Earlier this month, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation Security held a hearing to discuss the ways of improving the program following the critical report by the Government Accountability Office.
The main issue for Rogers and the subcommittee is the terrifying thought that someone could come through loopholes in this program and cause another terrorist attack like those that occurred on September 11, 2001.
“It is disturbing to learn that we could still be vulnerable to the same actions the 9/11 hijackers took over a decade ago,” Rogers said in his opening statement.
The flight program was created in response to the 9/11 attacks and to make sure that foreign students seeking new or recurrent training at flight schools in the United States do not pose a threat to aviation or national security.
During the hearing, Rogers was shocked to find out that people who were on the ‘no fly’ list for commercial travel could be trained in a U.S. flight school.
“Correct, they would not be able to board the plane as a passenger but they would be allowed to do the flight training,” said Kerwin Wilson, the general manager of general aviation at Transportation Security Administration.
Wilson went on to defend the statement and what TSA has done to make sure the right security measures are taken when dealing with such situations.
The report revealed many other issues, one being the weakness in the vetting process and in the Department of Homeland Security’s procedures for identifying flight students that enter into the United States illegally.
According to the GAO report, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement found that in March 2010:
“Eight of the 25 foreign nationals who received approval by TSA to begin flight training were in “entry without inspection” status, meaning they had entered the country illegally. Three of these had obtained FAA airman certificates: 2 held FAA private pilot certificates and 1 held an FAA commercial pilot certificate.
Rogers asked Stephen Lord, director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues for GAO, when would he be able to see a clear and distinct effort to fix shortcomings identified in the report.
“There are a lot of questions here to discuss the new data that we are sharing and then again, we still have to figure out why some of these individuals were not vetted to begin with,” said Lord.
GAO recommended that TSA and ICE create a plan to reevaluate the issues presented in the report.
Wilson confirmed that TSA and ICE would prepare a plan by December of this year to assess the legal status of all of active members of AFSP. The plan will include specific details on time frames, accountability and steps to move forward for the future of the program and the safety of the United States.