Homeland Security asked to review how pilots are vetted

A request to the Department of Homeland Security could bring about a closer look at holders of airman certificates to find possible security threats.

Concerned that reports show people with connections to terrorism and other criminal activities hold valid airman certificates, four senators have asked the Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department to study the certificate vetting system and correct any weaknesses. The senators want to know how Transportation Security Administration vetts the names of individuals holding valid certificates and what action is taken when a person holding a certificate is determined to present a security threat.

In the Dec. 16 letter to Inspector General Richard Skinner, the bi-partisan group said: “While it is our understanding that TSA and FAA have been collaborating since 2001 to vett the ARD [Airman Registration Data Base] for potential security threats, there appear to be weaknesses in the vetting system. Some individuals with terrorist connections have apparently gone undetected by TSA’s vetting, while in other cases, security threats who have been identified during the vetting process have not lost their certification. We are aware that FAA and TSA have recently implemented a new vetting procedure that may correct many of the earlier shortcomings, but we still have concerns about the effectiveness of this process.”

Specific questions the senators want answered include:

1. Is the current vetting process used by the FAA and TSA sufficient to detect individuals known to be threats to national security or transportation security and, if they are determined to be threats, ensure that they no longer have a valid airman certificate?

2. Are there weaknesses in the vetting coordination process between the FAA and the TSA that need to be addressed?

3. Are there additional agencies that should be included in the vetting process?

4. Does the process use the appropriate technology to match names on the ARD to names on other terrorist screening databases used by TSA and the Department of Homeland Security to identify individuals who pose a threat to national security or transportation security?

5. Are TSA and DHS matching the ARD against the appropriate terrorist screening databases in order to identify individuals known to be threats to national security or transportation security?

Senators who sent the request are: John (Jay) Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Kay Bailey Hutcheson (R-Texas) ranking member of that committee, Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security, and Jim DeMint, (R-S.C.) ranking member of that subcommittee.

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