- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

Terrorists are eyeing private planes and helicopters as prime weapons for attacks while testing commercial aircraft security systems put in place after September 11 to find weaknesses, says a government assessment of intelligence reports.

The federal government has spent nearly $12 billion to improve security on commercial airlines, but the low level of security for private aircraft makes them tempting targets for terrorists, the aviation security overview said.

“Spectacular terrorist attacks can generate an outpouring of support for the perpetrators from sympathizers and terrorism sponsors with similar agendas,” said the joint report from the FBI and Homeland Security Department.

“The public fear resulting from a terrorist hijacking or aircraft bombing also serves as a powerful motivator for groups seeking to further their causes,” the report said.

“As security measures improve at large commercial airports, terrorists may choose to rent or steal general aviation, which includes corporate jets, private planes and other unscheduled aircraft,” it said.

The report, released Feb. 25, is not classified, but is intended “for official use only” and contains historical information drawn from several sources, including foreign and domestic news reports. The document was first reported by the New York Times.

A spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said the aviation security overview is a recap of three years of “events in the intelligence stream” that was “repackaged” by the two departments and distributed to airlines and airports.

“The report is an example of regular intelligence sharing between TSA and other federal agencies and aviation stakeholders,” said TSA spokeswoman Amy Von Walter. “Specifically, it talks about general aviation security, and we are continuing to take strides to enhance aviation security throughout the nation including the development of self-assessment tools for airports and operators. We are developing a risk-management plan and are conducting assessments of select airports nationwide.”

Miss Von Walter said many federal security guidelines “are already in place in airports across the nation and we continue to partner with the industry to further enhance aviation.”

Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, told Fox News that a lack of common sense is being applied to airport security. Government officials need to “quit talking about some of these things and make progress,” Mr. Lott said.

A group representing thousands of pilots warned that air security remains vulnerable to terrorists and released a report last week citing lax security surrounding airport perimeters as a key concern. The Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations said deficiencies remain in arming pilots, federal air marshal protection and missile protection. Pilots are not given regular threat-assessment briefings, and crews lack adequate self-defense training, the group said.

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