The transcript’s of Sen. Marco Rubio’s remarks are available below the fold.
Back in May, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, at the Department of Homeland Security told the House Homeland Security Committee that new scheduled air service from the United States to Cuba and vice versa was not going to start until air marshals were allowed to be on board those flights. In August, the TSA provided the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council as well as reporters a statement, and they said that the United States and Cuba had entered into an aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of air marshals on board certain flights to and from Cuba.
Well, today at a hearing in the house, a top TSA official divulged for the first time that Cuba has yet to agree to allow air marshals aboard scheduled airline flights between the two countries, meaning there have been no air marshals on board thus far despite the fact that the administration said there would be.
So basically what we have here is an outright lie.
Last month, to great fanfare the administration announced that the agreement had been reached that there was going to be air marshals on the flights to and from Cuba, on the commercial flights. And today, they confirmed that they weren’t telling the truth. There was no agreement finalized. On most if not all of these flights there are no air marshals, and this is endangering U.S. passengers.
This is a startling admission from the administration; it’s a startling admission by the TSA, and to the American people that they lied. They told us these flights would not begin until they had reached an agreement with the Cuban government to have air marshals and other security measures in place. And today only because they were asked — only because they were asked — did they admit that this is not happening.
It’s incumbent upon the TSA to lock down a federal air marshal agreement before these flights started taking off to begin with. That’s what they told us they were going to do. That’s what they said or implied was happening. And unless that question had been specifically asked today at that hearing, we would not have known about this.
And my friends, this is the latest example of an administration that is so intent on burnishing its legacy, on getting credit for this opening that they’re willing to throw everything else out the window. They already are ignoring the human rights violations. We had one of the leading dissidents in Cuba on the verge of death because of a hunger strike and this administration hasn’t said a word about it. They don’t do anything about it. They don’t highlight that case.
Instead they’re celebrating and popping corks of champagne on these new flights that they told us we’re going to be safe because they were going to have air marshals and today because they were specifically asked we find out it’s not true. This is outrageous.
The TSA, under the Obama administration, has lied to us about the status of the security.
Last week I filed a bill that would stop all flights to Cuba, commercial flights, until this agreement was in place, until adequate security is in place. And now we know for a fact that adequate security is not in place. These flights should be suspended until such time as this agreement is signed. And I want you to think about what this means if it doesn’t happen. What it means is that these are now flights that are vulnerable. There’s a reason why we have air marshals on flights, because of the experience of 9/11 that we just commemorated the anniversary of on Sunday.
And you now have flights 90 miles from our shores that could theoretically be commandeered and you could have a repeat of that, particularly South Florida which is just minutes away from the airport in Havana. This is just unacceptable.
Forget how you feel about Cuba policy for a moment. They have lied to the American people and congress and they were only caught today because they were specifically asked about the status of this. This puts us in incredible danger. And by the way it is important for everyone to remember years ago there were no metal detectors even at airports. You know why they started putting metal detectors at airports 35, 30 years ago? Because of hijackings to Cuba. There’s a reason.
And so now here you have this situation where theoretically some terrorist can travel from any country in the world into Cuba and then try to come into the United States, commandeer an aircraft and I don’t need to tell you what can happen next. This is an incredibly dangerous situation.
I think we need to unite across the aisle and basically say no matter how you feel about Cuba policy, we all agree that travel to Cuba should be safe, no less safe than travel to the Bahamas, no less safe than travel to the Dominican Republic, no less safe than travel to Mexico. Why does the Cuban government and why are we allowing them to conduct flights without the same conditions that we have on allies of the United States? Cuba is not an ally of the United States. The Cuban government hosts intelligence facilities for both the Chinese and Russians. The Cuban government harbors fugitives of the American justice. The Cuban government helped North Korea evade U.N. sanctions on missile technology and weapons. And yet we have allies in this hemisphere who have to comply with all of this, but not Cuba? This is absurd.
The TSA has lied. It leaves this nation vulnerable and those commercial flights need to be immediately suspended until such time as these security measures are put in place. And I hope that – this is something that just broke hours ago – and I hope that we can come together here and actually deal with it irrespective of how you may feel about the issue of Cuba.