The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced this week that the United States and Cuba have reached an agreement which will allow federal air marshals on board certain flights to and from Cuba. TSA released a statement on the decision at the request of the US-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
TSA explained that In-Flight Security Officers (IFSOs), also known as federal air marshals, play a crucial role in aviation security. The agency plans to continue to work with Cuba to expand the presence of IFSOs on flights to and from Cuba.
“This agreement will strengthen both parties’ aviation security efforts by furnishing a security presence on board certain passenger flights between the United States and The Republic of Cuba,” TSA said in the statement, adding, “IFSOs serve as an active last line of defense against terrorism and air piracy, and are an important part of a multi-layer strategy adopted by the US to thwart terrorism in the civil aviation sector.”
Commenting on the announcement, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, warned that despite the presence of federal air marshals on flights between the two countries, Americans traveling to Cuba remain at risk.
“While the agreement to allow federal air marshals on-board flights between the United States and Cuba is a positive step, the American people should have grave concerns about the level of security currently in place at any foreign airport where the host government refused to allow Congress to visit,” McCaul said.
President Obama’s plan to open regularly scheduled commercial air service to Cuba has been met with significant reservations. As Homeland Security Today previously reported, lawmakers have expressed concerns that terrorists could use Cuba as a gateway to the United States.
“The Administration is telling us that we should entrust the safety and security of American citizens to the Cuban government,” Rep. John Katko (R-NY), who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee’s Transportation Security subcommittee, said in a May 2016 statement. “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.”
In July, Katko introduced legislation to prohibit all scheduled commercial air travel between the United States and Cuba until TSA certifies that Cuban airports have the appropriate security measures in place to keep Americans safe.
Just weeks beforehand, Katko and other members of the House Homeland Security Committee were blocked by the Cuban government from entering the country to assess security risks associated with resuming air travel between the United States and Cuba.
The first of the more than 100 daily roundtrip flights between the two countries is slated to begin at the end of this month.