Boston Globe Spotlight Team Uncovers Poor FAA Oversight, Licensees’ Links To Terror

BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Globe Spotlight team’s latest investigation uncovers lax FAA oversight of licensing and registration–and even discovered people holding active licenses to fly or repair planes who have links to terror organizations.

The two-part story published in Monday’s Globe found that one in six U.S. planes is registered in a way that makes it difficult to identify the owner. The team found this favors so-called “bad actors” like drug dealers or corrupt international politicians.

“People can use layers of secrecy to register their aircraft,” Boston Globe Spotlight Fellow Jaimi Dowdell, who co-wrote the story with Spotlight Fellow Kelly Carr, told CBS News’s Kris Van Cleave. “And those layers of secrecy are really attractive to drug dealers, criminals, corrupt politicians, and people with potential ties to terrorism.”

They also discovered that the FAA doesn’t vet their registration records, because, it says, it does not have the resources to do so.

This has led to surprising facts uncovered in the Globe investigation–for example, two of the planes used in the 9/11 attack were still listed as active until 2005, and a TWA cargo plane that crashed in Chicago in 1959 didn’t have its registration canceled until 2006.

“The FAA doesn’t see itself as an active policeman of the registry,” said Carr. “So when information comes in, they make sure information is there, but they don’t vet the information. So they’re really operating on the honor system of people who are registering aircrafts, and also on pilots’ licenses, to say, ‘This is who I am. I am a U.S. citizen. You know, I live here.’ But if somebody has bad intentions and wants to lie, or has ill intent for the use of that license or certification of a plane, they can lie and the FAA says that they’re not going to vet — they’re not checking.”

The team also identified five people with potential terror ties who had active FAA licenses. They noted that mechanic Tairod Nathan Webster Pugh, currently serving a 35-year sentence for trying to help ISIS, was shown to have a valid license in the FAA registry.

To read the Globe’s two-part Spotlight report, visit Globe.com/SecretsInTheSky.

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