Press Release

Gillibrand Pushes TSA To Automatically Connect No-Fly Lists With Flight Manifests, Also Wants Penalties For Airlines That Aren’t Crosschecking No-Fly Lists

May 6, 2010

Washington, D.C. – After Faisal Shahzad made it onto an airplane at John F. Kennedy Airport and nearly left the U.S. after his Times Square bombing attempt, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is urging the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to automatically synchronize federal no-fly lists with flight manifests. On the way to automation, Senator Gillibrand is pushing for fines to penalize airlines that do not check the no-fly list or submit their manifests in a timely manner.

Senator Gillibrand wrote to TSA Acting Administrator Gale D. Rossides urging her to implement the new protections immediately.

“If airlines can automatically coordinate with Travelocity, they should be able to automatically check the TSA’s no-fly list,” Senator Gillibrand said. “Ten years after 9-11, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot automatically crosscheck flight manifests with the no-fly list.  We need streamlined security checks that ensure our airlines and our law enforcement are always a step ahead of terrorists that seek to harm New Yorkers and all Americans.”

Senator Gillibrand’s plan to implement faster security checks:

  • Fines for airlines that do not check the no-fly list or submit their manifests in a timely manner. There is a process for the FAA and TSA to address an airline’s non-compliance, but no sanction specifically tied to timely checks of the no-fly list.
  • Automated coordination between the no-fly and flight manifests. There is currently no automated, real time verification between the no-fly database and airline manifests. 
  • Finalize agreements with foreign airlines. Currently, TSA agents have the right to agents to spot check manifests only of US domestic airlines. 

Senator Gillibrand’s full letter to Acting Administrator Rossides is below:

As a New York Senator, I am very concerned by the near miss on May 3rd when Faisal Shahzad, the man charged with the attempted bombing of Times Square, almost flew out of JFK Airport despite being placed on a no-fly list.

As far back as 2004, the 9-11 Commission recommended “improved use of ‘no-fly’ and ‘automatic selectee’ lists.  I appreciate that you and your colleagues have been making steady progress toward that goal by implementing the Secure Flight initiative.  But, I am concerned that progress is slow and not ambitious enough. I urge you to automate the Secure Flight initiative in order to provide for real-time screening so that we do not miss important opportunities to identify and stop potential terrorists.

Today, a patchwork of rules and processes governs a vital part of our nation’s security. Different U.S. agencies review airline manifests, depending on where the screening takes place. Different airlines observe different procedures for when and how often they check the no-flight updates or submit their passenger manifests.  This is unacceptable.  All airlines must observe a consistent rule when flying to or from the United States, and face significant fines for non-compliance.

As I understand it, even when both foreign and domestic airlines are ultimately subject to the Secure Flight initiative, a gap of over 70 hours will remain during which a terrorist suspect may reserve a ticket, yet not be matched against the No-Fly or Automatic Selectee list.

In implementing Secure Flight, the hard work of balancing privacy and misidentification concerns with national security interests has been completed.  Now it is important to make the system immediately responsive to updates to maximize its usefulness for our intelligence and law enforcement efforts.

We must move to a fully automated, real-time system, backed by consistent and clear rules and fines for non-compliance.  I would be pleased to work on this initiative with you.  Please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff, Elana Broitman, at 202-224-3462.