More than a decade after hijackers trained by US flight schools used passenger jets as deadly weapons in the September 11 terror strikes, a report says flight school security measures remain flawed.
These security weaknesses are "completely unacceptable" and "extremely disturbing," said Congressman Mike Rogers, head of the US House of Representatives subcommittee on transportation security.
After the September 11, 2011 attacks, when four planes were hijacked and three were flown into the twin towers in New York and the Pentagon near the US capital, killing some 3,000 people, the US transportation security agency (TSA) was tasked with conducting risk assessments of foreign flight student applicants.
But the report from the US government watchdog said despite the beefed up security measures, some pilots still manage to get training without ever going through a background check or before it is completed.
"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 receive any type of vetting," the report said.
In addition, the "TSA also faces challenges in obtaining criminal history information," the report noted, and although the TSA "is working to establish processes to identify foreign nationals with immigration violations," that system remains flawed.
"The Department (of Homeland Security) needs to be smarter about security," Rogers said in his statement to the House subcommittee yesterday, suggesting the agency spends too much effort screening people who pose little risk, such as "cancer patients, Iraq-war veterans, and Nobel Peace Prize Winners," while allowing gaps in the screening of foreign nationals to learn to fly planes.
Kerwin Wilson, general aviation manager for the TSA and the DHS, said "we continue to evolve our security approach by examining the procedures and technologies we use, how specific security procedures are carried out, and how screening is conducted."
He added that the TSA is working on implementing the report's recommendations.