Foreign Students Still Flying High

By W.D. Reasoner on July 19, 2012

Eleven years after the horrific attacks of 9/11, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just issued a dismaying report, "Weaknesses Exist in TSA's Process for Ensuring Foreign Flight Students Do Not Pose a Security Threat".

The gist of the report is that the agency inside the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charged with responsibility for the program, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), apparently has not adequately vetted foreign students attending American flight schools. This is just one more little piece of evidence that, despite administration claims, neither the border nor virtually anything having to do with immigration to the United States is as secure as they would have us believe.

Most astounding, GAO found that "AFSP [the Alien Flight Student Program, the name of this vetting program in its most recent incarnation] is not designed to determine whether a foreign flight student entered the country legally; thus, a foreign national can be approved for training through AFSP after entering the country illegally."

Shocking. If they can't even get the fundamentals right internally, how can the American public trust any DHS program?

DHS Secretary Napolitano has said repeatedly that homeland security is a matter of risk management, because not all risks pose the same level of threat. True … but this one seems pretty obvious, and should have been pretty high on the convoluted DHS threat color scheme — a glaring red, I would think — as our own painful history reminds us.

And people have known about it for years. The vulnerability first came to light in 2008 when ABC News reported on it. Then, in November of 2010, the Boston Globe did an extensive report (see here and here) on the problem following the arrest of 34 illegal aliens connected to a flight school in Massachusetts. One of the illegal aliens arrested was the flight school's owner.

How could the department charged with keeping us safe get this one so wrong?

Seems to me part of the reason is because the Alien Flight Student Program has been an unwanted foundling passed from agency to agency even since before creation of DHS and its spinoff agencies, before landing at TSA. (And wasn't that, at least ostensibly, why the department was created, to end all of the buck-passing and confusion?) Consequently, there has been no adequate oversight and certainly no seamless moving of information among and between TSA — which has neither any federal immigration authority nor expertise — DHS itself, and the other components within DHS that are in fact charged with immigration and border enforcement functions.

Let's hope that there is quick action on this front, if not by DHS, then by the Congress and an outraged public.