia International Airport, Amman, Jordan
Cairo International Airport, Egypt
King Abdul Aziz International Airport, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
King Khalid International Airport, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Mohammed V Airport, Casablanca, Morocco
Kuwait International Airport, Kuwait
Devices banned from the cabin — which will need to be packed in checked baggage — on any U.S.-bound flights from those airports include anything larger than a cellphone. Examples include laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, portable DVD players, electronic gaming units larger than a smartphone, and travel printers/scanners.
Also on Tuesday, the United Kingdom said it would implement a similar electronics ban, while authorities in Canada said they are considering one.
Contradicting Buzzfeed, The Daily Beast reports that the American raid in Yemen turned up the intelligence that led to the laptop ban.
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.
CNN offers advice to travelers on how to safeguard data.