Monday, May 30, 2005

Gaping Hole in Airport Security?
Gaping Hole in Airport Security?
By Eyewitness News' Kemberly Richardson

(Newark, N.J.-WABC, May 29, 2005) — It is a loophole in airline security so big, you could fly a plane through it.

Senator Charles Schumer lashed out at the Department of Homeland Security which he feels has ignored a law put in place to keep terrorist from boarding airplanes and repeating what we saw here September 11th.

The lack of action, he says, is a critical mistake--an opportunity for anyone to strike out at Americans.

It's a way for terrorists to fly into this country, often undetected, because of a deadline that came and went with little notice. Our Kemberly Richardson has the latest on a New York Senator's effort to close that loophole.

Senator Charles Schumer (D), New York: "We all know that terrorist look for the weakest pressure points."

And Senator Charles Schumer feels this is one of them. More than 33,000 international flights landed at Newark airport between January and November of last year--at JFK, the number soared past 46,000.

But Schumer says there's a gaping hole in security at both airports, a way for terrorists to slip through the cracks.

Senator Schumer: "If they know their names will be checked on domestic flights but not on foreign, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to get on a foreign flight and come here."

A new law requires airlines to transmit flight manifests to U.S. officials within 15 minutes of takeoff. Homeland security had until February 14th to come up with a game plan, but Schumer points out that deadline has come and gone and that those lists aren't being checked until the plane is airborne.

U.S. officials ordered an Air France flight heading to Boston to land in Maine earlier this month. A passenger's name matched a name on a terror watch list. It ended up being a false alarm, but Schumer worries about other flights from terrorists hot spots.

His office revealed that on Tuesday, 125 flights from countries of interest will arrive at JFK or Newark.

Senator Schumer: "All we have to do is tell them if you don't give us a flight manifest ahead of time, so we can check them against a terror list, your plane can't come here."

He says countries like Turkey and Kenya do not have the computer technology in place to produce the manifest, instead doing the job by hand--a time-consuming process that worries many passengers.

Passenger: "Most people aren't even aware flight list are taken, you kind of assume everyone is checked prior to getting on the plane."

Senator Schumer is calling on homeland security to put a plan in place to close this loophole, within the next 30 days. He fears any time wasted could be disasterous, especially since we're now heading into the busy summer travel season.

On a related note, Senator Schumer is applauding an effort to test high-tech missile defense systems on commercial planes in the U.S.

According to the print sources, technicians are installing laser-based systems on three planes that will be tested later this year.

The devices are designed to detect and disable shoulder-fired missiles. Senator Schumer says the Bush adminstration and Congress have taken too long to get the potentially life-saving devices installed.