back to article Aircraft bombs may mean end to in-flight Wi-Fi, mobile

The ability to use Wi-Fi and cellphones on planes may be curtailed just as it was about to take off, following an aviation threat uncovered last week. Plastic explosives found in laser printer cartridges that traveled from Yemen to the UK and Dubai were connected to cellphone-based detonation circuits, prompting concerns that …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well duh !

    Didn't anyone consider cellphone triggered bombs might end up on planes -considering these have existed for some time?

    We live in a crazy world that just gets more insane everyday.

    1. The Indomitable Gall

      Ah but...

      That would only have happened if people had used mobile phones as detonators on the ground. It's not like this has ever been done before. Ever. And certainly no-one has ever built a bomb inside a mobile phone itself to assassination. Nonono. Well, apart from Yahya Ayyash and Mahmoud Hamshari.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      It was considered

      The powers that be were more scared of the terrorists talking to each other and synchronising their actions for a takeover case. They never considered the other possibilities.

      While the mobile phone has always been the ultimate bomb trigger it was never considered by the security "pros" until that trained Bulgarian engineering school dropout from Satovcha used it to build the bomb detonators for Madrid. Did he pick it up from the CIA and Saudi training he allegedly had or it was his own idea we will never know.

      1. Daniel B.

        Collateral Damage

        That movie was made *before* 9/11, yet it already featured a Nextel-detonated bomb. Twice. I somehow believe that the cellphone-triggered bombs were already a well-thought idea before the Madrid bombings!

  2. CADmonkey
    Thumb Up

    "The ability to use Wi-Fi and cellphones on planes may be curtailed..."

    Every cloud....

    1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme
      Thumb Up


      agreed. They say that as though it were it's a BAD thing...

      If the obnoxious dumbass in the seat next to me spends a significant portion of a 4 hour flight yammering on his/her cellphone, I'll be arrested shortly after landing for the act of extreme violence I imparted upon said dumbass.

      Any excuse to DISallow in-flight cellphone usage is good by me.

  3. Anonymous Coward


    If you were a terrorist, would you really worry about (or would anyone notice) you switching on Wifi on your phone/PSP/Laptop?

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Missing something?

    I could be wrong here, but how exactly does that stop someone on the ground phoning someone's luggage pretty much any time under 10,000 feet?

    1. PatrickE

      @Missing something?

      Mobile/cell phones do not connect to base stations at that height or a lot less. I've 'accidently' tested this using GSM/3g in a well established country south of the equator, where you are supposed to turn off phones in flight. oops.

      I lost base station signal (bars) at around 1500 feet on take off. Speed would I guess be 250knots plus. Despite having some signal bars a phone call was not possible. All bars were lost after this.

      At my destination city, I started getting signal when crossing some high points. Height was maybe 1000 feet but speed was quite high. Landing was the only time it was possible to get a useable signal but making a call was impossible as I connected to 4 base stations, sequentially, down the strip. Speed was too high abnd base stations could not make effective connection and would have not been able to hand over to the next station.

      The only time it was possible to make a call was at taxi-ing speed. I am told by the radio guys that the base stations are setup with signal oriented to receiving on the ground, where people and cars are and that base station handover at speed is a technical issue whcih must be considered. as I recall some Canadians tested this in a light aircraft a few years ago as well.

      1. Displacement Activity


        It's been a few years since I worked on phones, but the long and short of it is that handsets have a "top speed" below which they won't function. You get problems with Doppler shift, the time required to handover between base-stations, and power loop control. I forget the numbers, but GSM 900 probably won't work above 250kph, GSM 1800 about 135kph, and 3G even lower.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I've done it many times

      I'm a pilot of small aircraft. I've made cell calls in flight several times (I know I not "supposed to", and never IFR). Most at over 10,000 feet and close to 200kts. It works suprisingly well.

      If I recall, numerous passengers made last minute cell phone calls from one of the planes that was hijacked on 9/11?

  5. Red Bren
    Black Helicopters


    Isn't a mobile phone in the luggage hold effectively in a faraday cage, therefore unlikely to connect to an operator's (pico)cell? Similarly with wifi? Would you not need to know the SSID and password of the access point in advance?

    As for the provenance of the bomb threat, it came at a very convenient moment for certain politicians and securotards, just after airlines question the value and inconsistancy of security measures and just before elections in the US. Also, if you're planning on using explosive parcels to blow up cargo planes mid flight, why would you send them from the middle east to prominent jewish organisations in the US? How can you be sure when to trigger or time the bombs to go off?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Faraday cage

      works for electro*static* charge, not electro*magnetic.

