December 4, 2006
They're back! The transcripts of the ADIZ public meetings have been reposted to the Web. AOPA had filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get them back.
The transcripts were removed from public view because they "might" have contained "security sensitive information" (SSI) about security and defense operations in the Washington, D.C., Air Defense Identification Zone.
At the request of NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command), the Department of Homeland Security was to scrub the transcripts for any SSI and redact any public comments that might have compromised security.
They found nothing. Not a word was cut from the transcripts.
"What a pointless waste of effort," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "These were public meetings, attended by hundreds of pilots and the news media. Pulling the transcripts weeks after the meeting certainly would not have secured any secret information, had there been any.
"But realistically, how could there have been any secret information revealed at these hearings? There were officials from NORAD, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, and the FBI both on the dais and in the audience. If anybody had started to reveal secret information, wouldn't one of these folks cut them off? Wouldn't their oaths of office require them to stop the leak?"
There were no operational details presented at the meetings that any competent private pilot couldn't figure out.
However, a Navy F-18 and light aircraft pilot, speaking as private citizen, pointed out the obvious about aircraft travel times within the ADIZ. Administrative procedures do not ensure security, he said.
That apparently didn't sit well with NORAD, which asked for the transcripts to be pulled for a security review. At the time, NORAD told AOPA that it "may or may not redact [the navy pilot's comments] in part or in whole." They redacted nothing.
Meanwhile, a fair amount of finger pointing was going between other agencies. The FAA said, in essence, "TSA made us do it." (The Transportation Security Administration is a part of the Department of Homeland Security.) But the TSA told AOPA, "It wasn't us!"
Then the FAA told AOPA it couldn't restore the transcripts until the TSA had cleared them of SSI. On March 10, the TSA told AOPA that it had done an SSI review and it found nothing sensitive.
Yet on April 5, the FAA sent a letter denying AOPA's Freedom of Information Act request to release the transcripts. "Until we receive notification from TSA to release the information to the public, we must withhold the transcripts to protect the disclosure of national security information concerning the national defense," wrote the FAA.
The TSA, according to AOPA's sources, had sent the formal letter releasing the transcripts on April 3 - but we all know how slow the privatized U.S. Postal Service can be, especially when it has to go all the way across town. (That's one reason why AOPA is adamantly opposed to privatizing ATC, but that's another story....)
Finally, on April 12, the transcripts of the first public meeting ( afternoon session | evening session) were put back in the public record. The second-meeting transcripts are also now posted ( afternoon session | evening session).
"I feel safer now, don't you?" said Boyer. "I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers?"
Updated: April 13, 2006, 9:54 a.m. EDT
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AOPA President Mark Baker and AOPA Foundation Executive Director Jim Minow are challenging one another to see who can recruit the most Hat in the Ring Society members for the foundation before the end of the year.
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