More than a decade after al-Qaeda terrorists who helped carry out the Sept. 11 attacks received flight training in the U.S., a government investigator has found that American officials aren’t doing background checks on all foreigners who apply to flight schools.
An unspecified number of the 25,599 foreigners who applied for U.S. pilot licenses between January 2006 and September 2011 weren’t given background checks by the Transportation Security Administration, said Stephen M. Lord, a director at the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s auditor, in written testimony for a U.S. House panel last week.
Foreigners who weren’t subjected to criminal background checks still received training and a license, Lord said at a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on the security gaps. According to Transportation Security Administration rules, foreign nationals looking to get flight training in the U.S. must receive a security threat assessment. That process includes checking applicants’ backgrounds for terrorist and criminal activities and immigration violations.
Mohammad Atta, the lead Sept. 11 hijacker, and some of his accomplices received flight training at U.S. schools. It’s surprising and frightening that so many years after the U.S. was crushed with the single worst terrorist attack, such background check policies would still have such weaknesses.