      1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge


        Magnetism is just a case of a Lorentz-transformed Coulomb field. The same principles apply. In fact electromagnetic waves are reflected from a metallic surface precisely because of its conductive properties, because the physical surface is an (approximate) equipotential surface. The longer the wavelength, the more pronounced this effect as a rule (for a 21 cm radio telescope, we need only a mesh with holes of say 20 mm to achieve excellent reflection, whereas for an optical telescope we need a much more precise surface)

      2. MacroRodent

        Re: works for electro*static* charge, not electro*magnetic.

        Yep, but for a radio wave, you cannot have one without the other. Or so I seem to recall from my physics lessons. A magnet next to the Faraday cage is one thing but that is not the situation here.

        (Also recall seeing a demo of this in our local "Heureka" science center: putting a small FM radio into a Faraday cage silenced it).

        The real problem is just how good a Faraday cage the cargo hold really is. Cellular works on high frequenies, so it can get in through fairly small openings.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      yeah I thought that, but then it is a bit of a stretch to say the powers that be did it on purpose, wouldn't be suprised if terroristas did it becouse they thought "o shit! Those fat stinking westerners are getting their lives back to normal. best deploy some more stuffs so they shit themselves again!"

      Funny thing was watching the news afterwards, honestly those dumb cards that sit in the bbc office talking to people are the least enlightening people in the universe, now I don't particularly like ryan air or their boss, but I'm impressed he kept his cool confronted by the colosal stupidity that is a bbc anchorman.

      "Are your passengers willing to take the risk?"

      What risk you dumb ---- the bomb was on a cargo plane, and infact so well hidden that when the officals knowing what they were looking for looked, they couldn't find the bomb! They had to go back again after someone went "nope, there really is a bomb go back and look harder" cargo planes are treated in a completly different way to passanger planes, suffice to say a piece of cargo doesn't need to hand over its bottled water, go through a metal detector, have a pat down and a security check with some secret agent government superbase.

      And even with all that security in place, a guy whose dad reported him for being a potential terrorist and risk to others walked onto a plane with a (albeit it silly) bomb. Answer? More security doesnt' work, more intelligence does.

      This is actually a lot like tackeling youth crime, more prison space and police officers doesn't solve the problem, more youth projects, clubs and, social events do. But there isn't as much money in those things.

      The monumentally epic stupidity of people is amazing. Honestly amazing. What's worse are these people are opinion formers, faced with such epic stupidity you are left thinking "to be honest, humanity would be better off if someone topped you."

      This kind of thing also brings to mind the bellow example.

      "What there's someone trapped down the well? My god, we best block up the well so nobody else can get trapped down there."

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Short answer - no

      For a Faraday cage to block EM radiation it has to have holes that are significantly smaller than the wavelength of radiation in question and thick enough conductors. In the case of mobile phones, the wavelengths are very small (< 1mm) so therefore the aircraft is not a Faraday cage for that frequency. The main reason aircraft are constructed to be Faraday cages is to deal with lightning strikes, and that is a very different problem.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        I think you need to re-read your GCSE physics there

        "In the case of mobile phones, the wavelengths are very small (< 1mm)"

        Errrr, no.

        Wavelength = speed of light / frequency

        Speed of light is about 3e8 m/s, highest mobile phone band I can find is 2100 MHz (European 3G) which is 2.1 GHz or 2.1e9 Hz


        wavelength = 3e8 / 2.1e9 = 14.3 cm.

        A fair bit larger than 1mm in fact.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          I think YOU need to re-read your GCSE physics there

          But that is still smaller than the windows and other gaps in the plane.

          I know for a fact that a GSM cell phone will work from inside a plane, 'cos I've used one (on the ground with the pilot's permission I hasten to add).

          1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

            But the luggage hold and containers

            can be made Faraday cages with holes far less than 1mm

          2. hurtlebum

            I wasn't talking about gaps, merely pointing out poor physics

            At what point did I mention gaps? Windows? Using a cell phone on a plane?

            The post said that the wavelengths were <1mm, I was pointing out that if someone wants to make a point about wavelengths, it should at least have some basis in reality.

            Any phone operating on a wavelength of <1 mm would be so small you'd lose it in your pocket and there aren't many consumer products out there operating at 300 GHz (wavelength of 1mm is 300 GHz...)

    4. Displacement Activity


      It's only a Faraday cage if it doesn't contain non-conducting holes greater than about the wavelength of the radio waves (say ~10-15cm).

  6. Mark 110


    How would they stop a mobile phone based detonation while the plain is at low altitiude - i.e. taking off or on its landing approach? Thats been possible for years and has never been done.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Michael Faraday has something to say

      How well do radio waves penetrate a Faraday cage made from aluminium? Apart from the plane itself, baggage containers could shield the device quite well, if properly made.

      1. Stephen Shepperson

        Less to say than you'd think

        While I've never sat in a baggage container, I have received text messages welcoming me to the country that my flight was on final approach to. This was in 2002, before in-flight mobile calls, so calling/texting a detonator while an aircraft is over a densely populated area is quite possible.

