The Inside Story of the Special Operations Raid that Led to the Laptop Travel Ban
Details of a previously classified intelligence operation show the reasoning behind the decision to ban laptops on certain flights. During the dangerous night-time raid, members of an elite special forces unit discovered that ISIS terrorists were working to find a way to transform laptops into explosive devices. The ban was put in place to keep these bombs off of planes.
Two intelligence sources confirmed details about the Israeli mission that led to the discovery. During an operation last winter, two helicopters carrying a team of highly skilled Sayeret Matkal commandos deep into Syria, and landed near a location where the laptop bombs were being developed.
The information about the project was provided either by an Israeli working undercover with ISIS or an ISIS member who turned and decided to work with Israeli forces.
After receiving the information, Israeli forces worked to get an ear inside the facility. As reported by the Daily Mail, this was accomplished either by planting a microphone in a meeting room or using a nearby phone line to gain access to conversations between terrorists. Once the bug was in place, the special forces troops returned home and Unit 8200, an Israeli spy team, listened for weeks to confirm the details of the intel they received.
Eventually, they overhead an ISIS fighter discussing plans to create a laptop bomb designed to pass through airport security measures so that it could be brought onto an aircraft.
When the discovery was confirmed, Israel shared the information with American officials, leading both the US and Britain to restrict large electronics from being placed in carry-on bags on direct flights from specific countries in the Middle East and North Africa beginning in March.
A controversy did arise after the intel was shared. In May, President Donald Trump reportedly shared details about the intel with Russian officials, including Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Israeli officials felt that Trump put their inside man at risk by providing the information to Russian officials, with one Israeli commando fearing that the source of the intelligence may have been subsequently killed by ISIS. He stated, “Whatever happened to him, it’s a hell of a price to pay for a president’s mistake.”
Trump defended his decision through a series of tweets, citing “humanitarian reasons” and a desire for “Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”