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Chertoff: Private planes a security risk

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KAI RYSSDAL: Six years after terrorists flew commercial airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that field in Pennsylvania, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to plug what Secretary Michael Chertoff describes as a major gap in the country’s defenses: Private planes. Marketplace’s Steve Henn reports.

Steve Henn: Private planes travel to and from the United States free from many of the hassles, searches and safety procedures that commercial air travelers have come to expect. Randy Larsen, homeland security expert and author of the new book “Our Own Worst Enemy,” says that’s a problem.

Randy Larsen: The most likely way a nuclear weapon would enter the United States today would be on one of those chartered jets.

Department of Homeland Security officials say their working on procedures to screen private planes’ cargo, but the new rules announced today only require private pilots headed into the U.S. from abroad to e-mail passenger lists to Customs agents an hour before takeoff.

DHS officials say the new regs should have little effect on the industry but Kathleen Vasconcelos from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association isn’t convinced.

Kathleen Vasconcelos: If a pilot is in a remote airport in a foreign country, they may not have access to the Internet.

Passenger lists are necessary to give agents on the ground more time to check names and birth dates against terrorist watch lists. But . . .

Larsen: The new rules that are coming out, they’ll only work if the terrorists follow the rules.

Security expert Randy Larsen.

Larsen: The fact is terrorists will not follow the rules. So, they will take off in a jet somewhere, file a flight plan to Canada or Mexico, and at the last moment divert into an American city.

Larsen says he doubts that the regulations unveiled today will make Americans any safer at all. DHS officials counter that these rules are just a first step.

In Washington, I’m Steve Henn for Marketplace.

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