President Trump’s national security team is using the threat of a ban on laptops on international flights to the United States to force airports around the world to upgrade their security.
“The bar will be raised much, much higher than it is today,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Thursday during a national security forum on Capitol Hill. DHS has already prevented passengers flying to the United States from 10 Middle Eastern airports from carrying a laptop in the cabin of the plane. The ban was reportedly inspired by intelligence that terrorists from the Islamic State had learned to put bombs in laptops that could escape security detection. International airlines and businesses worry the ban will have significant economic costs, particularly if it’s expanded to cover European airports. That worry could motivate them to comply with Kelly’s security upgrades. “We the United States, the Department of Homeland Security are driving this effort and I believe, I don’t believe, I know, that routine security aviation worldwide will be raised to a much higher level,” he said.
Trump’s team has been accused of failing to explain the need for a laptop ban and neglecting the risk that the lithium laptop batteries, when stored together in the hold of a plane, could catch fire and cause a crash. House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, however, defended Kelly’s security tactics.
“I’ve had the threat briefings,” the Texas Republican said. “The threat is real … they’ve gotten to the level of sophistication where I think you’re taking exactly the right precautions to protect Americans.”
Kelly said some of the new security policies will begin to be implemented in a matter of weeks, while others will be rolled out over several months or years.
“My desire is that all airports raise their minimum security to the level that we say it should be,” he said. “If they do then … travelers can travel with their electronics. If not, that’s their decision; we’ll simply ask them to not have large electronics travel in the passenger compartments.”
Undoubtedly, last week s horrific shooting of House Republican whip Steve Scalise and four others on a baseball field in Alexandria, VA was fueled by vitriolic and incendiary anti-Trump rhetoric emanating from the Democrats and their media allies. And the incident, as bad as it was, could have turned out far worse. But anger at Democrats and gratitude that casualties were limited and that Scalise himself will likely survive should not obscure the fact that Republicans had no business being on that ball field in the first place and once there, should not have left themselves so vulnerable to attack. First, consider the hostile setting.
Del Ray, VA, the community of 23,000 residents where the shooting occurred, is often described as liberal a label that tends to obscure just how radical and left-wing many of its residents actually are. Del Ray is basically northern Virginia s version of Takoma Park, MD, the hyper-progressive enclave across the river that once declared itself a nuclear free zone and even allows illegal immigrants to vote. The two towns are heavily populated with White Millennials who espouse political correctness and show open contempt for Donald Trump and Republicans. GOP party candidates never campaign in either locale for a reason. There are very few friendlies. In the 2016 presidential election, between 75% and 85% of Del Ray residents voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But, in fact, a hefty percentage of these voters as demonstrated in the primary were, and are, Bernie Sanders supporters. This is not a prosperous area, but one in which many residents are still struggling. In fact, it s fertile ground for a deeply discontented Sanders supporter to camp out for months in the midst of other never-Trumpers and not be noticed, let alone be considered odd.
Why would House GOP members, especially some of its most senior and influential leaders, decide to practice baseball and not just once, but morning after morning for weeks in such a town? There are wonderful baseball fields all over northern Virginia in towns not so hostile to Republicans. Couldn t House GOP members practiced more safely somewhere else? Del Ray also happens to be on the edge of Arlandria, a large Central American community that happens to be one of the most notorious base areas for the transnational terrorist organization, MS-13. The group has bases all across the US now, but it is heavily concentrated in a few areas, including Arlandria. Gang violence has surged in Arlandria and has spilled over into Del Ray over the past two years, with stories of horrific violence. And consider this: House GOP members like Scalise are in the forefront of efforts to eliminate MS-13 and to deport the illegal immigrants that comprise so much of MS-13 s domestic base of support. So, again, why choose a locale so close to your known enemies?
To be sure, at the time of last week s attack, there was no extant threat from anyone toward the House GOP leadership. Even many area residents had no idea that House members practiced baseball there. But somehow, the attacker did; he even had photos of the ball field on his cell phone. How did a total stranger to the area so easily obtain intelligence on the movements of the GOP s top leadership and so easily maneuver himself close enough to nearly assassinate them? It boggles the mind. A security risk assessment is not based on a high probability of an incident actually occurring. It s based on reducing whatever probability may exist to as close to zero as possible. You always plan for worst case scenarios. An attack by an angry liberal or an illegal immigrant terrorist in a hotbed of radicalism like Del Ray might well have been one of those scenarios.
