WASHINGTON — A company owned by a Saudi investor works on Air Force One and other VIP aircraft that fly Cabinet secretaries and other dignitaries around the world, USA TODAY has learned.
GDC Technics has been servicing President Obama’s jet as a contractor for Boeing, according to the Air Force. This is the first time the Pentagon has acknowledged that a contractor from a business with foreign ties has worked on Air Force One.
The company was bought in 2013 by MAZ Aviation, which is owned by Saudi businessman Mohammed Alzeer. It also has operations in Fort Worth, Texas, and in Germany.
The Air Force considers the security of Air Force One a top priority, said Lt. Col. Chris Karns, a spokesman. The White House declined to comment.
“While we can’t go into specific details about security measures, there are stringent security protocols in place,” Karns said. “The security processes related to Air Force One are proven and effective. GDC, a subcontractor to Boeing, does not have unsupervised access to the aircraft nor do they have access to sensitive information about the plane. This particular subcontract is for cabinets, desks, and other furnishings and all work is conducted offsite.”
No foreign nationals have access to Air Force One at any time, Karns said. Generally, GDC employees complete work on furnishings in San Antonio, and Boeing employees re-install items on the plane. But GDC employees who are U.S. citizens with proper background checks are escorted on to Air Force One to conduct repairs, he said.
Along with Air Force One, GDC Technics services the E-4B, which serves as an aerial national command post “in case of national emergency or destruction of ground command and control centers,” according to the Air Force. The E-4B is also known as the Doomsday Machine.
The Pentagon’s reliance on contractors for military work has grown dramatically during the last few decades. Contractors often outnumber U.S. military personnel on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, according to the Congressional Research Service. In June 2015, for example, there were about 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan compared with 29,000 Pentagon contractors, according to the service.
The foreign ownership of facilities the U.S. relies on has been an issue. In 2006, Congress killed the sale of U.S. port facilities to Dubai Ports World of the United Arab Emirates because of concerns about foreign ownership of key infrastructure.
GDC Technics, based in San Antonio, boasts that it is renowned for “interior upgrade work on VIP and head-of-state airliners,” according to its website. The company also notes that its facilities are secured 24 hours a day by guards who have passed FBI background checks and have security clearances. They also use “advanced surveillance systems” to ensure the safety of aircraft.
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