President Trump's national security team is using the threat of a ban on laptops on international flights to the United States to force airports around the world to upgrade their security.
"The bar will be raised much, much higher than it is today," Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Thursday during a national security forum on Capitol Hill.
DHS has already prevented passengers flying to the United States from 10 Middle Eastern airports from carrying a laptop in the cabin of the plane. The ban was reportedly inspired by intelligence that terrorists from the Islamic State had learned to put bombs in laptops that could escape security detection. International airlines and businesses worry the ban will have significant economic costs, particularly if it's expanded to cover European airports.
That worry could motivate them to comply with Kelly's security upgrades. "We — the United States, the Department of Homeland Security — are driving this effort and I believe, I don't believe, I know, that routine security aviation worldwide will be raised to a much higher level," he said.
Trump's team has been accused of failing to explain the need for a laptop ban and neglecting the risk that the lithium laptop batteries, when stored together in the hold of a plane, could catch fire and cause a crash. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, however, defended Kelly's security tactics.
"I've had the threat briefings," the Texas Republican said. "The threat is real ... they've gotten to the level of sophistication where I think you're taking exactly the right precautions to protect Americans."
Kelly said some of the new security policies will begin to be implemented in a matter of weeks, while others will be rolled out over several months or years.
"My desire is that all airports raise their minimum security to the level that we say it should be," he said. "If they do then ... travelers can travel with their electronics. If not, that's their decision; we'll simply ask them to not have large electronics travel in the passenger compartments."