The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will announce that it's pushing increased security on electronics at overseas airports in order for U.S.-bound passengers to be allowed to carry their laptops, according to a person familiar with the decision.
The expected agency announcement is a reaction to intelligence indicating that explosives hidden in the electronic devices are an increasing threat, and it follows months of discussions over extending a ban on laptops. With the move Wednesday, the U.S. is stopping short of the complete prohibition that DHS Secretary John Kelly had said was possible.
In March, DHS announced that passengers flying to the U.S. from 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa couldn't carry electronic devices larger than mobile phones into the cabin. In the ban announced in March, devices could be stored in checked bags, which are more thoroughly screened for explosives. The new directives would apply to all overseas airports, the person said.
The person wasn't authorized to discuss the plans before the official announcement and asked not to be named. Kelly is delivering a speech to the Center for a New American Security later on Wednesday.
The latest action would be one of the most significant and widespread security enhancements since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, said Randall Larsen, founder of the Institute for Homeland Security. While details of the measures weren't known, he said it appeared to rank with the ban on liquids and the body scanning required after a terrorist smuggled a bomb in his underwear.
"It's a pretty big one when you're talking about that many airports and airlines," Larsen said.
The new measures would include a range of actions such as swabbing more devices for traces of explosives, bomb-sniffing dogs, and improved security screening for airport and airline employees, the person said. When the U.S. has added new security in the past, officials have not discussed details because many of the measures are classified.
Within weeks of the initial ban, officials said that the Trump administration was considering expanding the ban on laptops, tablets, and other devices to U.S.-bound flights from Europe and elsewhere. European officials and airlines have pushed back, arguing that other security measures would reduce the risks without requiring such large-scale disruptions.
Kelly told Congress on June 7 that the government is considering expanding the ban to U.S.-bound flights from 71 airports. Those may include locations in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, the department said.
At least part of the enhanced security may involve use of newer screening technology, the person said.
American Airlines, with a major hub in Philadelphia, earlier this month began the first U.S. test of scanners that produce three-dimensional pictures of bags, providing a more detailed view that can detect explosives better than the X-ray machines currently used at airport checkpoints. The Transportation Security Administration is also conducting a separate test of a similar device at another airport.
American is investing nearly $6 million to expand the program through a partnership with Analogic Corp. The technology uses computed tomography borrowed from the medical field, which captures hundreds of X-ray images of an object.