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Just what is the TSA looking for?

NBC News on the decision of the TSA to not allow electronic devices on to planes unless they are charged up:

A U.S. source familiar with the matter said laptop computers are among the devices security screeners may require passengers to turn on. U.S. officials are concerned that a cellphone, tablet, laptop or other electronic device could be used as a bomb.

Some people have questioned why this measure is necessary, given that a potential terrorist could simply pack a device with explosives while retaining the ability to turn it on, but I think they’re missing the point. My guess – and it is a guess – is that someone has worked out how to create an explosive mixture which, when passed through a scanner, looks the same on the screen as a battery. This means you could replace the battery with explosive, but putting it elsewhere would still stand out as abnormal on screen.

Hence the threat: it’s not that someone can pack a device with explosives (something they’ve always been able to do), it’s that they can now do it undetected.

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  • http://www.snell-pym.org.uk/alaric/ Alaric Snell-Pym

    Some devices have multiple batteries, though, or batteries composed of multiple cells, so you could probably still have a load of explosives plus enough battery to make the thing run. And anyway, charged lithium ion cells are pretty energy-dense, so packing a few of those next to your explosive core will probably have no small effect on the destructive yield.