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Press Release


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 13, 2005


Shocking discovery: simple way to doctor boarding pass allows ANYONE to board airplane undetected

Instructions on how to foil terrorist watch list appeared on internet this week

Schumer proposes simple and cost free fix of checking IDs at gate would keep terrorists grounded

New Yorkers boarding planes at either JFK or LaGuardia may be sitting among terrorists because of a flaw in airport security systems, U.S. Senator Charles E Schumer revealed today. The danger lies in a loophole in the Department of Homeland Security’s Terrorist Watch List and air security and leaves New Yorkers and all Americans vulnerable in the air and on the ground. Schumer today outlined a situation in which anyone with basic computer skills can print a fake boarding pass and avoid scrutiny by airport security, and laid out a detailed plan to combat this hazard.

“It’s unbelievable that after over three years of recalibrating aviation and airport security so that we can keep a close eye on suspicious individuals, this enormous hole remains in the system. It has rendered the terrorist watch list nearly useless,” Schumer said. “In this post 9/11 era, the terrorists will find our weakest link and we can’t leave any stone unturned.”

Schumer today laid out the following scenario in which someone on the terrorist watch list can get through airline security undetected:

1. Joe Terror (whose name is on the terrorist watch list) buys a ticket online in the name of Joe Thompson using a stolen credit card. Joe Thompson is not listed on the terrorist watch list.

2. Joe Terror then prints his “Joe Thompson” boarding pass at home, and then electronically alters it (either by scanning or altering the original image, depending on the airline system and the technology he uses at home) to create a second almost identical boarding pass under the name Joe Terror, his name.

3. Joe Terror then goes to the airport and goes through security with his real ID and the FAKE boarding pass. The name and face match his real drivers license. The airport employee matches the name and face to the real ID.

4. The TSA guard at the magnetometer checks to make sure that the boarding pass looks legitimate as Joe Terror goes through. He/she does not scan it into the system, so there is still no hint that the name on the fake boarding pass is not the same as the name on the reservation.

5. Joe Terror then goes through the gate into his plane using the real Joe Thompson boarding pass for the gate’s computer scanner. He is not asked for ID again to match the name on the scanner, so the fact that he does not have an ID with that name does not matter. [Since Joe Thompson doesn’t actually exist it does not coincide with a name on the terrorist watch list] Joe Terror boards the plane, no questions asked.

To combat this scenario, which revealed in published reports last week, Schumer today proposed a cost free solution of requiring another identification check to the boarding pass scan at the gate to ensure that the name on the scanned boarding pass, the passengers identification, and the person boarding the plane are the same. This proposal would replicate the security precautions taken immediately after September 11th, but are no longer in practice. Anybody trying to board a flight would present their boarding pass and identification together two times, upon going through the security line and then again when boarding the plane, foiling the “Joe Terror” scenario outlined above.

“The terror threat has not decreased since September 11th, it has only increased. The fact that we are less conscientious about who we are letting board our planes, boggles the mind,” said Schumer. “It’s clear that we are missing a critical step at our airports, and unless we recognize the shortcoming, and are willing to sacrifice the slightest bit of convenience, we may be left with blood on our hands. The people that are out there to do us harm are not stupid, and this loophole is a glaring opportunity for them to exploit.”

Schumer also sent a letter to TSA today asking it to review the situation and implement the solution as soon as possible. “To close this dangerous loophole, I urge you require airline employees stationed at the gate to check every passenger’s ID against the passenger’s face and his boarding pass and ticket. This simple step, required immediately after September 11th but now no longer practiced, would prevent a terrorist from boarding a commercial aircraft,” Schumer wrote to TSA Administrator, David Stone.
The discovery of this technological flaw comes on the heels on a 9/11 Commission report released this week that showed aviation officials were lulled into a false sense of security before 9/11. The report noted that FAA officials did little to ramp up security precautions before 9/11 including beefing up screening procedures and said that officials were more concerned with convenience for passengers than they were with deterring danger.

Online check-in has proliferated in recent years allowing customers a more convenient option of printing their boarding passes at home, rather than waiting online for a ticket clerk or a check-in kiosk at the airport. Most airlines have adopted the practice and experts expect that online check-in will only continue to grow in the coming months and years to over half of passengers. Most airlines have had online check-in for at least several months and usage runs the gamut from about 5% of eligible passengers at Delta, to 9% at US Airways, to 11% at Northwest and 15% at AirTran.

“The bottom line is that nearly 10 million people travel through New York’s airports every single day. If we aren’t diligent, it is very easy to blend in. We have to do better,” said Schumer.

Schumer’s letter to Administrator Stone is attached.


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