Homeland Security

DHS Chief 'Confident' on 'Last Point of Departure' Airport Security

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson visits with Transportation Security Administration employees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on Nov. 24, 2014. (Official DHS photo by Barry Bahler)

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the Obama administration is “not ruling out something nefarious” in last week’s EgyptAir crash, but wouldn’t go as far as presidential candidates in linking the tragedy to terrorism.

Hillary Clinton said “it does appear that it was an act of terrorism,” though
“exactly how, of course, the investigation will have to determine.”

Donald Trump declared, “If anybody thinks it wasn’t blown out of the sky you’re 100 percent wrong, folks. OK? You’re 100 percent wrong.”

Egyptian officials quickly said they believed terrorism to be behind the Mediterranean downing of the Paris-to-Cairo red-eye flight, despite the beating the country’s vital tourism industry has taken from previous attacks. On Sunday, though, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said, “Investigations take time, [so] there is no need to rush in to conclusions now.”

“There is an attempt to obstruct our investigations, but amazingly that pressure only strengthens our resolve,” El-Sisi added in his first remarks since the plane disappeared Thursday.

Johnson told Fox News Sunday that “the investigation is still early.”

“The crash was just a few days ago. Debris is being found. The U.S. Navy is participating in the search. We’ve offered all manner of assistance in regard to this tragedy,” the DHS secretary said. “At this point, we cannot rule out some type of terrorist act, but it’s still very early, and the black box, as was noted, has not been found yet, and I suspect we’ll know a lot more in the coming days.”

Egypt sent a submarine to hunt for the flight data recorders in an area of the sea nearly 10,000 feet deep.

On the statements of Clinton and Trump: “I have no comment about that except to say that I think we will know a lot more at some point in the next couple days,” Johnson said.

On the fear that a bomb could have gotten onto the flight at Charles de Gaulle airport, he stressed that “we’ve been focused on last point of departure airports now for about two years.”

“Overseas airports with flights directly to the United States, we’ve enhanced security at last point of departure airports and it’s important for the public to know that every flight the plane, the cargo, passengers on a flight bound to the United States has to be screened to U.S. standards. That includes flights on layover. So, if there’s a flight from Paris or any other place in the Middle East that’s coming to the U.S., it has to be screened to U.S. standards. That includes cargo and passengers,” Johnson continued.

“I’m confident that we have enhanced security at de Gaulle and other last point of departure airports and we always evaluate whether more are necessary based on world events.”

Asked about tighter controls than the visa waiver in European countries that are accepting refugees from Muslim countries, the DHS chief said the current environment, “which includes the prospect of terrorist-directed attacks and terrorist-inspired attacks… requires a whole government approach centered around monitoring the travel of suspicious individuals and the prospect of self-radicalization by actors here in the homeland.”

But not, Johnson said, a ban on Muslims.

“I believe that a ban immigration policy based on religion is unwise and counterproductive, frankly,” he said. “We need to build bridges to Muslim communities. We need to build bridges to American and Muslim communities, and I’ve been out there personally trying to do that, as a matter of building homeland security.”

House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) told the network that “clearly something catastrophic occurred in a very short period of time, three seconds, to cause a plane into a downward spiral and to crash into the ocean.”

“I think many signs do point to terrorism or explosive device on the aircraft. Sensors went off, smoke detectors in the lavatory, the window in the cockpit was breached, indicating it may have been blown out,” McCaul said.

“We won’t know until we get the black box and all the confirmation from that, but I am very concerned, particularly given the high threat environment of where this plane was traveling, both Cairo where I just recently visited, Tunisia, and then into Paris, where they just weed out 70 extremists out of the airport. It worries me about the safety of these flights, last point of departure coming into the United States.”

McCaul said at Cairo airport he was “a little concerned about the state of security; they only have magnetometers.”

“They are not vetting their employees, I think, properly… you can have the best technology, but if you have an inside job of a worker that has access to the plane that’s corrupted or bribed or radicalized, they can get a bomb on that aircraft and blow it up,” he said. “And I’m concerned that may have been what happened in this case.”