The United States remains at risk from attack even though it may be
better prepared to fight a war on terrorism on the sixth anniversary of the
September 11, 2001 strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon using
hijacked commercial transports.
The warning comes after Al-Queda leader Osama bin Laden vowed to escalate
his 'holy war' against the United States in a new video. "While we have
successfully raised our barrier against terrorist attacks, the fact remains that
we are still a nation at risk," said Michael Chertoff, the head of the
Department of Homeland Security. "We continue to face a persistent threat to our
homeland over the next several years, confronting the terrorist threat xix years
At least 2,749 people were killed when two jetliners slammed into the
World Trade Center and 184 people perished when American Airlines Flight 77 flew
into the Pentagon. The downing of United Airlines Flight 93 in a field took the
lives of 40 passengers and crew.
Much has transpired since Sept. 11, 2001. More armed Air Marshals now fly
on commercial flights and some pilots are packing pistols in cockpits behind
reinforced doors. Federal passenger screeners populate the nation's airport and
the federal government is exploring the means to protect airliners from
shoulder-launched heat seeking missiles.
But additional measures are contemplated, including a proposed regulation
requiring general aviation aircraft entering the United States to provide
comprehensive passenger manifest information to U.S. authorities prior to
departure. "This will help us prevent private aircraft from being used to bring
potentially dangerous people or weapons into the United States," said Chertoff.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), Advanced Information on Private
Aircraft Arriving and Departing the United States, released on Sept. 11, will
require more detailed information about arriving and departing private aircraft
and persons onboard.
The NPRM will require pilots of private aircraft to provide to the U.S.
Government complete passenger and crew manifest data and aircraft information to
foster aircraft identification, tracking and communication, one hour prior to
departure to and from the United States, giving Customs agents time to check
names against terrorist watch lists.
DHS is considering a phased approach to implement the proposed security
measures on general aviation. Under Phase I, DHS will publish the NPRM to elicit
public comments prior to issuance of a final rule and implementation of the new
requirements. Under Phase II, DHS will develop methods and processes to address
"additional security vulnerabilities" for international private aircraft
operations at their last point of departure prior to entering U.S. airspace.
The pending rule regarding general aviation is similar to one recently
announced to cover commercial flights. The Bush Administration proposed a new
version of its program to screen airline passengers that avoids privacy concerns
and has finalized a rule that require air carriers operating international
flights to send federal security authorities passenger data before planes take
off rather than afterward, as is now the case. DHS said the measures will
strengthen aviation security through uniform and consistent passenger
prescreening against government watch lists.
DHS published two regulations that will initiate these changes: the
Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) Predeparture Final Rule, which
enables DHS to collect manifest information for international flights departing
from or arriving in the United States prior to boarding; and, the Secure Flight
Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM), which lays out DHS plans to assume watch
list matching responsibilities from air carriers for domestic flights and align
domestic and international passenger prescreening.
Congress mandated that DHS' Customs and Border Protection (CBP) establish
a requirement to receive advance information on international passengers
traveling by air prior to their departure, as part of the 2004 Intelligence
Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (IRTPA).
Today, CBP requires commercial carriers to provide APIS and certain
Passenger Name Record (PNR) data arriving in or departing from the United
States. The final APIS predeparture regulation will require air carriers to
transmit manifests 30 minutes prior to departure of the aircraft or provide
manifest information on passengers as each passenger checks in for the flight,
up to the time when aircraft doors are secured.
The new plan would require airline passengers to give their full names
when they make their reservations. They also will be asked if they are willing
to provide their address, date of birth and sex to reduce false matches with
names on government terrorist watch lists.
Meanwhile, the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) program to
keep bombs out of airplane cargo holds is considered flawed, leaving passenger
planes vulnerable to attack.
A report issued by the DHS Inspector General in July concludes that TSA
has too few cargo inspectors, a poor database to track violations and vague
rules for screening cargo on commercial transports.
"This report is a scathing indictment of the DHS's current policies for
verifying that bombs, explosives and other dangerous items are not slipped into
cargo containers carried in the belly of a passenger plane," said Representative
Edward Markey (D-MA).
"The current level of oversight does not provide assurance that air
carriers are meeting congressionally-mandated goals of tripling the amount of
cargo screened for passenger aircraft...Consequently, the process increases
opportunities for the carriage of explosives, incendiaries, and other dangerous
devices on passenger aircraft," the DHS IG report states.