tv Homeland Security Officials Testify on U.S. Commercial Flights to Cuba CSPAN May 21, 2016 2:30pm-2:47pm EDT
>> tonight on c-span, we will show you recent commencement speeches from supreme court justice clarence thomas and filmmaker spike lee. watch both speakers addressed the graduates beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern. >> congratulations to the class of 2016. today is your day of celebration and you've earned it. fort: the voices crying
peace and light because your choices will make all the difference to you and to all of us. ondo not be afraid to take cases or a new job or a new issue that really stretches your boundaries. >> respect your summer of broad and real ship, rather than internships, and the specter of living in your parents's basement after graduation day is not likely to be your greatest concern. the commencement speeches in their entirety by business leaders, politicians officials onse leade c-span. the risks oft resuming commercial travel to cuba.
this is just over one hour. chairman katko: the subcommittee on transportation security will come to order. the subcommittee is meeting today to examine the risks involved in resuming u.s. commercial air service to cuba. i now recognize myself for an opening statement. on february 16th, u.s. and cuban officials signed an accord which will allow more than 100 daily round-trip flights between the united states and the country of cuba. as has been the practice of this administration, the deal was signed with minimal consultation or input from congress. in fact, countless attempts by this committee to attain information about various aspects of the negotiations and requirements to begin regularly scheduled commercial service to cuba have been stonewalled. despite having been briefed numerous times by components of
the department prior to this hearing, i learned only yesterday from a press release that on may 5th deputy secretary alejandro mayorkas signed a memorandum of understanding with the cuban government that has far-reaching implications for the department of homeland security. the administration's lack of transparency on this issue is unacceptable and leads me to believe that the administration is either hiding something or, worse, simply negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy. immediately following the signing of the february 16th agreement, the department of transportation opened the application process for u.s. air carriers to bid on routes for regularly scheduled commercial air service to all 10 of cuba's international airports. after a 54-year freeze in diplomatic relations, the administration is attempting to designate these 10 cuban airports as last points of departure, or lpds, to the united states as early as late summer this year. only seven other foreign countries in the world have 10 or more lpd airports to the
united states. they include some of our closest allies and trading partners, such as the united kingdom, canada, and mexico. china, with an estimated 1.3 billion people and the third-largest country in the world by land mass, has only 11 lpd airports to the united states. but the administration wants to designate 10 airports of lpd stature to cuba, a country that could fit into china over 127 times, and a country whose than 1% that less of china. in a briefing on march 17th, officials from tsa stated their intention to certify three additional airports in cuba as lpds by late summer. the picture officials of tsa paint of the security situation at cuba's airports is indeed bleak. cuba possesses no explosive trace detection equipment. let me repeat that -- they do not have any explosive trace detection equipment at their
airports. the bomb-sniffing dogs are poorly trained at best and have been described by some as, quote, "mangy street dogs." the only two full-body scanners on the entire island are in havana, which means that the nine other airports in question will not have body scanners. these scanners are chinese-made, as is almost all of the security equipment the cubans possess, and we have no idea as to whether they work at all, or how they work, or how well they work. to make matters worse, it is not even clear whether federal air marshals will even be allowed to be on these flights. tsa could offer no information on the security training, if any, that airport officials receive and were unaware if airport workers are vetted for potential links to terrorism. given the continued u.s. embargo, the administration is prohibited from supplying any security equipment or offering training to the cuban government. additionally, tsa predicted that with the introduction of
commercial air service, passenger volume would increase exponentially to a level that cuban authorities and airport infrastructure are simply unprepared and perhaps unable to handle. if the status quo remains the same, the cuban government will not allow u.s. airlines to hire their own personnel to perform basic functions, such as ticketing and check-in, or more complex functions, such as airline security operations, at the airports in cuba. instead, employees of the cuban government instead of the commercial airlines may be the ones doing all of these tasks. even though earlier this year lieutenant general stewart, the director of the defense intelligence agency, testified before the senate armed services committee, quote, "cuba also remains a critical counterintelligence threat," end quote, but the administration is telling us that we should entrust the safety and security of american citizens to the cuban government -- a country that was just removed from the state sponsors of terrorism list one year ago on may 29, a country whose leaders have repeatedly derided the values and principles for which our great nation stands. this is, to say the least, unsettling. historically, flights to and from cuba have been attractive targets for terrorists and hijackers.
in may 2007, two armed cuban soldiers went awol, hijacked a public bus which it ran through the airport perimeter in havana, and attempted to hijack a plane bound for miami. two cuban passenger flights were hijacked to the united states within two weeks in 2003. there are other examples, and i could go on. these types of incidents, which have occurred far too many times in recent history, raise serious concerns about the ability and the willingness of cuban officials to take airport security and passenger screening seriously. to make matters even more concerning, on april 17th the washington post published an article on the increased flow of individuals from afghanistan traveling to cuba. the article states that, quote, "travel agents in kabul have been surprised by afghans showing up at their offices with cuban visas, which are suspected of having been issued in iran or acquired on the black market," end quote. it is suspected they use cuba as a gateway into the united states or canada. and without objection, i ask unanimous consent that this article be inserted into the record.
