Terror Watch List Suspects Held Pilot Licenses

By Carlton Purvis

Twenty-seven licensed pilots and aircraft mechanics should never have been issued licenses because of their connections to terrorist groups, according to internal Department of Homeland Security documents  from 2009 obtained by the New York Times. Additionally, the Transportation Security Administration still can’t confirm the identity of thousands of others.

“The F.A.A. and the Department of Homeland Security were supposed to scour the list of licensed pilots, mechanics and flight dispatchers for terrorists under a law approved by Congress after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but they have shown great difficulty in doing the work...” the Times reports.

Of 1.3 million names in the database, FAA had Social Security numbers for about half. Among those, 15,000 didn’t match name, date of birth, or gender in the Social Security database. Eight thousand license holders were deceased.

A representative from the Ft. Worth Flight Standards District Office said that, typically, at a minimum, a driver’s license is needed for a private pilot’s license. A person is required to complete at least 40 hours of flight time, including 10 hours solo, to obtain a license, pass a knowledge test, and pass a physical. Additional identification requirements vary by flight school.

In FAA’s defense, they aren’t required to document Social Security numbers, but DHS criticized the practice, saying that without them, there is no way for TSA to verify that the people applying for licenses are U.S. citizens. By itself, a Social Security card only shows proof of residency, not citizenship. It does provide a unique number that can be used to cross reference other information, however.

IF the only information being used to search for other information about a person is a proper name, that can be a problem. According to the report, an initial scan found 29,000 FAA certificates matched names of people on a government terror watch list. Upon closer investigation, the number was narrowed down from thousands of false positives to 27.

Ealier this month, Guyanese immigrant Jophan Porter was arraigned for working as a flight attendant using  fake driver’s licenses and an FAA certification. He was able to work as a flight attendant for American Eagle Airlines from March to June. He was only caught when the man who’s identity he had stolen applied for food stamps and was denied because a crosscheck showed he worked at the airline.

photo by trendscout  from flickr 


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