A glaring loophole in government regulation that allows people on the no-fly list to learn how to fly was uncovered during a hearing on Wednesday. Now, unbelievably, it appears the federal government has also been approving flight training for illegal aliens.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved flight training for 25 illegal aliens at a Boston-area flight school, which was even owned by an illegal alien, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Among the students at the illegal-alien flight school were eight people who were in the country illegally and 17 who had overstayed their approved period in the U.S., CNSNews.com reports.
Even more disturbing, six of the illegal aliens were eventually awarded pilot's licenses.
The worrisome flight school was discovered when local police pulled the owner in an apparent traffic stop and determined that he was in fact an illegal alien.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, said it was shocking that foreign nationals are being allowed to learn to fly "just like Mohammed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers did."
"We have cancer patients, Iraq War veterans and Nobel Prize winners all forced to undergo rigorous security checks before getting on an airplane and at the same time, ten years after 9/11, there are foreign nationals in the United States trained to fly just like Mohammed Atta and the other 9/11 hijackers did, and not all of them are necessarily getting a security background check," Rogers said.
Stephen Lord, GAO's director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, testified before Rogers' committee Wednesday and was forced to answer some tough questions.
"Isn't it true that, based on your report, the Transportation Security Administration cannot assure the American people that foreign terrorists are not in this country learning how to fly airplanes, yes or no?"
"At this time, no," Lord replied.
CNSNews.com reports that the illegal alien who owned the Boston-area flight school had not been subject to a required TSA security threat assessment and had not been approved for flight training by the TSA, yet he was still able to acquire two Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot licenses.
In the tragic 9/11 attacks, the hijackers were in the United States with legal visas but had over stayed their visas. Meanwhile, they learned how to pilot an airplane at flight schools in Florida, Arizona and Minnesota. In response, the TSA implemented the "Alien Flight Student Program (AFSP) to help determine whether foreign students enrolling at flight schools pose pose a security threat," Lord said in written testimony delivered Wednesday.
Under AFSP, foreign nationals are supposed to go through a TSA security threat assessment before getting any flight training in order to determine whether there is a reasonable security threat to the U.S.
“According to TSA regulations, an individual poses a security threat when the individual is suspected of posing, or is known to pose, a threat to transportation or national security, a threat of air piracy or terrorism, a threat to airline or passenger security, or a threat to civil aviation security,” Lord explained.
He continued: “According to TSA officials, when a foreign national applies to AFSP to obtain flight training, TSA uses information submitted by the foreign national--such as name, date of birth, and passport information--to conduct a criminal history records check, a review of the Terrorist Screening Database, and a review of the Department of Homeland Security’s TECS [anti-terrorism] system."
But one thing not checked for is immigration status, a "weakness" noted by the GAO.
From the GAO report titled, "General Aviation Security: TSA’s Process for Ensuring Foreign Flight Students Do Not Pose a Security Risk Has Weaknesses":
"AFSP is not designed to determine whether a foreign flight student entered the country legally; thus, a foreign national can be approved for training through AFSP after entering the country illegally."
"In March 2010, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigated a Boston-area flight school after local police stopped the flight school owner for a traffic violation and discovered that he was in the country illegally. In response to this incident, ICE launched a broader investigation of the students enrolled at the flight school."
"ICE found that 25 of the foreign nationals at this flight school had applied to AFSP and had been approved by TSA to begin flight training after their security threat assessment had been completed; however,” reads the GAO report, “the ICE investigation and our subsequent inquiries revealed the following issues, among other things:
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 [pilot’s license]: 2 held FAA private pilot certificates and 1 held an FAA commercial pilot certificate.
“Seventeen of the 25 foreign nationals who received approval by the TSA to begin flight training were in ‘overstay’ status, meaning they had overstayed their authorized period of admission into the United States.
"In addition, the flight school owner held two FAA airman certificates. Specifically, he was a certified Airline Transport Pilot (cargo pilot) and a Certified Flight Instructor. However, he had never received a TSA security threat assessment or been approved by TSA to obtain flight training. He had registered with TSA as a flight training provider under AFSP."
A GAO spokesperson told CNSNews.com that none of the 25 illegal aliens who attended the Massachusetts flight school appeared to be from Muslim countries based on their names, which appeared to be Latin American.
“From January 2006 through September 2011, 25,599 foreign nationals had applied for FAA airman certificates, indicating they had completed flight training," the GAO report reveals.
However, the GAO determined that not everyone in the FAA registry had been subjected to thorough background checks.
“TSA’s analysis indicated that some of the 25,599 foreign nationals in the FAA airmen registry were not in the TSA AFSP database, indicating that these individuals had not applied to the AFSP or been vetted by TSA before taking flight training and receiving an FAA airman certificate," according to the GAO.
“TSA’s analysis indicated that an additional number of the 25,599 foreign nationals in the FAA airmen registry were also in the TSA AFSP database but had not been successfully vetted, meaning that they had received an FAA airman certificate but had not been successfully vetted or received permission from TSA to begin flight training.”
The TSA and ICE are working on a pilot program to properly vet foreign nationals and check them against immigration databases, though no time frame or real plan of action has been developed.