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Air Marshals Train for Terror Threats

May 8, 2002

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POMONA, N.J. (AP) _ The captain had just finished telling the airline passengers that he was turning off the fasten seat belt sign when the hijacker struck, appearing instantly with a dagger in his right hand.

As he began walking through the wide-body jet, shots rang out and the hijacker fell. An air marshal, still sitting on the aisle, had cut him down.

This scenario is one of several that hundreds of candidates go through as part of their 14-week training sessions to become air marshals, enlistees in the Transportation Department’s war on terrorism.

At a time when Congress is questioning both the funding and the accomplishments of the new Transportation Security Administration, officials opened up their air marshal training center and their airline security research facility to reporters Tuesday. Both are located at the William J. Hughes Technical Center at Atlantic City International Airport.

Some lawmakers have said the security agency has not given a full accounting of how it plans to use the $4 billion in the supplemental spending bill. The proposed House bill limits the TSA to 45,000 employees, rather than the 67,000 the agency has said it wants.

``We’re getting near a point when we need to show some tangible advancements in terms of airline security,″ said Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y., a member of the House Appropriations transportation subcommittee. ``We need to start seeing some results that are equal to the huge investment that we’re making.″

Transportation Department officials on Tuesday tried to show some results.

A wall full of computer-generated maps show the path of each flight with air marshals on board, and a list shows the travel schedule of each marshal. The department also plans to track each flight that has an armed law enforcement officer other than a marshal on board.

So many marshals have been hired since Sept. 11 that the Transportation Department is using a computer program to schedule them, said Donald Anderson, an assistant special agent. The marshals are scheduled each day to fly those routes where an analysis shows they are most needed.

``The number of flights being covered is very significant,″ said Tom Quinn, director of the Federal Air Marshal Service. ``The federal air marshals have made a difference on a regular basis.″

On pistol ranges, in a wooden shed where airline seats are arranged to simulate narrow and wide jets, and on old Boeing 727 and L-1011 planes, the marshals practice using their guns and responding to disorderly passengers and terrorist threats.

``If we have to fire our guns, we’re going to hit to put the threat down,″ said senior instructor Brad DeLauter. ``We’re not aiming for a wounding shot.″

Elsewhere on the airport grounds, employees are building bombs _ real and simulated _ and hiding them in what had been lost luggage. The idea is to prove that the trace equipment can find explosives just as effectively as the larger machines.

They’re also testing equipment that can detect weapons and explosives on passengers. On Monday, a passenger carried two loaded handguns past a security checkpoint at New Orleans’ international airport. The guns were found during a random check at the gate.


On the Net:

Transportation Security Administration: http://www.tsa.dot.gov

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