what this article reflects is truly frightening, given the fact that cuba currently has zero document verification machines at any of its airports. they do not have any electronic means of trying to verify whether any of the documents being presented to them are, in fact, what they purport to be and authentic. so, there you have it. these are the concerns, and they are multifaceted and serious. we are here today not to elaborate on the merits of the administration's rapprochement with cuba, but to take a serious look, as is our job, at the national security implications of a policy that has been pushed through at breakneck speed with seemingly minimal regard for the security and safety of the american people. with that, i now recognize the
ranking member of this subcommittee, the gentlewoman from new york, ms. rice, for any statement she may have. representative rice: thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you for convening this hearing. i want to thank our witnesses from dhs, cbp, tsa, and the state department for coming here today to discuss the decision to allow scheduled commercial air travel between the u.s. and cuba. i know that the state department played an important role in arranging the civil aviation partnership with cuba, and i hope that principal deputy assistant secretary tong can give us some insight into the process that led to this agreement. right now, as we know, only chartered flights operate between the u.s. and cuba, but under the terms of the agreement that was announced in february, at some point this year american air carriers will be allowed to operate more than 100 scheduled flights each day in addition to the chartered flights. before that can happen, tsa, dhs, cbp, and other relevant agencies must verify that cuban airports meet international security standards and are fully prepared to screen passengers and their baggage before they board a plane bound for the u.s. i'm looking forward to hearing from tsa and from all of our witnesses about how they would assess cuba's airport security right now, what they are doing to enhance security at cuban airports, and whether they have concerns about cuba's security capabilities. i'm also looking forward to hearing how tsa is working with air carriers and what kind of regulations will be issued to further enhance security. for instance, what mechanisms are in place to ensure that we
know exactly who is on board a flight bound for the u.s.? how will we ensure that we're obtaining accurate information from passengers traveling to the u.s.? how does the cbp intend to verify travel documents and ultimately determine whether or not a certain individual can enter the u.s.? those are some of the salient questions that i think need to be addressed in this discussion because allowing scheduled air travel between the u.s. and cuba clearly has the potential to benefit both of our countries, but it also comes with unique security challenges. so, i hope our conversation today will help clarify what those challenges are and how we will overcome them. mr. chairman, thank you again for convening this hearing. i yield back the balance of my time. chairman katko: i now recognize the chairman of the full committee, the gentleman from texas, mr. mccaul, for any statement he may have.
representative mccaul: thank you, chairman katko, for holding this important hearing today and for your leadership on aviation security. and to kathleen rice, ranking member, thank you as well. i believe that this issue of security at last points of departure airports is of critical importance to our homeland security. we saw this firsthand earlier this month when i led a congressional delegation overseas to examine the spread of islamist militant groups, and i had the opportunity to visit egypt and examine the security measures in place at the cairo airport. i think the egyptians are making progress, but what i saw was still concerning, especially when we compared to our own airports. for instance, they are not using full-body scanners, and airport workers are apparently not fully vetted against up-to-date terror watch lists. and yet, the cairo airport serves as a last point of department to the united states. now, the administration is rushing to open regularly
scheduled commercial air service to cuba and designate 10 new airports as last points of departure into the united states. i fear that the security situation at these airports in cuba is much, much worse than places like cairo. and while there are only five direct flights to the united states each week from somewhere like egypt, the administration's proposal calls for up to 110 daily flights between the united states and cuba. i hope to visit cuba in the near future with representative katko and others to evaluate the airport security situation myself. the administration's plans to open direct commercial air service to cuba is, in my judgment, being unnecessarily rushed. there are serious security concerns here that seem to be taking a back seat to a legacy-building effort. although cuba has taken steps to liberalize its economy in recent years, the country is still being led by a communist dictator who has been ruthless against his own people and who has brutally suppressed calls for more open and democratic governance.
restoring relations has done little to soften the castro regime's hateful rhetoric towards the united states or to compel the government to loosen its tyrannical grip. in fact, it's done the opposite by rewarding bad behavior, and now the regime is giving us no indication that it is acting in good faith or has the best interests of the united states or our citizens in mind. accordingly, we must do all we can to ensure the safety and security of americans that choose to visit the island, and so far i remain entirely unconvinced the administration has done its due diligence. while the obama administration may be willing to put the security of americans at risk to appease a dictator, today's hearing will show that the united states congress will not. and, mr. chairman, with that i yield back. chairman katko: thank you, mr. chairman. i now recognize the ranking member of the full committee, the gentleman from mississippi,
mr. thompson, for any statement he may have. representative thompson: thank you very much, mr. chairman. thank you for convening this important hearing. i welcome our witnesses, also, to this hearing. earlier this year, the obama administration and cuban government finalized an arrangement that will resume commercial aviation between the united states and cuba. we, as a committee with oversight jurisdiction of transportation security measures, have the great responsibility of ensuring that the transportation security administration, the department of homeland security, customs and border protection, and other relevant agencies are doing their due diligence to ensure that the flights departing from cuba to the united states are secure. although not last points of departure, the recent bombings of planes originating from
mogadishu, which one was killed, and sharm el-sheikh, tragically killing everyone on board, serves as a stern reminder that there are those who wish to do us harm using commercial aircraft. there are over 300 airports around the world that serve as last points of departure, or foreign airports that fly directly to the u.s. the standard is always that tsa and other relevant entities perform the investigation and mitigation measures necessary to ensure that these flights are not able to be targeted by nefarious characters. as i understand it, the agencies' efforts to inspect and prepare the cuban airports are no different than stringent inspection efforts and regulatory schemes that are in place at other last points of departure airports. the title of this hearing, "flying blind," would lead you to believe that nothing has been done to assess these airports before they schedule commercial service to and from the united states. tsa informs us that they are inspecting and evaluating airports e