Risky Businessmen

ABC News is running a nice little scaremongering piece which they say “call[s] into question the ability of the FAA and the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to detect and purge high risk individuals from the list of approved pilots”. Ooh! High-risk! There are pilots out there who could kill you! Cower in fear!

Oh, wait. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

Case Study Number One in the ABC piece is a Peruvian drug lord named Fernando Zevallos Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who founded the largest airline in Peru, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami on drug related charges in 2007 and is currently in prison in Peru following his conviction on drug trafficking and money laundering charges in that country.

The guy is currently rotting in a Peruvian prison. Furthermore, he has a federal indictment pending against him in the US, so if he ever entered the US, he’d be immediately arrested and shipped off to Miami to stand trial. Threat currently posed to the US and its citizens by Gonzalez: approximately the same as the threat any other Peruvian jailbird currently poses, which is zero.

Case Study Number Two is Pedro Benavides Natera, who

was convicted in 2006 for purchasing planes that were to be used for drug trafficking between South America and the United States. Natera is currently in federal prison in Miami and is not expected to be released until 2012.

See above. Threat currently posed to the US and its citizens by an FAA-licensed pilot serving time in federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison: approximately the same as that posed by any other federal prison inmate, which had darn well better be zero if our prison system is doing its job.

Case Studies Number Three through Five are a “close business associate” of Gonzalez and two individuals who were convicted on federal arms trafficking charges but have since been released after serving time.

Who discovered all of this? A computer security firm called Safe Banking Systems, a company that “markets its proficiency in data mining and the use of ‘fuzzy logic’ to accurately match names”. Even one of the company’s co-founders admits in the story

“We are not aviation experts, nor have any relationship except commercial flying.”

And because they are self-proclaimed “security” “experts” who admittedly know nothing about aviation, they missed the most obvious problem with their reasoning: that the lack of an FAA pilot certificate would in any way hamper their ability to fly an airplane in the course of committing a crime.

Drug lords — or terrorists or any other ne’er-do-wells — do not simply walk up to the counter at the local airport, hand over a credit card, and ask to rent an airplane for a few hours. These are people who do not care about the law; witness their choice of profession. They’ve already figured out how to acquire the aircraft, money being little object, and issuing an order of emergency revocation against their pilot certificates will no more stop them from piloting an aircraft than taking away a drunk driver’s license stops him from driving under the influence.

I’m not saying the FAA shouldn’t be revoking these certificates — they should — nor am I saying they shouldn’t clean up their database — they should — but to pretend this is some dire national security issue is downright irresponsible. ABC News, Eric Longabardi, and Joseph Rhee ought to be ashamed of themselves for implying otherwise.

posted by Chris on 14 October 2009 at 1851 in aviation


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