Lawmakers accuse Homeland Security of doublespeak on Cuba flight risks
Piling security concerns atop their political complaints, House Republicans say initiating commercial air service from Cuba is a disaster waiting to happen, and accused the Obama administration of fast-walking flights to shore up the president's legacy.
Obama administration officials publicly insist TSA has thoroughly scrutinized the 10 Cuban airports where flights may soon begin, ensuring that they meet the highest security rules laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. body.
But Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) says administration officials have told a different story behind closed doors, including warnings about outdated screening equipment, “mangy street dogs” on canine teams and insufficient vetting practices for aviation workers.
“The administration’s lack of transparency on this issue is unacceptable and leads me to believe that the administration is either hiding something, or worse: simply negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy,” Katko said during a House Homeland Security hearing Tuesday. “The picture officials of TSA paint of the security situation at Cuba’s airports is indeed bleak.”
The congressman, who serves as head of the House Homeland Security subcommittee that handles transportation issues, pressed TSA witness Larry Mizell to reiterate worries he expressed privately. But Mizell declined to publicly elaborate, saying the information was classified as sensitive and that his opinion of Cuba’s aviation security procedures has improved over time.
“The concerns I had that I shared with you was over a five-year period. Certainly I had concerns at the beginning which I don’t have now,” Mizell said. “Right now, the government of Cuba airports that have been assessed and inspected by the inspectors meet ICAO standards.”
Mizell would not say, though, whether he personally believes security is sufficient at Cuban airports.
“The concerns I have are very minor compared to what we were looking at five years ago,” he said.
Katko said that it was only under threat of subpoena that the Homeland Security Department would allow Mizell to appear before the committee.
"Even then," the congressman said in a statement after the hearing, "the administration failed to allow the witness to openly testify about security concerns that he had previously stated to the committee.”
Katko claims bomb-sniffing dogs at Cuban airports are “poorly trained at best,” that there is no equipment for detecting trace explosives and that only one of the airports in question uses full body scanners.
To boot, “these scanners are Chinese-made,” he said. “We have no idea whether they work at all, or how they work, or how well they work.”
at 9:44 AM Thursday, May 19, 2016
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