In his book, Bush at War, Bob Woodward describes former CIA Director George Tenet’s initial reaction to the attacks of September 11, 2001 thusly:
“This has bin Laden all over it,” Tenet told Boren. “I’ve got to go.” He also had another reaction, one that raised the real possibility that the CIA and the FBI had not done all that could have been done to prevent the terrorist attack. “I wonder,” Tenet said, “if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training.”
Six months after the “guy’s” acquired skills enabled him and eighteen accomplices to kill some 3000 Americans, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) contacted their flight school to say that the late terrorists had been approved for Visas. At PJM, Annie Jacobson has an unsettling assessment of the developments in U.S. flight school security since 9/11:
The INS unit was disbanded and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) took its place in regard to monitoring foreign nationals for flight school eligibility. In September 2004 the Alien Flight Student Program went into effect, with TSA in charge.
Last week, in one of the most damaging reports on the TSA to date, ABC News revealed that in the program’s first year under TSA control, there were “some 8,000 foreign students in the FAA database who got their pilot licenses without ever being approved by the TSA.”
Citing official documents, Ms. Jacobson details the mixture of indecision and interdepartmental red tape that’s kept American skies open to the same American-trained terror that brought down the World Trade Center and blew a hole in the Pentagon over six years ago:
“[Acting General Manager for General Aviation Robert] Rottman made the TSA’s do-nothing policy painfully clear:
Currently DOS and ICE appear to have conflicting views on the appropriateness of B visas for flight training. Department of State, which has the responsibility for development of visa policy, contends that a B visa is appropriate for flight training. However, ICE, which enforces visa requirements, has asserted that B visas are not appropriate for flight training.”
Rottman’s conclusion: “Based on the forgoing, TSA representatives having security inspection responsibility and oversight authority . . . will abstain from making visa appropriate or validity determinations until further notice, as appropriate.”
Is it too great a breach of cordiality to halt all U.S. flight lessons for all visa holders? At least until coming up with a decisive long-term policy? I was just told of a coast-to-coast commercial flight on which all passengers were deprived of peanuts because one passenger was allergic. You’d think the threat of a 9/11 repeat demands as thorough and decisive an approach as the one enabling the safe distribution of in-flight snacks.