  7. Nigel 11

    An idea

    It ought to be possible to design an airliner cell, which doesn't connect to any phone that hasn't been explicitly registered. Registration could be self-service. After the flight takes off, a passenger wanting to use his or her phone turns it on and takes to the registration point. This would be a metal box (faraday cage, radio screen) which reads the phone's ID from inside, once the box's door is closed. Once registered, the phone would work normally from any seat in the cabin, but (automatically) only until the plane next landed.

    So any passenger on the plane could use their phone, but a phone in the luggage compartment would be unable to register itself even it it had been cunningly reprogrammed to try. Wouldn't stop suicide bombers, but would defeat the non-suicide variety (or at least force them to use less precise triggering devices such as timers or air pressure switches).

    Wi-fi notebooks, effectvely ditto.

    1. as2003


      Register a cloned handset. Switch it off. Other clone in hold turns on.

      1. Nigel 11

        Cloning - not a big problem

        Someone has to be *on the plane* to register the phone with the clone. So he's still a suicide bomber, albeit with a remote-control bomb in hold baggage now under someone else's control. I thought the big worry was a phone-bomb loaded as *freight*, and a non-suicide-bomber able to detonate it from the ground. (Possibly also GPS-track it).

        You could also make my plane-cell base station de-register any phone as soon as it is turned off. Don't know how phones work well enough to say if a phone and its clone both on at the same time could be detected. I'd hope so, if only as some sort of unusual protocol error which would be reason enough to immediately deregister both the phone and its clone.

        And as someone suggested above, phone-suppressors in the hold, faraday-shielded from the cabin by the metal floor, sounds like such a good idea they ought ti implement it immediately. If cabin floors are not solid metal, then they should henceforward be designed with a metal foil screen (which could be retrofitted during maintenance).

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Put a wide band cell phone disruptor in the cargo hold (like those illegal thingamajigs you can buy for train journeys and the like, kills all cell reception in the carriage) - shield the cabin area.

      I don't see any need to provide special security in the cabin area as everyone has presumably gone through the scanners anyway, and why would you use a cell phone to activate the bomb you managed to smuggle into the cabin?

      1. Anton Ivanov

        That is not guaranteed to work and will fry the passengers

        A femtocell coupled with a suitable controller is 100 times better than any jammer or disruptor. There is a number of particularly entertaining reject codes in GSM which will cause a phone to go into a halt mode. They are hardly ever used because they are not part of the usual compliance spec and some older phones like old Samsung reboot instead of shutting down. The rest supports them fairly well though.

        You can just tell all phones that are on but not registered properly with the femto to shut off. You can also detect phones which have been left on with roaming enabled. It can also be used as a security feature by running through the "destination" operators in sequence as "pre-flight checklist" and raising an alert if any phone tries to sign on.

        So the real security solution here is not knee-jerk against femtocells. It is to equip all planes with one and actively use them for security management.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        A friend of mine owns a few of those devices, including a vehicle based one but the best fun is had with a TV-B-Gone.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Be totally safe,

    All passangers must travel naked. Scanners are not sufficent.

    All caveties must be investigated. A suicide bomber has no sense of decency.

    No baggage will be allowed. Scanners are not sufficent.

    No food will be provided. Caterers can not be trusted.

    Aircraft will be kept under armed guard at all times by security cleared Troopers. The land is not secure.

    All fuel will be tested before leaving the fuel depot. It will remain under armed guard at all times. The citizenship can not be trusted.

    All citizens on or within 100 miles of an airport must be security vetted. Everybody is a potential terrorist, and anyone could use a stinger missile.

    The new air stewerds will be combat troopers with gas masks and fletchette rifles. We can take no chances.

    Pilots will live on base, they will not be allowed internet access, they will under go daily psychological and loyalty examinations. All pilots will have a kill chips installed to ensure in case of terrorist thoughts they will be terminated.

    Or, live like normal people and deal with the risk. At the end of the day you're far less likely to die as a westerner than you are as someone living in Africa, Middle East, or large sections of Asia and South America. Of course people wont deal with it, they'll piss their pants and cry and demand more security (well they wont but that's what we get. Most of us don't give a toss and know that our lives are far safer than a good 60% of the rest of human population.)

    1. Marky W

      @AC "Be"

      *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap* *clap*

    2. Pete 2 Silver badge


      > All fuel will be tested before leaving the fuel depot. It will remain under armed guard at all times. The citizenship can not be trusted.

      Any fuel found to be even the least bit flammable will be destroyed as an obvious sabotage attempt. Passengers will have to walk to their destinations. (but they'll still be charged Air Passenger Duty and the Fuel Surcharge, oh. and the UK Passenger Service Charge as well)

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We will never...

