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As the Trump administration moves towards a likely ban on computer laptops in cabins of airliners flying from Europe, two of the nation’s top security officials will be in Brussels tomorrow to talk with some of America’s closest allies about a looming terrorist threat – the same topic that President Trump discussed with Russian officials in the Oval Office last week.
Airlines and security officials in Europe have expressed concern about the administration’s plans, which would inconvenience travelers and disrupt airports just as the busy trans-Atlantic summer tourist season begins.
The plan – which could affect additional countries outside of Europe, according to a U.S. official – would expand a U.S. prohibition that already affects flights from ten airports in North Africa and the Middle East.
In a conversation last week with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, Trump discussed a threat to civil aviation and, according to a report in the Washington Post, shared highly sensitive secret details which had been provided by a U.S. about an Islamic State plot.
David Lapan, top spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, wouldn’t comment on what’s already been shared with European officials, or whether the two Russian officials were told more details than U.S. allies in Europe.
“Whenever we have discussions with various entities, the level of information we provide is commensurate with the [security] clearances of the people we’re talking to,” Lapan said in a briefing Tuesday. “We don’t ever get into sources and methods, but the information that we have, that we share, is appropriate given the clearance levels.”
The latest controversy won’t change that, he said: “We will continue to do what we’ve done in the past, and share information that we think is appropriate.”
Elaine Duke, deputy DHS secretary, and Huban A. Gowadia, acting head of the Transportation Security Administration, will be at the meeting on Wednesday with officials from the European Commission and a number of countries, Lapan said.
The United States and Britain in March first imposed a ban on some electronic devices on flights from 10 airports in eight countries,saying terrorists were trying to pursue “innovative methods” to bring down commercial jetliners.
An expansion of that prohibition has been expected for weeks despite heavy opposition from some airlines and aviation experts, partly over concerns that putting laptop computers in aircraft cargo holds poses other dangers. After the first laptop ban, European security officials warned airlines that the lithium batteries in laptops could start fires in cargo holds, and crews could not move quickly to put them out.
While an expanded ban is “probable,” Lapan said that DHS Secretary John Kelly still has not made any final decisions, Lapan said, including whether to extend it beyond Europe.
The opposition “is certainly something he’s well aware of, but ultimately the secretary’s role and the mission of the department is protecting the homeland, and protecting the traveling public,” Lapan said
As to why the U.S. has not put the ban into affect already, Lapan said the intelligence “doesn’t necessarily indicate an imminent action that would require an immediate action on our part.”
So far, there has been no indication that any terror networks are trying to move up the timing of a plot before a ban goes into effect, he said.
(Susan Walsh / AP) (Tim Berger / Glendale News-Press) (Susan Walsh / Associated Press) Judge Merrick Garland arrives for a meeting in Washington on April 13. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)