I do not ordinarily have access to corporate-aviation flights, but a few of my friends do, and I feel very warmly toward these friends when they ask me to join them aboard their planes, which is not often enough. Such an invitation came recently while I was in New York City for an appearance on The Colbert Report, during which I discussed our country’s ludicrous aviation-security system...
...Fifteen minutes after leaving Manhattan, we arrived at the airport gate. A private security guard asked my friend for the tail number of our plane. He provided the number—or he provided a few digits of the number—and we were waved through, without an identification check. The plane, I should point out, didn’t belong to my friend...
The journalist is perturbed to discover that there is nothing to stop a terrorist from gaining access to the sky in this manner.
"Do these pilots know you well?" I asked. "Is that why they trust you to bring me along?"
He first met them that morning, he said, when they flew him to Teterboro.
We climbed aboard the eight-seat twin-engine plane. The pilot greeted us, took my bag from me, and placed it on a seat. I noticed that no door separated the cabin from the cockpit.
We took off a few minutes later and headed south, in the direction of the Pentagon, the White House, and the United States Capitol complex.
"So let’s just say that I’m a terrorist pilot," I said, "and I have a bag filled with handguns and I shoot these two pilots and then I take control of the plane and steer it into the headquarters of the CIA," near which we would soon be flying. "What’s stopping me?"
"There’s nothing stopping you," my friend said. "All you need is money to buy a plane, or a charter."
The point Goldberg raises is a valid one. How is there such as gaping hole in our national security when we have spent over $1 trillion, sacrificed our liberties and lost thousands of lives to prevent such a circumstance?
The facts are even more disturbing. The Federal Aviation Administration has lost track of 119,000 aircraft, or one-third of all U.S. planes.
The Federal Aviation Administration is missing key information on who owns one-third of the 357,000 private and commercial aircraft in the U.S. — a gap the agency fears could be exploited by terrorists and drug traffickers.
The records are in such disarray that the FAA says it is worried that criminals could buy planes without the government's knowledge, or use the registration numbers of other aircraft to evade new computer systems designed to track suspicious flights. It has ordered all aircraft owners to re-register their planes in an effort to clean up its files.
About 119,000 of the aircraft on the U.S. registry have "questionable registration" because of missing forms, invalid addresses, unreported sales or other paperwork problems, according to the FAA. In many cases, the FAA cannot say who owns a plane or even whether it is still flying or has been junked.
The question is not whether but to what extent this gap has been exploited. One scandalous account emerged last year of a cocaine-trafficking private flight out of Florida.
In November 2005 and January 2006, Wachovia transferred a total of $300,000 from Puebla to a Bank of America account in Oklahoma City, according to information in the Alatorre cases in the U.S. and Mexico.
Drug smugglers used the funds to buy the DC-9 through Oklahoma City aircraft broker U.S. Aircraft Titles Inc., according to financial records cited in the Mexican criminal case. U.S. Aircraft Titles President Sue White declined to comment.
On April 5, 2006, a pilot flew the plane from St. Petersburg, Florida, to Caracas to pick up the cocaine, according to the DEA. Five days later, troops seized the plane in Ciudad del Carmen and burned the drugs at a nearby army base.
Nearly 10 years ago, one of our intelligence agencies had actually designed an exercise to train for the possibility that a corporate jet would crash into one of its buildings. Nonetheless, it was supplanted by a live crisis.
In what the government describes as a bizarre coincidence, one U.S. intelligence agency was planning an exercise last Sept. 11 in which an errant aircraft would crash into one of its buildings. But the cause wasn't terrorism -- it was to be a simulated accident.
Officials at the Chantilly, Va.-based National Reconnaissance Office had scheduled an exercise that morning in which a small corporate jet would crash into one of the four towers at the agency's headquarters building after experiencing a mechanical failure.
...Adding to the coincidence, American Airlines Flight 77 — the Boeing 767 that was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon — took off from Dulles at 8:10 a.m. on Sept. 11, 50 minutes before the exercise was to begin.
How long do we have until this vulnerability in private aviation is exploited by terrorists? Does this not fall within the Cheney Doctrine?