      ... be allowed on planes naked as the USikans are far. FAR more afraid of the naked human body than they are of any terrorists. And of cause as we always follow the USikans the same rules will apply everywhere.

    4. Autonomous Cowherd


      I don’t know what you do for a living, but you probably could write dystopian films! :)

      Careful though, 'the powers that be' may look at your article and go, hey, good idea! we didn’t think of stinger missiles...

  9. Chad H.

    How much are these scaremongers paid?

    If we're going to ban mobile phones and wifi, then were going to have to ban all timepieces and anything capable of making a ticking noise. A timebomb is a much more plausable, realistic and reliable approach than the mobile phone.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Excelent point

      A phone-based bomb on a plane doesn't have much to offer over a good old fashioned time bomb.

      1. Nigel 11

        Terrorist would prefer a phone bomb

        A phone bomb can be detonated when it will cause most damage on the ground, for example during low-altitude approach to an airport over an urban area.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Err, deeeeer

    What about the explosives on the plane? Stop we're going to have phones banned - but how about stopping the explosive from getting on the plane in the first place. Stupid. Someone is doing some shroud waving to try and get some publicity for themselves without actually making any difference to security.

  11. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    Face it...

    ...sooner or later we will be asked to disrobe and board the plane in airline supplied underwear and nothing else!

    You really don't want to see me in my grots, enough to put any would be terrorist off for life!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Not so dim

      Not so stupid a suggestion: all passengers wear airline-supplied transparent suits and their baggage flies in a cargo drone no less than a couple of miles away. Passengers order their in-flight entertainment (vid, e-book etc) in advance. They are re-united with their kit after landing.

      It also gives the trolly-dollies plenty of laughs. Well, in my case at least.

      1. Graeme Coates

        Cargo flying separately?

        Happens all the time doesn't it? Unfortunately, your cargo tends to often go "more than a couple of miles away". Usually Singapore. When you are in the US...

  12. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Oh, please, please!

    Any excuse is valid for banning the bloody phones on the planes!

  13. Lionel Baden

    OH NOES !!!

    Does this mean anybody who would plan an attack on an aircraft would need to use simple mathematics and build a timer ??!!!!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Why mess around with comms signals at all ?

    it would be trivial to write an app to access my phones GPS stack, and do something when a predetermined lat/long/*alt* is reached ...

    1. prathlev
      Black Helicopters

      @AC 17:02

      Sir, you need to come with us please. You obviously display terrorist tendencies.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      good point *alt*

      of course a GPS based detonator would know the altitude as well. And it could run a program too. So you have the scenario where a detonator app waits until a phone has passed over a certain location at a certain height, plus any other combination of event you like ... dates, times, counts ...

    3. Number6

      In the hold?

      I doubt if a GPS in the hold would be working very well, surrounded by all that metal. Of course, a plastic aircraft such as the 787 might be more permeable, but even carbon fibre is conductive and probably enough of a screen.

      1. Lionel Baden

        Ohh better yet !!!!

        the perfect detonator Mechanism for setting a bomb off !!!

        Dirty intorwebz giving the terrorists plans !!

      2. Mayhem

        GPS barely works in the cabin where you have windows

        Let alone in the hold where you don't.

        After having a thoroughly entertaining time attempting to track my flight from Spain to the UK with two different GPS units, I found out a couple of things.

        First, they only get a good signal when placed right on the window. Too far back and you lose Line of Sight to too many satellites. Placed on the floor, and you get nothing.

        Second, they have a great deal of trouble getting a lock when all they can see is the four satellites out one side of the plane. The only time I got successful locks was when I was able to LOS a satellite through the window on the far side as well. That may be a design flaw, they work by triangulating, and know where the next satellite should be based on what they have found, so I suspect they may have great difficulty in *not* looking for the ones on the other side of the aircraft. It certainly wasn't due to anything other than the plane blocking my view of the sky.

        Oh, and my plane never crashed. Explain to me how passive reception can interfere with the in-flight navigation equipment again?

    4. John Sturdy

      Not with your average GPS, so I've heard

      I've read that commercially available GPS chips are specifically designed not to work when the position is changing fast, e.g. in an aircraft or missile.

  15. Cameron Colley

    That's it, they've lost me.

    After this latest "terror threat" coming after calls fo less paranoid screening I have oficially stopped believing any of the shit the news channels are told to report.

    Well done to whichever security vendor or payrolled politician arranged this latest piece of fiction.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    "people wont deal with it"

    "people wont deal with it, they'll piss their pants and cry and demand more security "

    Excuse me?

    Outside of those with a specific interest in security theatre (spooks, vendors, government), which "people" are actually asking for these farcical security measures? None that I know of.

    Anyway it's a good job it's impractical to use something like selective calling on a PMR433 walkie talkie (£30 for a pair) to do trivial (short range) remote control for bomb detonation isn't it.

