TSA’s Electronics Power Up Security Procedure Implemented In U.S. Airports & Why Its A Sham

This past week it became widely known that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had begun a new security measure to be implemented at a number of overseas airports requiring passenger power up their electronics before boarding flights bound for the United States.

The TSA’s new security procedure, to be carried out by foreign aviation security agencies, as the TSA does not operate in foreign airports, was in response to a credible threat that certain terrorist groups had devised a way for portable electronics, including mobile phones, laptops, tablets, to be used as explosive devices.      As such these devices would need to be switched on and shown to be fully functional before being allowed to pass through security.     Devices that could not be powered on would not be allowed to fly and passengers would be required to undergo additional screening.

The threat of electronic devices being used as a weapon is not a new threat, given that Pan Am Flight 103 was blown up by a bomb made of Semtex hidden inside of a Toshiba cassette radio, back on December 21st 1988, over Lockerbie Scotland.

While the TSA has flatly denied that they are requiring passengers to power up their electronics, citing no credible threat within the United States as recently as the evening of July 8th, the agency actually implemented a change to “The Playbook” that went into effect on July 7th, under Operations Directive 400.5.

As per OD 400.5, which is currently in effect from July 7th through July 28th 2014, TSA Transportation Security Officers (TSO)  are to require Selectees to power up their electronics. If a selectee passenger cannot power the device up they are instructed to exit screening, charge the device and try again. If the device fails to power up the selectee passenger can leave to place it in their vehicle or give the device to someone who may be with them, but not traveling with them. A selectee passenger may also choose to surrender it the TSO , who is required to place the device in the HazMat bucket.

The requirement that electronics be powered up is not for all passengers, only “selectees,” however it is now implemented domestically despite the agency’s statements that is not in effect within the United States.

The kicker to all this is experts at the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS Transportation Security Laboratory, under the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), in Atlantic City, NJ, have been able to successfully navigate around all the new security procedures, proving that switching on and utilizing electronic devices does not prevent them from being detonated.

Items such as netbooks, certain tablets or larger “phablets” can be packed with explosives, or have DetCord hidden inside of them and fully function, then only detonated in a specific manner.   If the TSA believes there is a real credible threat other options exist for screening electronics … such as secondary x-ray screening with better trained screeners and a more thorough explosives trace detection (ETD) swabbing.   DHS S&T indicates these are far more effective ways of detecting if an explosive has been packed inside a personal electronic device.

The upside, most mobile phones and tablets have minimal room to pack explosives within them and still function, and as such would cause minimal damage if detonated. An airliner could not be taken down by an iPhone packed with Semtex or C4.

Happy Flying!



  1. Don’t really know “why” I’m sharing this but as far as the inference that you’ve made that the reasoning behind the need for power in your mobile device is to disprove that the device itself is a bomb, your reasoning is flawed and misses the big picture.

    Hopefully that sets you off in the right direction. Or not.

  2. Seems like the current additional screening method is much cheaper and faster to implement versus your suggestions. It makes me wonder if they had added additional x-ray machines or explosive detection devices, if this would be an article about the government increasing spending or being slow to implement a detection method. Also, just because the DHS has a S&T, doesn’t mean Al Qaeda does

  3. Benji ,

    The TSA, and overseas airports, do not need additional x-ray machines and regularly re-run items. To say it is faster, is to say that the threat is not real. You either want security or you want the appearance of security. As for ETD swabbing, every security lane has ETD swabs and regularly swabs items. The cost is pennies per swab.

    If you are familiar with this blog, you’ll note I not only go after the TSA, but I also defend them. If new hardware is effective, I say invest in it. Also , clearly you are not familiar with the history of bomb making and al Qa’ida.

    Happy Flying!


  4. Just out of curiosity, are they screening electronic devices that are mailed? Probably all of those go via air.

  5. @Eric

    probably will be auctioned off by the state they are confiscated in, like all the other items confiscated at other airports.
    which will raise some real legal issues with phone company contracts, and privacy issues.

  6. FlyingFish,

    You wrote, “such as secondary x-ray screening with better trained screeners”
    secondary screening with better trained screeners implies that the device already went through primary x-ray screening. I have never witnessed a second level of x-ray screening (other than simply putting something back through the same machine with the same operator, maybe this is what you mean or there is something the public is privy to?).

    You also wrote, “and a more thorough explosives trace detection (ETD) swabbing”. I read “more thorough” as more than what is currently in use, thus meaning a change in equipment (maybe procedure).

    You replied, “To say it is faster, is to say that the threat is not real. You either want security or you want the appearance of security.” This is not true. To say use a faster but less effective method could simply be attributed to attempting to find balance. We could strip and cavity search every person, and disassemble their bags and devices, but that would be incredibly invasive and time consuming. The TSA has to find balance, don’t you agree?

    Also, in response to above, maybe any type of additional scrutiny is enough to make a terrorist reconsider his actions or delay his actions.

    You also state, “Also , clearly you are not familiar with the history of bomb making and al Qa’ida.” This is just a personal attack and does nothing to further your argument. Do you have evidence to the contrary?

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