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A new report by the Government Accountability Office shows that eleven years after 9/11, the US government is allowing illegal foreign nationals to train at American flight schools.
The GAO’s findings were delivered before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security in a hearing that focused on the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) inability to thoroughly screen potential foreign security threats from receiving flight training at American schools.
In particular, the security failure was laid at the doorstep of the TSA’s Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP), a screening program created after 9/11 for non-citizens or permanent residents attempting to enroll at American flight schools.
To that end, foreign applicants undergo a “security threat assessment” to determine whether they pose a known or suspected threat to “transportation or national security; airline or passenger security; or civil aviation security.”
Once applicants are cleared for flight training by AFSP, they can then obtain a pilot’s license or certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration, which relies on the TSA for conducting criminal and immigration background checks on foreign national student pilots.
Yet, in many instances, it was found that AFSP had not bothered to screen applicants against the Terrorist Screening Database until after the foreign nationals had completed flight training, an omission the GAO called a “weakness” in the system.
That security “weakness,” according to the GAO’s Stephen Lord, means that “foreign nationals obtaining flight training with the intent to do harm…could have already obtained the training needed to operate an aircraft before they received any type of vetting.”
Moreover, AFSP’s lack of scrutiny in examining the criminal background of foreign applicants included a failure to regularly examine their immigration status as well, an oversight that has led to AFSP approving a number of illegal foreign nationals for flight training.
Those AFSP vetting failures include approving flight training for 25 illegal aliens at a Boson-area flight school in 2010, eight of whom were in the country illegally and 17 who had expired visas.
It should be noted that five of the 9/11 hijackers had expired visas and, according to the GAO, 36 of the roughly 400 people convicted of terrorism-related charges by the United States since 9/11 overstayed their visas.
Equally disturbing was that the owner of the Boston flight school was himself an illegal alien, who despite not being approved by the TSA for flight training had, nevertheless, been issued two pilot licenses by the FAA.
Not surprisingly, the news of the TSA’s administrative failings led the committee chairman, Republican Representative Mike Rogers, to note that despite “weaknesses in our security controls that were supposed to be fixed a decade ago…there are still foreign nationals in the United States trained to fly just like Mohammed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers.”
Yet Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose agency oversees TSA, responded to the GAO allegations by claiming that the entire matter was a case of misunderstanding by the GAO.
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