    You mean it isn't? We're doomed, I tell you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      quote the whole section please lol.

      "people wont deal with it, they'll piss their pants and cry and demand more security"

      Was followed by

      " (well they wont but that's what we get. Most of us don't give a toss and know that our lives are far safer than a good 60% of the rest of human population"

      My point being people don't want it, although whenever you see something on the bbc they always seem to find the random family/old couple who go "well it's for our security ~~~"

  17. plrndl


    Traditionally terrorist bombs have been triggered by timing devices cannibalized from watches, alarm clocks etc. I don't recall anyone demanding that these be banned.

    1. david wilson


      >>"Traditionally terrorist bombs have been triggered by timing devices cannibalized from watches, alarm clocks etc."

      That's what 'they' generally said bombs used (including timers from videos) even long after the point when an electronics novice could fairly easily have built a timer from easily available components in a very compact space.

      (I was always puzzled by the video thing - Unless someone was planning a bomb connected to the mains with space for a video-sized timer, or videos used particularly easy-to-remove timer boards, building something from scratch always seemed like it might well have been a rather easier alternative.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ...don't let them read that...

  18. Avalanche

    Why so hard

    Just use any other radio frequency, or simply use an accelerometer, or a pressure switch, or make it trigger on specific airport beacon signals, or...

    The possibilities are endless.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Why so hard?

      All this talk of external triggering assumes that the terrorists care *exactly* when the plane is blown out of the sky. Typically they don't. As long as it has taken off and has been cruising for about half an hour, they'll be happy. The cargo bay of an aircraft typically isn't heated and after half an hour or so at cruising altitude it gets pretty chilly. That can be measured by a thermistor about 1mm across.

      Sorry "experts", the only solutions are to keep the bomb off the plane or to build a cargo hold strong enough to contain the explosions of the (small) bombs that you let on. Talk of mobile phones and GPS triggers is just movie-plot security theatre.

  19. Lottie

    I think they're missing something

    If we ban people from being allowed on aircraft, that would remove most problematic situations

    1. Anonymous Coward

      My thoughts exactly.

      People can detonate bombs so we must take them off the planes as well. There. Sorted. America (TM) is safe again.

      What with the added "This way sir" for a bit of ball juggling and radiation inducing penis measuring machines employed everywhere thank god I never have to go there again.

      The so called "Terrorists" must be laughing their asses off.

  20. JaitcH

    Great news! Now what other airborne irritants can we suggest can set bombs off?

    For a start, refuse to fly those flights where the rear end of the cabin is filled with cargo. The airlines are sensitive to PAX concerns (not American or BA). This, BTW, is one reason luggage allowances have been slashed - so they can sell the weight/space to shippers.

    Unfortunately denial of WiFi can be circumvented by blocking inbound originating traffic so all traffic sessions have to originated in an aircraft.

    I still can't think of a reason for kids running wild around the cabin or screaming babies to become a bomb trigger.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Em, Toilet?

    All any would be terrorist would have to do is go to the toilet, take their phone out their pocket and turn it on. Someone using a phone/wifi device openly is much less likely to be trying to detonate a bomb than someone who is in the loo. You'd have to ban radio devices from carry on luggage for this to be effective.

  22. The Vociferous Time Waster


    It's all bullshit anyway, the gubbermint are basically allowing the terrorists to keep the US in fear by playing up the threats. Terrorist atrocities happen, it sucks but it's true. You can't stop them at every vector so why not just minimise the impact by not scaring everyone with crap checks that serve no purpose.

    Back when the US was busy funding terrorism against the UK we just got on with out lives and eventually we got them all round a table and told them to grow the fuck up, the reaction to bombings such as 7/7 in the UK compared to the many vaporous threats in the US shows just how different we are culturally. Can't the US just man the fuck up?

    Oh and on a side note, if a big section of the world is filled with people who are so desperate to hurt you that they'll blow themselves up to make their point maybe, just maybe, you might want to reassess whatever it is that you're doing that's got them so riled. America is the Evil Empire and the 'terrorists' are the blokes in the xwings doing whatever they can to strike back at the bastards who pillaged their land, nicked their oil and left Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru smouldering outside their mud hut.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      yes, funny isn't it ...

      how US funding for 'the boys' dried up once they had experience of a terrorist atrocity of their own (9/11 in case you hadn't twigged...)

    2. unitron


      "Back when the US was busy funding terrorism against the UK ..."

      Perhaps you could elaborate for we dimwitted U.S. residents who aren't really sure to what you refer.

      Only thing I can think of is private charitable contributions that got re-purposed in Northern Ireland.

      Which isn't the same as the government doing it.

      1. Graham Dawson Silver badge

        Oh yes, "repurposed".

        Because nobody, and I mean nobody, knew that this money they gave to the Irish Realist Artists Meals for Boys fund was going to the IRA to make bombs. Oh no.

