Sen. Rick Scott proposes changes for foreign military students after NAS Pensacola attack
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott has proposed new legislation to "reform and improve foreign military student training programs" following the terrorist attack at Naval Air Station Pensacola last year.
The measure, the Secure U.S. Bases Act, includes provisions such as creating a new category of visa for international military students, giving the U.S. director of national intelligence final approval over all program applicants and developing a "risk profile" for countries participating in U.S training.
Scott, R-Florida, and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced the measure in direct response to the Dec. 6, 2019, shooting at a Pensacola training facility. A second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force killed three people and wounded eight others before being shot and killed by responding law enforcement officers.
Department of Justice officials later determined the student was motivated by jihadi ideology and deemed his attack an act of terror.
"The tragic terrorist attack in Pensacola last year revealed an unnecessary risk," Scott said in a statement about the proposed legislation.
"This terrorist should never have been allowed in our country, let alone on an American military base with easy access to American military men and women. The Secure U.S. Bases Act will make sure international military students training at U.S. bases are thoroughly vetted and monitored, and that our troops are protected and never have to experience a tragedy like this again.”
There are three main components to the proposal:
The legislation would create a new visa category for international military students training on U.S. bases with restrictions on their travel and actions while in the country. Individuals who receive the new visa would be prohibited from possessing, acquiring or using firearms, except for uses specifically required by their training program. They would also be under the continual control of their commander regarding their whereabouts and activities.
The legislation would alter the application process, vetting and monitoring requirements for international military students. The application to train on U.S. bases would require an official endorsement letter from the chief of intelligence of their country, personal information including a physical address, fingerprints and other data, an in-person interview and an extensive background check that would include a review of social media activity. The U.S. director of national intelligence would be responsible for the final decision on whether to admit an applicant into the program.
The legislation would differentiate military training programs based on risk. The bill would require the Secretary of Defense to develop a method for classifying relative risks, by country, and consider the overall risk profile of each country when determining applicant eligibility. The DoD would also be required to establish a review process to determine whether individual U.S.-based training programs could be operated more safely abroad.
Immediately after the shooting, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper launched a review of the security of U.S. military installations and the screening process for foreign trainees.
Esper visited NAS Pensacola in January to brief base leadership and the media on new security protocols being implemented at all U.S. installations. Those measures are to include better student vetting, a new key card access and security system, physical security improvements and more.
In January, 21 Saudi cadets were sent home after a federal investigation found they were in possession of "derogatory" material. Twelve of those cadets had been stationed at NAS Pensacola, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.
In late February, the U.S resumed flight training for Saudi aviation students who were grounded after the terrorist attack, and announced international students would be prohibited from possession firearms.
The Pensacola gunman legally purchased his weapon after obtaining a Florida hunting license.