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Why Some U.S.-Bound Air Travelers Must Turn on Cellphones

Airport Security
Eugene Hoshiko/APAir travelers in line for a security check at Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China.

WASHINGTON -- Passengers at some overseas airports that offer U.S.-bound flights will soon be required to power on their electronic devices in order to board their flights. The measure is intended to enhance aviation security at a time of increased threats.

The Transportation Security Administration says it is adding the requirement that passengers coming to the U.S. from some airports must turn on devices such as cellphones before boarding. It says devices that won't power up won't be allowed on planes and those travelers may have to undergo additional screening.

"As the traveling public knows, all electronic devices are screened by security officers," the TSA said in the Sunday release announcing the new steps.

American intelligence officials have been concerned about new al-Qaida efforts to produce a bomb that would go undetected through airport security. There is no indication that such a bomb has been created or that there's a specific threat to the U.S.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson recently ordered the TSA to call for extra security measures at some international airports with direct flights to the United States. TSA doesn't conduct screening abroad, but has the ability to set screening criteria and processes for flights flying to the U.S. from abroad, according to a Homeland Security Department official, who wasn't allowed to discuss the changes publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

During an interview aired Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," Johnson declined to speculate on whether new security procedures called for overseas will be required at domestic airports in the future.

"We continue to evaluate things," he said. "The screening we have right domestically from one domestic airport to another is pretty robust, as the American traveling public knows. In this instance we felt that it was important to crank it up some at the last point of departure airports and we'll continually evaluate the situation."

TSA won't disclose which airports will be conducting the additional screening. Industry data show that more than 250 foreign airports offer nonstop service to the U.S.

Aviation remains an attractive target to global terrorists, who are consistently looking for ways to circumvent airport security measures, the DHS official said. Some details on specific enhancements and locations are sensitive because U.S. officials don't want to give information "to those who would do us harm," the official said.

American intelligence officials said earlier this week that they have picked up indications that bomb makers from Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula have traveled to Syria to link up with the al-Qaida affiliate there.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula long has been fixated on bringing down airplanes with hidden explosives. It was behind failed and thwarted plots involving suicide bombers with explosives designed to be hidden inside underwear and explosives secreted inside printer cartridges shipped on cargo planes.

Over the past year, Americans and others from the West have traveled to Syria to join the fight against the Syrian government. The fear is that a fighter with a U.S. or other Western passport, who therefore may be subject to less stringent security screening, could carry such a bomb onto an American plane.

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Herbert...."AMERICANS=PARANOID!!" you say? Maybe if we were more paranoid in 2001, we would not have had 9/11.
As to turning on cell phones to prove its a cell phone and not a bomb, how much more would it take the middle eastern bomb makers to figure out a way to either put a bomb into a real cell phone, or have the bomb appear like a cell phone when turned on. Really need to keep one step ahead of the terrorists.

July 08 2014 at 4:22 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Or perhaps they want people to have their cell phones on so that the NSA database can register your location... We are all being spied on.

July 08 2014 at 12:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

You mean they have an 'off' switch? Gonna check that one out. Thanx for the info.

July 07 2014 at 12:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Flew back from Europe a couple of weeks back from Rome through Paris. AT CDG, was pulled from boarding line and thoroughly searched. The we arrive in Atlanta and TSA runs a rinky-dink search? Really? Did they think they were going to find something that airport security overseas didn't?

July 07 2014 at 9:32 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Nothing new here

July 07 2014 at 8:10 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply