Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff was at the National Press Club on January 17th,advocating the REAL ID Act. Behind him was a large portrait of the Florida driver’s license issued to Mohammad Atta, a main terrorist of the 9/11 attacks.
The obvious implication is that REAL ID would have prevented the 9/11
attacks by denying Atta a driver’s license, and hence the ability to board a plane. Actually, Mr. Chertoff’s main argument is that “all but one of the 9/11 hijackers carried government IDs that helped them board planes”.
However, Mohammad Atta was a foreign national who entered the US with valid visa, and could have used his foreign passport to board domestic flights. Nothing in the REAL ID changes that. Every year, hundred of millions of foreign nationals enter the US for business and for tourism, and without those, the US global business would grind to a halt. But those foreigners need to move around, and most of them do not have any US driver licenses. Therefore, they use their foreign passports to ride domestic airplanes, and use their international driver’s licenses to rent cars.
The gist of the story is that although Mohammad Atta was able to get a
Florida driver’s license and use it to board an airplane, he could also have boarded that domestic flight using his foreign passport, just as millions of visitors do daily. Better human intelligence and cooperation among our security agencies could have done much more to prevent 9/11 than a REAL ID Act.
A debate about the REAL ID act is a healthy and necessary one. There may be positives and negatives to this Act. But, this debate should be based on correct assumptions and not fear raising, and potentially misleading images.