BOSTON, MA – Due to a routine traffic stop by local police it has been discovered that 25 illegal aliens were approved by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to attend a Boston-area flight school. Six of the illegal aliens had already obtained pilot’s licenses.
Though the TSA is charged with preventing illegals from obtaining pilot’s license, it failed miserably in this case. According to the Government Accountability Office eight of the illegal flight-school attendees entered the country illegally and 17 were in violation of their approved admission period to the U.S.
It took a local police officer rather federal authorities to discover the violations. After the owner of the school was stopped for a traffic violation, local authorities determined he himself was an illegal alien.
Representative Mike Rogers (R.-Ala.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, is perplexed by the TSA’s lack of oversight: “We have cancer patients, Iraq War veterans and Nobel Prize winners all forced to undergo rigorous security checks before getting on an airplane,” said Rogers, “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.”
Stephen Lord, GAO Director of Homeland Security and Justice Issues, testified before Rogers’ subcommittee yesterday. Rogers asked him: “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?”
Director Lord responded: “At this time, no.”
Under the Alien Flight Student Program, foreign nationals are subjected to a TSA security threat assessment prior before being approved for flight training to determine if they pose a security threat to the United States.
“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 said in his written testimony.
“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,” Lord testified.
The illegal alien who owned the Massachusetts flight school had not undergone a required TSA security threat assessment and had not been approved for flight training by the agency. In spite of this oversight he still held two Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot licenses, also known as FAA certificates.
Called a “weakness” by the GAO, the TSA Alien Flight Student Program does not check for immigration status, “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,” stated the GAO in its report.
In response to this incident, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a broader investigation of the students enrolled at the flight school. ICE found the following about the Boston flight school:
- “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], two held FAA private pilot certificates and one 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.”
- “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.”
Stephen Lord of the GAO said in his prepared remarks before lawmakers that the TSA does not screen new and existing FAA pilot license holders against the Terrorist Screening Database until after the foreign national has completed flight training. “Thus, foreign nationals obtaining flight training with the intent to do harm, such as three of the pilots and leaders of the September 11 terrorist attacks, could have already obtained the training needed to operate an aircraft before they received any type of vetting,” warned the GAO.