November 11, 2010
Chalk up another Code Red Elmo moment for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. While Islamic terrorists groom suicide bombers starting in kindergarten, the grownups in charge of protecting America can’t seem to reach an elementary level of competence.
The “good” news: Hindsight-driven bureaucrats at DHS moved to ban high-risk cargo from Yemen and Somalia this week after a global air scare involving makeshift printer/toner cartridge-bombs. The bad news: More than nine years after the 9/11 jihadist attacks, untold numbers of high-risk flyers have been able to board, ride and pilot American planes—some with Transportation Security Administration approval to boot.
Outside Boston, one shady flight school provided single-engine pilot lessons to at least 33 illegal immigrants from Brazil. But clear counter-terror rules ban illegal aliens from enrolling in U.S. flight schools. Clear counter-terror regulations require TSA to run foreign flight students’ names against a plethora of terrorism, criminal and immigration databases. Head-scratching airport security officials were at a loss last week to explain how dozens of these illegal alien students eluded their radar screen when the agency “performs a thorough background check on each applicant at the time of application” and checks “for available disqualifying immigration information,” the Boston Globe reported.
A cluebat for the Keystone Kops: No matter how DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano might spin it, the “system” is not “working” in any sense of either word.
Whistleblowers have warned for years about the gaping holes in both the TSA’s and the Federal Aviation Administration’s foreign pilot screening systems. In 2005, aviation safety inspector Edward H. Blount of the Alabama Flight Standards District Office sent a letter to the TSA warning of federal policies that were “fostering illegal flight training by foreign individuals” in the U.S. on improper visas. Blount reported that he and another investigator were told by a TSA official that the agency was “not going to look at the visa status” of pilot applicants.
The next year, TSA issued a backside-covering memo shirking responsibility and instead pointing fingers at the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of State for neglecting to follow up on rigorous immigration status checks for foreign pilots.
In 2008, ABC News discovered that thousands of foreign nationals were able to enroll in flight schools despite the strict flight security rules. “Some of the very same conditions that allowed the 9-11 tragedy to happen in the first place are still very much in existence today,” one regional TSA officer warned. “TSA’s enforcement is basically nonexistent,” former FAA inspector Bill McNease told the network. The matter was kicked upstairs to DHS higher-ups in Washington. And there it gathered dust.