TSA: ‘A U.S. Citizen Who Is On The No-Fly List Could Commence Flight Training’

Edwin Mora | July 20, 2012 | 4:12pm EDT
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(CNSNews.com) -- A Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official testified this week that Americans who are on the no-fly list because they have been linked to terrorism are permitted by the government to attend flight school and receive a pilot’s license.

However, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also testified and said the TSA may not be aware of all the security precautions in place to stop a no-fly list person from getting a pilot’s license.

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However, the official added that once a U.S. citizen on the no-fly list is awarded a pilot’s license by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), that individual is “perpetually vetted.”

The official with TSA, a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), made the revelation during a July 18 hearing by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking-member of the full House Homeland Security Committee, asked Kerwin Wilson, the general manager for General Aviation at TSA's Office of Security Policy and Industry Engagement, “Would a U.S. citizen on a no-fly list be able to obtain flight training without undergoing a security threat assessment?”

Wilson said, “Mr. Thompson that is correct, but keep in mind the way the program is set up there is layered security put in place. You’re right, initially a U.S. citizen who is on the no-fly list could commence flight training. But once the individual receives a flight certificate, an FAA certificate, that individual is bounced against various databases as well [and] perpetually vetted, meaning that individual is vetted once a day, once a week.”

During a July 19 House Judiciary Committee hearing, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was asked by Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) about Wilson’s testimony regarding U.S. citizens on the no-fly list being able to attend flight school and get pilot licenses.

Napolitano said that the TSA official maybe is not aware of all the security measures being taken, and also said “there are lots of different ways someone on the no-fly list would not be in the position to get a pilot’s license.”

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Rep. Lungren asked Napolitano, “Yesterday, we had testimony by a TSA representative in another subcommittee about the issue of pilot licensing or pilot lessons and the question of checking people before they are able to do that. And it was brought up by the representative of TSA that currently you do not match the list of those who want to apply for pilot lessons with the no-fly list, and that seemed to be incongruous that on the no-fly list I couldn’t get on a commercial aircraft carrier, an aircraft, but I could in fact go to a pilot training program and not be stopped from doing that because it’s not checked against that list.”

Napolitano said, “Mr. Representative, let me take the opportunity to offer a classified briefing to you. The plain fact of the matter is there are lots of different ways someone on the no-fly list would not be in a position to get a pilot’s license,” she said. “But I think I need to go into classified briefing.”

Lungren then said, “Okay, I understand the classified – but the statement was made on the record yesterday that they’re not checked against the no-fly list, period, and that is disturbing if that is the case.”

Napolitano answered, “The TSA representative may not have been aware of all the other things that occur.”

The terrorists involved in 9/11 trained at U.S. flight schools. Four of the 9/11 hijackers were in the country illegally after overstaying their allowed admission into the U.S.

Stephen Lord, the director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), who testified along with Wilson, told lawmakers that the TSA program aimed at vetting foreigners who want to attend U.S. flight schools suffers from weaknesses.

For one, not all foreigners are vetted before they attend flight school or even prior to receiving a pilot license.

Furthermore, the GAO found that the TSA program to vet foreign nationals does not check for immigration status, something that the TSA official said has been addressed.

The GAO found that 25 illegals, including 17 who had overstayed their allowed admission into the United States, were able to attend a Boston-area flight school that was itself owned by illegal alien. Three individuals were able to get FAA pilot licenses. including two who obtained an FAA private pilot license and one who received an FAA commercial pilot certificate.

Napolitano told the House Judiciary Committee on July 19 that her department began taking steps to vet all foreign nationals in 2010, but that a memorandum of agreement confirming those screenings had not been written.

In his prepared remarks, Wilson said, “In November 2010, TSA began working with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement component of DHS] to mitigate the [GAO] identified concern and conducted the first recurrent [immigration] lawful status check in May 2011.”

That first check occurred more than a year after the government discovered -- in March 2010 -- that illegals were allowed to attend the Boston-area flight school.

Lord, in his prepared remarks, also told lawmakers that vetting of all new and existing FAA pilot’s license holders against the Terrorist Screening database “does not occur until after the foreign national has obtained flight training.”

The government requires individuals seeking a pilot license or other FAA certificate to fly an aircraft to undergo a criminal background check and screening against terrorist watch lists.

Maintained by the U.S. government’s Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), the no-fly list is comprised of individuals who are not allowed to board a commercial aircraft for travel in and out of the United States.  The list, created in response to the 9/11 attacks, contains about 10,000 names, including that of U.S. citizens.

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