The quality of the protection that House GOP members received during their baseball practice is also of great concern. Much has been made of the fact that the timely reaction of Scalise s security detail may have prevented a massacre. But where was the detail deployed when Scalise was practicing on the field? Sitting in the baseball stands apparently. Normally, a security detail accompanies its protectee closely to ward off a prospective attacker. Scalise s normally did. However, the rules have to change when close-in protection is not an option. Otherwise, a detail s presence provides no effective deterrence. In this case, it is shocking that neither member of his security detail was either patrolling the perimeter of the ball field or simply stationed on the perimeter to interdict a prospective intruder. The attacker apparently did not realize that security personnel were present. How could he, if those personnel were not providing a visible and pro-active security presence?
It is highly unlikely that he would have attacked had he seen an armed security person on the perimeter of the ball field. It is easy to second guess and to find fault. Shouldn t members of Congress be free to play baseball anywhere they want? In theory, sure. But given the reality of our times, prudence and preparation are called for. Some have suggested that members of Congress should be authorized to carry weapons for protection. It s a good idea. But failing that, they might consider requesting official police protection the next time they decide to appear in public to play baseball.
And for God s sake, move the practice to another locale, and before starting, conduct a standard security assessment with local police. This incident shouldn t have happened and it should never happen again.
The JSE s surprisingly small security services sector is in lockdown when it comes to investor sentiment even though high levels of crime and social unrest in SA mean private protection is arguably one of the few sweet spots in the local economy. There have been persistent mutterings that large security services conglomerate Fidelity could come to the market, but any enthusiasm for this listing might be muted by the prevailing ratings on existing security-aligned counters. CSG Holdings, which has security as part of a services and outsourcing services bouquet, trades on a trailing earnings multiple of less than seven times. Security-barrier specialist Trellidor, which boasts cash flows that can sustain generous dividends, trades on an earnings multiple of about nine times.
Amalgamated Electronic Corp, which specialises in electronic security technology, was bought out by Stellar Capital Partners last year at a price that seriously discounted the company s perennial profits and its longer-term potential. Back in the late 1990s, the JSE hosted a vibrant private security sector with listings such as Sentry Group, Paramed and Gray Security. However, these companies delisted as consolidation among the bigger players transpired. Should a big player like Fidelity confirm plans to list in the medium term, it is possible that sentiment might fortify, to an extent, around CSG and Trellidor.
Both companies have been acquisitive, and both have the capacity and scope to snag further deals to bulk up their security offerings. Last year Trellidor snapped up a controlling stake in the Taylor Group, which specialises in shutters, blinds and decorative mouldings. At the interim stage (to end-December) Taylor looked well capable of achieving its warranted profit after tax (before interest) of R33m, with R23m (off turnover of R119m) already in the bag. Encouragingly, the 19% operating margin at Taylor is not too far off Trellidor s well-reinforced 21%.
Aside from its cautious African and global expansion international sales now account for more than 16% of Trellidor sales the acquisition of Taylor establishes a platform for growth into a new segment of the market, in which distribution synergies can be leveraged. Trellidor, no doubt, will also expand the Taylor product range with some vigour and full-year results to end-June will hopefully show early evidence of this effort. While there are clearly more niche acquisitions that Trellidor could pursue, the Taylor deal is a significant transaction and might mean the company prefers to retain an inward focus for the foreseeable future.
But there should be safety in Trellidor s numbers, with solid earnings growth and an escalating dividend keeping investors insulated in recessionary times. On the other hand, at CSG, investors can pretty much bank on further corporate manoeuvres. The company has made several acquisitions in the security sector over the past two years Stallion and Revert Risk Management Solutions are the most recent and there are indications that further deals are afoot. CSG has indicated it prefers security operations with a technology edge and wants to operate in sectors in which there are high barriers to entry.
Its security offering currently entails guarding (armed and unarmed), CCTV monitoring, specialised security services, monitoring and armed response, as well as safety surveillance and access control. Security already makes up 14% of CSG s operating profits, chipping in R20m in the year to end-March. With Stallion and Revert Risk on board, security services could account for more than a quarter of CSG s operating profits in the next financial year.
CSG s recent investment presentation showed that more than three-quarters of the nearly R50bn private security sector is still in the hands of small (presumably regional) players. About 20% is controlled by big players like Fidelity, Bidvest Protea Coin, G4S, Servest Security and Thorburn. CSG holds a market share of roughly 0.85%. Naturally, it will be a cumbersome and prolonged process for CSG to build critical mass in the security sector by snapping up small “mom and pop” security businesses. Investors at this point need to mull the possibility of CSG tilting at a large, game-changing acquisition in the security sector.
With the adventurous PSG Group and Afrigem, an offshoot of Patrice Motsepe s African Rainbow Capital (ARC), ranking as influential shareholders at CSG, the possibility of locking in a big deal hardly seems far-fetched. PSG and ARC could well bolster their equity positions if inspired corporate action unfolds. Of course, CSG which is a dogged dividend payer might be averse to raising fresh capital for a sizeable transaction with its share price slapped with a modest market rating.