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May 21, 2020

Chairman Thompson Writes Pompeo, Wolf Demanding They Halt Joint Saudi Security Programs After Pensacola Attacker’s Al Qaeda Ties Uncovered Revealing Vetting Concerns

(WASHINGTON) – Today, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo again urging they immediately halt two joint airport security and air marshal training and advisory programs with the Saudi Arabia after the Department of Justice announced this week that the gunman in December’s terrorist attack in Pensacola, Florida, a Saudi national receiving aviation training from the U.S. military, had regular contact with al Qaeda.  Last month, the Trump Administration formally agreed with Saudi Arabia to move forward with these programs, even though the investigation into the Pensacola shooting was still pending.

In the letter, Chairman Thompson reiterates his concerns about the programs, noting that this week’s announcement raises serious questions regarding the ability of both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to appropriately vet those participating in joint security programs, making clear that Saudi Arabia is not the right partner for an unprecedented level of collaboration in aviation security.

“TSA should be focusing its full attention on its existing programs, responding to the pandemic, and protecting the health of its employees and the traveling public—not on advancing plans to train Saudi agents to fly armed on planes,” wrote Chairman Thompson. “The timing of the announcement also raises questions about whether the Administration is using the cover of the pandemic to push through controversial plans while Congress is appropriately focused on responding to a crisis.”

“Moving forward with those plans in light of this week’s discovery of gaping security vulnerabilities would be unconscionable,” added Chairman Thompson. “If the U.S. government, with all its intelligence and vetting capabilities, is unable to identify a Saudi student studying aviation at a U.S. military base and communicating regularly with Al Qaeda leaders to plan and carry out an attack on U.S. soil, then it should not train Saudi air marshals about whom it would have much less information.”

Link to Letter

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