Saturday, March 1, 2008

ABC News on 9/11 Redux: "Thousands of Aliens" in U.S. Flight Schools Illegally

Former FAA Inspector: TSA's Enforcement "Basically Nonexistent"

Thousands of foreign student pilots have been able to enroll and obtain pilot licenses from U.S. flight schools, despite tough laws passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, according to internal government documents obtained by ABC News.

The new laws were passed after it was learned that all of the 9/11 hijackers (including ringleader Mohammed Atta) who were involved in flight operations had trained at U.S. flight schools with improper visas.

"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," wrote one regional security
official to his boss at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

"Thousands of aliens, some of whom may very well pose a threat to this country, are taking flight lessons, being granted FAA certifications and are flying planes," wrote the TSA official, Richard A. Horn, in 2005, complaining that the students did not have the proper visas.

Under the new laws, American flight schools are only supposed to provide pilot training to foreign students who have been given a background check by the TSA and have a specific type of visa.

But in thousands of cases that has not happened, according to the documents and current and former government officials involved in the program.

"TSA's enforcement is basically nonexistent," said former FAA inspector Bill McNease, in an interview for ABC News' World News With Charles Gibson.

McNease, who retired last year, says in one year alone, 2005, he found some 8,000 foreign students in the FAA database who got their pilot licenses without ever being approved by the TSA.

"And a flight school wants the money to teach 'em. And they are gonna teach 'em how to fly and get their ratings, and then they just slip through the cracks," McNease said.

In another internal e-mail obtained by ABC News, Monty Thompson, an official in the TSA Flight School Inspections section, complained in 2005 to his bosses in Washington, "I fear we are "dangerously close" to losing sight of the mission and the intent of the Flight School Security provisions."

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