Former TSA chief: Pilot behavior difficult to predict

Former TSA chief: Pilot behavior difficult to predict
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Former Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Administrator Kip Hawley said the Germanwings flight apparently brought down deliberately by its co-pilot should provide a "warning" to U.S. officials. 

French authorities have accused 28-year-old Andreas Lubitz of locking the captain of Germanwings Flight 9525 out of the cockpit and intentionally crashing the plane, killing all 150 on board.

Hawley, who led the TSA under former President George W. Bush, said in a Time Magazine op-ed published Thursday that the incident could be replicated in the U.S. because pilot background checks cannot predict their future behavior.

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"Obviously, we all want to trust our pilots; and, of course, in the vast majority of circumstances we can," he wrote. "But we also know that is exactly those 'trusted' nodes in our security systems that make us most vulnerable when they don’t act the way we expect them to."

Hawley said the Germanwings crash should spur U.S. officials to reevaluate domestic security practices that were put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. 

"The 'safety' mitigation measures here are robust and long-standing. Pilots are carefully vetted and assessed by civil aviation authorities, their airlines, and co-workers," he wrote. 

"In this case, that was not enough," Hawley continued. "The 'security' measures didn’t do any better in stopping this incident, as the reinforced cockpit door, of the type adopted after 9/11, worked as an unintended hindrance." 

Officials in France, where the flight crashed, have not labeled the German Lubitz a terrorist. Reports Friday indicated that he had a doctor's note excusing him from work on the day of the crash, but that he opted to destroy it and enter the cockpit instead.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records show Lubitz was certified as a pilot by U.S. officials years before his fatal flight. The FAA certification lists Lubitz as a “private pilot (foreign based),” who was allowed to fly single-engine places and gliders in the U.S.

"It is not enough to scale-up background checks to combat insider threats," Hawley wrote. "Pre-9/11 security clearances and law enforcement checks were heavily based on the idea of prior performance predicting future activity. 

"Today’s terrorist or mass murderer knows full well that we still hold to that premise," he continued. "We can pretty much assume that attacks today will be delivered by people who can and have passed background checks. We do not understand ahead of time what drives people to commit acts of mass violence or terrorism, therefore we cannot isolate the traits that reliably predict them."