If Suspect Had Been Flagged For Paying In Cash, Airline Would Have Been Alerted He Was On No-Fly List
Senators Call On Administration To Implement Executive Order Closing Loophole Right Away—Move Would Stop Terrorists That Try To Give Feds The Slip In Dead Of Night
WASHINGTON, DC—U.S. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Judiciary Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, and Senators Charles E. Schumer (D-NY) and Mark Udall (D-CO) urged the Obama administration Wednesday to immediately close a loophole to the ‘no fly’ list that let the suspect in the Times Square bombing incident escape detection at a New York airport by paying cash for his ticket.
Almost ten years after 9/11, airlines are still not required to flag passengers who pay in cash to federal authorities—even though it is a hallmark of terrorists seeking to avoid detection. If cash-paying customers were required to have their names checked by TSA against the most recently-updated “no-fly list”, Emirates Airlines would have been alerted to the fact that Faisal Shahzad was on the federal government’s no-fly list. Instead, the suspect nearly made a late-night escape before a last-minute scan of the passenger manifest caused federal authorities to stop the plane’s takeoff.
“The Obama Administration identified and apprehended Shahzad quickly after his failed bombing attempt, but anyone who is on the no fly list should never be permitted to board a plane to flee the country,” said Senator Cardin. “No-fly lists are created for a reason and airlines flying in and out of our country, along with the TSA, need to check the lists and check them again to help maintain the safety of the flying public. This proposal will help ensure those double-check procedures are in place so this type of incident never happens again.”
“We caught Shahzad in the nick of time, but the bottom line is he never should have been allowed to purchase a plane ticket in the first place,” said Senator Schumer. “This incident highlights a loophole in our no-fly policy that allows terrorists to practically come and go as they please if they pay in cash. Our security efforts are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. This common-sense step will make sure no terrorist ever again comes so close to a midnight getaway.”
“A decade after 9/11, we still don’t have a way to screen airline passengers who pay in cash, especially under suspicious circumstances. This loophole is a fugitive’s dream. If Faisal Shahzad had been flagged at the ticket counter, the chances of catching him even sooner would have been greatly increased. Fortunately law enforcement caught up to him, but we can’t afford to delay this additional terrorism-fighting step any longer,” Senator Mark Udall said.
Under the senators’ proposal, if a passenger seeks to purchase an airline ticket with cash, the airline employee would be required to flag the transaction for a Transportation Security Administration official. The on-site TSA agent would then check the individual’s ID for forgery and the most-updated no-fly list for the person’s name. If the person’s ID was validated and the person’s name was not on the no-fly list, the ticket could be issued. If need be, the TSA could question the individual further. This protocol would be required for both incoming and outgoing international flights.
The senators urged the Obama administration to take the steps administratively right away. The new policy would bolster the nation’s airline security practices until the “Secure Flight” protocol takes effect at the end of 2010. That protocol would hand over the responsibility for checking passenger manifests against the no-fly list entirely to the TSA, rather than have the airlines perform this duty.
This morning, the Obama administration announced a new requirement for airlines to check the no-fly list within two hours of being notified of list updates so that updates to the list aren’t missed. This new move, coupled with the senators’ request that cash-paying customers be checked by a TSA agent against the most-updated no-fly list, would not only have prevented Shahzad from purchasing a ticket, but would also prevent future terrorists from using this scheme to enter or exit the United States.