        A former American friend (former for many reasons) told me that she sympathised with the IRA right after hearing about the last bombs they set in 2001, knowing that people were killed and knowing that they were intended to kill many more than they did. She is not atypical. Support for the IRA was very high amongst Irish americans, often many generations removed from the people actually living in Ireland. They supported death from a long way away without thinking about the consequences of it. And they gave money to continue it.

        In fact, you are right that the government of the United Staes was not involved, but neither did it do anything to prevent the well-organised and open funding of the IRA via NORAID. There is a certain complicity involved there. NORAID provided weapons to the IRA. Weapons. That's things that make banging noises and kill people. They did it openly. They openly appealed for money to do this on US soil, under the watchful eyes of the US government.

        Much as I like the United States (which puts me at odds with a lot of commenters here) I cannot accept that they didn't know this was going on. Deliberate failure to prevent when you have the knowledge and the ability is tacit approval. At least some parts of the US government approved of the IRA's actions. Not all, but some, and with enough clout to prevent action being taken to stop the continued funding of those actions. Claiming that people didn't know where the money was going and that the US didn't have any role in that, when inaction that allowed the funds to keep flowing is itself a role is, at best, disingenuous. At worst it's either near-pathological denial, or outright lies.

      2. david wilson


        >>"Only thing I can think of is private charitable contributions that got re-purposed in Northern Ireland.

        Which isn't the same as the government doing it."

        No, it's not the same as the government doing it, but at the very least it looks a bit off, when the US government now seems more than eager eager to criminalise any number of organisations that might be sending private charitable contributions abroad which may be being 'repurposed' (quite possibly unbeknownst to many of the contributors), whereas with Noraid, people had a pretty good idea what the money was going to be spent on.

        However, I'm sure all the reasons for any difference are deep moral ones, and nothing to do with any domestic political considerations, nor to a lack of concern for terrorist deaths as long as it's foreigners (even supposed allies) dying unless it's convenient to be concerned about them for other reasons.

    3. This post has been deleted by its author

  23. Sam Liddicott
    Thumb Down

    dear me

    The terrorists will now have to use non-allowed wireless communications to trigger the bombs - after all the bombs are already not-allowed, why would they worry about the communications not being allowed?

    1. Goat Jam
      Paris Hilton

      Hi, I'm the clue fairy

      They are not talking about banning phones, they are talking about turning off those wifi/cell stations that they haven't even finished installing in the aircraft yet. Honestly, the pricing on that service is going to be so ludicrously expensive that the only people who would even consider paying for it would be the fictional terrorists anyway. Maybe they should leave it turned on and wait for someone to swipe their card. Anybody who does so is ipso facto a terrorist and can be taken down immediatley by the jack booted Sky Trooper in Aisle J

  24. Martin Usher
    FAIL, you know that phones don't talk directly to each other?

    Now, if you had a nanocell on board, maybe (but then you'd want to register all the passenger's phones first and take note of any phones you don't know about, like the bomb in the cargo hold).

    Dont'ya just love it when paranoia and politics takes over from competent understanding?

  25. Neal 5

    Still avoids the real problem.

    Just how much does an explosive cartridge cost to replace, and what is the availability.

    I wouldn't buy one of these printers without that knowledge, although I suspect there is many a bank, or international air transport company that would.

    It's all down to the old boys network.

    Happy Guy Faulkes night one and all.

    Please, sell me some more fear, I want to be American too.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Criminals ignore rules and law

    For the same reason that gun laws are ineffectual, having rules against using technology in flight won’t stop those with nefarious intent from doing so, surreptitiously or otherwise.

  27. Dibbles


    ...why would wifi and cellphones be installed on cargo jets anyway? Who's going to use it?!

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I must say, I was impressed with the design of the bombs

    unless the X-ray operator (in the seemingly unlikely event that the printers were scanned in the first place) were particularly familiar with the guts of the printer model in question, one circuit board next to another with some wires running around wouldn't be terribly likely to arouse suspicion

  29. John Sanders
    Big Brother

    I can imagine many ways to blow up a cargo plane.

    I'm sure the terrorists too. :(

    When someone is determined enough to do something awful, they usually succeed, one way or another.

    Criminals do not care about laws, and history shows that our "competent" politicians will answer back to the criminals with clever ways to impose further limits on us all rather than have the guts to deal with the problem.

    Bad times.

  30. noodle heimer

    we can only hope

    that this will be implemented. Along with a serious cell signal jammer on every plane.

    That would almost make up for the Shoes Off Theater on every fucking flight (at least here in the US.)

  31. Richard Porter

    Didn't it occur to anyone

    that printer cartridges are available in the USA, and therefore why would anyone be sending one from Yemen? The air freight would probably cost more than the cartridge.

    And then the muppets go and ban printer cartridges from aircraft, as though there's no other container that could be used instead.

