Huge security hole for Colorado state airplane went unnoticed for seven years

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Until just recently, those who knew where to go online could find the real-time location of Colorado’s $4.2 million King Air Turbo airplane, with trackable tail number N205SP, used by a wide range of state officials, but most often by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

That information, for security purposes, was supposed to have been secret, according to Lance Clem, the public information officer for the Denver Department of Public Safety.

But for unknown reasons, a 2006 request to the Federal Aviation Administration to block the real-time whereabouts of Colorado’s state-owned aircraft was never processed.

State Patrol officials responsible for the operation and maintenance of the airplane discovered the problem when reporters for the local Fox News station contacted them on a different story about the flying habits of state officials and the cost of the aircraft.

“The website used by the Fox reporters made it clear to us that somehow, any earlier requests we’d made [to the FAA] to make the information unavailable had not been completely successful,” Clem wrote in a series of emails to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“The Patrol has never provided information to the public about future or real-time use of the plane because the plane often transports the governor, other public officials and prisoners,” he said. “It’s a situation comparable to having the Air Force let people know where the presidential aircraft is flying at the moment.”

After the Fox reporters began asking their questions, but before the story aired recently, the State Patrol renewed its request to the FAA to block the current whereabouts of the plane from aviation websites.

The Fox story — which highlighted a questionable flight taken by Hickenlooper, a supporter and their respective sons to a bicycle race in Durango last year — made it sound like the state was trying to hide something.

“When made aware of our report, the state filed papers with the FAA to block the public from accessing the flight information from N205SP,” the station reported.

Luis Toro, the director of Colorado Ethics Watch, told the station the move was “disturbing and it makes it seem like they don’t want the public to know what they’re using this plane for.”

But Clem says there was nothing nefarious about it.

“We just saw a security problem,” he said. “We actually do provide the flight logs to reporters, and Fox reporters were given the flight logs.”

In fact, Fox31 inadvertently discovered a gaping hole in state officials’ security, although that wasn’t part of the story it ran.

Clem said the state patrol originally requested the FAA block real-time location data for state aircraft in 2006, after John Mark Karr was extradited to the United States from Thailand when he falsely confessed to murdering 6-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey in 1996. The state aircraft was sent to bring him to Colorado from Los Angeles. Using online aviation databases, reporters followed the plane in their own aircraft.

“There were news choppers hovering over our plane at LAX when it was about to load up Karr for the trip to Denver,” Clem wrote. “Reporters continued to track the progress of the plane. Well, that’s not so good if you’re trying to get a possible suspect back to Boulder. So we became aware at that time that we had a security problem requiring a response.”

“We thought the problem had been handled years ago,” he said, pointing to the recent killing of state corrections chief Tom Clements by a former inmate as evidence of the need to keep the current whereabouts of state officials under wraps.

But for some reason, the request was never fulfilled. No one noticed until Fox began asking about Hickenlooper’s frequent flier miles and it became apparent.

The station reported that Hickenlooper flew with his friend and their sons to attend the weekend kickoff of last year’s USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Durango, but that neither his son nor the friend paid for the flight, as is required of passengers traveling on state aircraft who aren’t on official business.

After the reporters began making their inquiries, both Hickenlooper and his friend paid up a total of $1,300.

The Fox producer who researched the story did not immediately return an email from The Daily Caller News Foundation seeking comment.

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