Lawmakers question safety of foreign airports after Metrojet attack

Lawmakers question safety of foreign airports after Metrojet attack

Lawmakers in the House questioned the security of foreign airports that are the last points of departure for flights to the U.S. on Tuesday after the recent crash of a Russian plane in Egypt. 

"The recent Metrojet crash over the Sinai Peninsula is tragically reminiscent of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which took down Pan Am Flight 103, killing all aboard, including 35 Syracuse University students traveling home for the holidays," said Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoHouse GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues Progressive group unveils first slate of 2020 congressional endorsements Democratic lawmakers call on Judiciary Committee to advance 'revenge porn' law MORE (R-N.Y.), who is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee's Transportation Security Committee. 

The comment came during a hearing about the Transportation Security Administration's efforts to secure flights to the U.S. from international airports on Tuesday that was scheduled after the crash of a Metrojet Airlines flight last month in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

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Katko said "it is deeply disturbing to me that innocent people from my district in Syracuse, as well as all of traveling public, may still be threatened today by the same type of bomb used over 27 years ago. 

"Even though this most recent attack was not targeted at American citizens or an American aircraft, we cannot and should not hesitate to learn from this tragedy and identify ways in which we can mitigate such threats from becoming successful again in the future," the GOP chairman said. "The international aviation system represents our modern, globalized world. However, with interconnected transportation systems comes interconnected risk." 

Democrats on the panel raised similar concerns about international flight security, saying the recent attack on the Russian jetliner is "alarming."  

"This terrible act, which multiple sources have now confirmed was indeed a bombing, renews concerns regarding international aviation cooperation, specifically at last point of departure airports," said Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonJudge temporarily halts construction of a private border wall in Texas Hillicon Valley: FCC moves against Huawei, ZTE | Dem groups ask Google to reconsider ads policy | Bill introduced to increase data access during probes House GOP criticizes impeachment drive as distracting from national security issues MORE (D-Miss.), who is the top ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

"Although Sharm al-Sheikh is not a last-point-of-departure, it is alarming that someone was able to board this plane with an explosive device and successfully detonate it to destroy the aircraft," Thompson continued. 

"This latest incident is a stern reminder of how important coordination with foreign governments, international aviation organizations, and air carriers is to securing aircraft bound for the United States from Foreign Airports," he concluded.

The downed flight was a Russian Airbus A321 that crashed after reportedly being attacked by terrorists, killing all 224 people on board. The plane broke up at 33,000 feet, out of range of anti-air weaponry, indicating a bomb may have been placed onboard before take-off.

TSA officials told lawmakers on the panel that it works with international aviation groups to ensure the safety of flights that operating to the U.S. from foreign airports. 

"TSA’s mission is to protect the nation's transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce. Within TSA, OGS works proactively with international and domestic partners to reduce security risks to international transportation modes," said Joseph Terrell, who is the deputy assistant administrator of TSA's Office of Global Strategies. 

"When a new or potential threat or vulnerability emerges, OGS coordinates with foreign governments, air carriers, and international organizations to implement responses that will effectively mitigate the likelihood of a successful attack," he continued.

Lawmakers on the panel gave TSA credit for its efforts to boost the security of flights foreign airports in recent weeks, but they said there is more work for the agency to do. 

"Since the Lockerbie terror attacks, we have seen a number of attempted attacks against U.S. aviation targets," the GOP's Katko said. 

"These plots, such as 9/11, the Christmas Day bomber, the printer cartridge bombs, and the shoe bomber, have each caused massive reevaluations in the way passengers are screened and security is maintained," he continued.

"I am happy to see that TSA has taken steps to increase security at overseas airports in recent weeks, and I hope these efforts will be successful," the GOP chairman concluded. "However, there remain gaps in security which need to be addressed."