Kelly: Airports will have option to come off electronics ban list

Story highlights

  • Options will include exchanging passenger info, testing and dealing with the insider threat
  • Kelly's deputy is on her way to a briefing in Europe

Washington (CNN)Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly for the first time this week laid out some of the steps that will prevent more airports from ending up being subject to a large electronics ban -- and said the original countries on the list could be removed as well.

In an interview with CNN, Kelly said that "absolutely, no doubt" the 10 airports that were the first to be hit with a ban on large electronics in carry-on baggage would be given the same opportunity as the roughly 70 airports being considered for an expansion of the ban to avoid it.
Kelly told lawmakers in hearings last week that he was sending Deputy Secretary Elaine Duke to Malta to brief European representatives on procedures that could help them avoid the ban.
    He added that the options to be presented will include steps like "passenger exchange information," enhanced testing and an effort to combat the insider threat from employees, like those who handle the baggage. Insiders are suspected as being behind the bombing of a Russian airliner flying out of Egypt.
    "We have already talked to airlines, we'll talk to my counterparts, I'll start making phone calls and say, 'These are the seven, eight, nine, 10 things that we all need to do, including the United States," Kelly said. "Some of them are short-term, immediate, some of them are kind of moderately long, some of them are long-term, and some of them are even based on, as we develop new technology, the expectation is once it's commercially available, you'll buy it."
    Since Kelly instituted the prohibition on carry-on large electronics in March on 10 airports in the Middle East and North Africa, the Department of Homeland Security has been considering expanding the ban to more airports, including in Europe.
    That decision was based on a "very, very sophisticated threat," Kelly said, prompting DHS to look at the most likely final points of departure for a potential bombing attempt.
    "We determined the 10 that I put on that list. (It) had nothing to do with the dominant religions in those countries, had nothing to do with the skin color of those countries, the way they live their lives," he said. "It had everything to do with, can we detect, right now, given what we know, this threat, this very real threat?"
    As the intelligence indicated would-be bombers may try to go beyond those airports, they began discussions about expanding the ban, but faced stiff pushback from airlines and country representatives who were concerned about the disruption for travelers and the potential threat of clustering lithium ion batteries in the cargo hold.
    DHS has since been moving toward considering other measures besides banning the electronics from cabins, and Kelly confirmed first last week that airports would be given steps that could keep them off the list.
    He told CNN that the conversation will ultimately raise aviation security around the world.
    "If we raise everyone's awareness on this, that sure, if you do these things, you come off the list if you're on it. If you don't do these things, you're on the new list ... I think this will raise aviation security globally much higher than it is now," Kelly said.
    But the possibility of further measures will never go off the table.
    "I think the thing that everyone needs to remember, the threat against commercial aviation, passenger aviation, is relentless. Constant," Kelly said. "It is what they want to do more than anything else, is blow an airplane up, ideally full of Americans or as many Americans as possible, that's what they want to do."