  32. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    And what exactly..

    .. stops them using any other radio device? A mobile won't really work without a base station. If my experience of Heathrow is anything to go by it won't start working until you're halfway down the terminal, somewhere near customs :-).

    Oh, and as a side note - you may want to talk about privacy invasion, but there is one thing you can't beat the UK for: the ability to buy a SIM anonymously. Most other countries require registration details (not that those cannot be forged, but it's more work).

    Threat? Yes. NEW threat? Nah.

  33. SteveD


    Having taken Radio transmitters and gps trackers etc on a recent flights mostly as hand luggage, the only thing I was asked to do was open my laptop. I was expecting to at least get asked what the equipment was.

    I had a large Li-Po battery and GPS tracker/transmitter in my hand luggage.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One word..


    in the bomb.. Hidden SSID..

    Just stop f**king about and put proper explosive scanners all over the place!

  35. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    talk about missing the point

    The *real* lesson of this latest bomb attempt is that stuff *intended* for a cargo flight is subjected to significantly less security and yet is actually *shipped* on a passenger flight more often than you might like to hope. Now consider that our would-be terrorist only has to post a parcel. They remain anonymous and can have as many attempts as are needed with this strategy before they "get lucky". (And after, come to that.)

    There was an "expert" on the radio the other evening claiming that raising the bar for cargo to the level currently inflicted on humans, although technically possible, would probably take 10 years. To which my reaction was "OK, so you aren't allowed to carry cargo on passenger flights until you've got matching levels of security. Let's see if that *really* takes you 10 years.".

  36. Anonymous Coward

    Our own governments are taking away our freedoms because terrorists hate out freedoms.

    I have lived through terrorism, I have experienced bombs going off all over my country but I never experienced the cowardice that has swept this world. It makes me thoroughly ashamed that we are expected to cower in fear at the mere idea of what we used to so proudly defy a few decades ago.

    I AM NOT AFRAID of these terrorists and it's about time my government grew some balls and stood beside me.

    All I can say to the cowards in power in this world is congratulations for cowering like scared children and insisting we hide under the bed with you.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      I *am* afraid of terrorists

      But that's not the point. I would suggest that our fears are rational, and we factor in the math that on a list of things to worry about, being involved in a terrorist atrocity appears just below being hit by an asteroid called "Barney". So we live our lives accordingly.

      Security "theater" ? Security pantomime more like it. "It's behind you".

    2. Intractable Potsherd

      Bravo, Marcus ...

      ... I absolutely agree. Maybe the "silent majority" on this topic should start kicking back and reclaiming our culture.

  37. Peter 39

    so un-thought-out, it sounds like politicians

    If we're talking about ground-to-air comms setting off a bomb carried as cargo, who's to know when it's sent and which plane it's on.

    If we're discussing a suicide event, then it has to be in that passenger's checked luggage. If it's a parcel, you don't know what plane it's on or when.

    Of course, if you send FedEx or UPS then it's probably on the FedEx or UPS plane. But *you* aren't. If it's carried on another aircraft then you don't know which.

    There's just a massive common-sense-disconnect here.

    The only real issue is the suicide passenger who gets a bomb into a checked bag that he/she couldn't get through passenger screening. Fixing that means you have to screen all the bags. If a suicide terrorist is on board, rules about cell phones or WiFi are pointless. You have to stop the bag before it gets on board.

    But packages and freight are different. You don't need to worry about passengers setting off a freight-bomb.

  38. Rogerborg

    I just thank the Baby Jesus

    That the The Terrorists haven't got access to sophisticated detonation technology such as pressure switches, or - God help us all - alarm clocks.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      absence of GSM signal as a trigger?

  39. John Savard


    I would have thought that providing wi-fi in the passenger section of planes didn't imply providing it in the baggage hold. Airplanes are made of metal, after all, which conducts electricity.

    But there can, of course, be leakage. So, the solution seems obvious. No, don't provide Internet access to the passengers' own laptops. Provide, instead, wired access to a screen with keyboard built into the seat in front or some such thing.

    Airplane travel, being the fastest way to get places, will always be largely used by very busy and highly-paid business people, and they will be trying to use every possible moment to get work done. I don't think it's reasonable to be annoyed by this; these people, not tourists or people visiting relatives, are the airlines' chief market, their bread and butter.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's Roll...

    Oh no. Cellphones don't work at altitude. Nope.

    So take cellphones away from passengers. Put all the cellphones in the luggage. Good plan.

  41. Anonymous Coward


    Average number of people killed per year in the UK due to terrorism = 6

    Average number of people killed per year in the UK due to smoking related diseases = 100,000

    How much more is spent on 'security' than outlawing smoking. Perhaps this is one 'freedom' we should give up to make us safer.

    As for security-

    Q: "Why are you blowing that solid gold trumpet that you made us buy for you?"

