American citizens who are on the no-fly list because they are suspected of terrorist activity are allowed to enroll in flight schools in the U.S. without a background check, according to government regulation.
The security loophole was raised during a hearing Wednesday to examine the Homeland Security Department's programs to screen foreigners who want to attend flight schools in the U.S. Some of the 9/11 hijackers were able to learn to fly in the U.S. while living in the country illegally. After the attacks, many security checks were put into place to prevent terrorists from enrolling in flight school in the U.S., but none of those were extended to American citizens.
The government has other screening requirements for someone to receive a pilot's license or other certificate to fly a plane which include criminal background checks and screening against terror watch lists. But Rogers said if the government doesn't want someone on an airplane because he or she is a terror threat, there's no reason why that person should be allowed to learn how to fly.
Kerwin Wilson, the Transportation Security Administration official who oversees the flight school screening program, said he did not know whether an American on the no-fly list has actually undergone flight training in the past 10 years.
As it is, the TSA's program to screen foreigners has its own security loopholes, according to the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency.
The TSA screening program does not automatically determine whether a prospective flight student is in the U.S. legally, said Stephen Lord, who heads GAO's homeland security and justice programs. In 2010, law enforcement investigated a flight school in the Boston area and found that eight people at the school approved for flight training by TSA were in the country illegally, and 17 more had stayed in the country longer than they were allowed, Lord told lawmakers. The owner of the flight school was in the country illegally as well.
The TSA and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have agreed to share more information with each other, officials from those agencies said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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