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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Rubio wants answers from White House on security of Cuba flights

Rubio wants answers from White House on security of Cuba flights
adiaz@miamiherald.com
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has sent a letter to the White House
demanding answers about why scheduled airline service to Cuba began
without a security agreement in place that would have put federal air
marshals aboard select flights.

"You and your administration's lack of concern for the American people's
safety — as evidenced by allowing commercial, non-charter flights
between the U.S. and Cuba to commence without the presence of federal
air marshals, and lying about it to Congress — is further proof that you
are putting your legacy ahead of the safety and security of the American
people, including the people of Florida," Rubio said in a letter to
President Barack Obama dated Monday.

But American Airlines, which began the first of 56 regularly scheduled
weekly flights to the island on Sept. 7, took issue with the notion that
it would put its passengers and personnel at risk.

"We don't speak about security, but the safety of our passengers, our
people, and our equipment is of the utmost importance and we do not use
use airports that do not meet the highest standards of safety for
scheduled or chartered flights," said Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for
American Airlines.

For many years before it began its scheduled service, American leased
planes to charter companies for their Cuba routes. An agreement between
the United States and Cuba that is currently in force allows air
marshals on Cuba charter flights but an agreement covering scheduled
service is pending.

Although American Airlines has the most ambitious plans for Cuba
flights, JetBlue and Silver Airways also have begun scheduled service to
the island. Several other airlines also have U.S. approval to begin
scheduled Cuba flights.

In August, the Transportation Security Administration said in a
statement that Cuba had signed an aviation security agreement, paving
the way for air marshals to board select flights. But during a House
Homeland Security Committee hearing last week, TSA Deputy Administrator
Huban Gowadia said Cuba hadn't signed the agreement yet and there were
no air marshals on the new Cuba flights.

Rubio, who has filed a bill that would suspend flights until an
agreement with Cuba is signed and additional security measures are in
place, asked why there was a discrepancy between the two statements and
why the TSA "lied."

Even though the Obama administration has taken Cuba off the list of
nations that are state sponsors of terrorism, Rubio said, in his view,
Cuba remains a state sponsor of terrorism and is allied with "some of
the most despicable regimes in the world," including Iran and North
Korea. "You have created an opportunity for our worst fears to become
reality, just as they did on September 11, 2001," the senator said in
the letter.

Rubio also asked for responses to a number of questions. He wanted to
know when Cuba was expected to approve the aviation security agreement,
if there are other countries where U.S. air carriers fly that don't
allow federal air marshals, what the TSA was doing "to mitigate security
risks associated with the lack of federal air marshals" on Cuba flights,
and if any White House official or officials instructed TSA to go ahead
with the new commercial flights "before appropriate security procedures
were in place."

The senator asked to see copies of the pending agreement and also "the
document detailing the Cuban government's vetting of airport workers and
airport security procedures." For its new flights, American and JetBlue
have contracted with the Cuban government for the employees who are
processing passengers and have trained them themselves.

Source: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio sends letter to White House demanding
answers on security of Cuba flights | Miami Herald -
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article102881317.html
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