    A: "It's an anti-elephant security device."

    Q: 'But there are no elephants around here!"

    A: "See, it's working!"

  42. Justin Bennett


    How about, aircraft seats are replaced by armoured pods. You get into a pod with your luggage and if you decide to blow yourself up the bottom of the pod fragments and all the bits just fall out of the bottom of the aircraft! No-one else is harmed, terrorista & luggage gone.

  43. Anonymous Coward

    lol.... so we have well behaved terrorists then?

    So take note all you terroists... you will still be asked to switch off your phones on the plane - and you better do it.... or risk facing the wrath of one of the stewards politely asking you to switch it off. So there.

    Ah ha, that's foiled them!

  44. This post has been deleted by its author

  45. Mark C 2

    Another idea

    Why can't we have pico cells in restaurants/cinemas/trains/aircraft that force mobiles into silent mode so they only vibrate, or turn the ringer volume down to minimum and the speaker to max (max feedback will make people speak quietly)?

    Then I can read my book/paper/look out the window without being disturbed - that is what is important ;-) you WILL LISTEN!

  46. This post has been deleted by its author

  47. Ian Michael Gumby
    Black Helicopters

    I think many have missed the point...

    There are two methods of having a wi-fi connection... One via Satellite the other via communication with the cell infrastructures on the ground.

    Those are closed systems where one would have to subscribe to the service. Meaning you can call out or get connected to the 'net without first going through the subscription page. That is, your ip traffic will be dropped before entering or leaving the plane.

    With respect to scanning for the device. In order to receive calls, the phone has to be on and communicating with a cell infrastructure. That is, you can set up a pico cell so that any cell in the area of the cargo/baggage screening would use the pico cell and you'd know that a device was active where is shouldn't be.

    The point is that the fears of an in flight detonation are a bit over blown.

  48. Anteaus

    No need for cellphones

    Aircraft transmit powerful signals on VHF/UHF frequencies, and the frequency being used determines the location of the plane, since it will typically be that of a control-tower somewhere in the vicinity. It is highly probable that the Lockerbie bomb was detonated that way, and that contrary to some opinions the (delayed) flight was meant to crash where it did, not over the Atlantic.

    So, unless we tell the pilot to stop yammering incessantly to the airport..<g>.. banning mobiles does no good at all.

  49. Graham Bartlett

    @PatrickE and others

    Patrick, you say that your phone started/stopped reception at around 1500ft on takeoff/landing? In which case, I give you any metropolitan airport - Kai Shek would be a perfect example - where the planes have to overfly a heavily-populated area on approach. Let the plane take off and be well on its way before you send your phone-equipped bomb a text, and the cellphone coverage will automatically drop the plane on the city.

  50. Syn1c

    If in doubt, ban it.

    I could use an altimeter as the detonation trigger. Maybe we should ban all planes from flying above 1000 feet?

    Instead of banning everything for everyone every time, wouldn't it be more wise to scan packages for explosives?

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    phones in planes

    Its quite possible to get a mobile connection from the ground while in a plane at crusing height ... earlier this year we flew to Portugal - my wife forgot her mobile was still turned on in her bag in the overhead locker. When we arrived and she looked at the phone she found a text message from T-Mobile welcoming her to Spain - which clearly was the result of it connecting to a base station in Spain when we were at 30k feet.

    N.b. the real danger though would be the combination of a text message detonation mechanism and the use of that iphone plane info app to be able to know where the plane was.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a load of ...

    Surely the worst place for a plane to go bang would be on approach, as it is FAR more likely then to be over a built up area ..

    Surely, any half witted terrorist would simply wait until the plane was over the mid atlantic and then send his "blow up now" text, safe in the knowledge that it would be received somewhere over Luton ...

    Whether or not obliterating Luton would be considered a bonus is a matter open to debate.

    I can tell you that GSM phone work just fine at all normal altitudes, as a private pilot I have often used my cellphone to call up the destination airfield when the usual crackly AM radio comms have failed ... the problem is not getting a signal, far from it, the biggest problem (and the reason they dont like you using them on planes) is it contacts far too many cells and can get a bit confused! ... normally cellular frequncies are not reused in adjacent cells, so you can be sure that the nearset transmitter on the same frequency is at least 2 cells away .. ground clutter then sorts out the signal attentuation ensuring that only the nearest cell gets the signal at a usueable level ... from a plane, plenty of cells are within range ...

  53. Nick Ryan Silver badge


    Bugger me... just when did timers become so yesterday? So hard to develop, it's not as if every damn electronics play set has timer circuits as one of the first things to build. The timer could even be started at a certain air pressure - this would prevent the bomb going off somewhere inconvenient, like on the gound.

    Curly wires attached to a couple of sausages and a countdown timer that stops at 1 second are optional of course.

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