Armed-pilot rule nixed after hijack briefing
Agency removed cockpit gun right despite July al-Qaida warning
Posted: May 18, 2002
1:00 a.m. Eastern
The Federal Aviation Administration rescinded a rule allowing commercial airline pilots to be armed the same month it received a classified briefing that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network may be planning hijackings of U.S. airliners.
As WorldNetDaily reported Thursday, an FAA spokesman confirmed that its armed-pilot rule, which was adopted in 1961 in response to the Cuban missile crisis, was repealed in July 2001 – just two months before the Sept. 11 attacks – because in 40 years' time, not a single U.S. airline took advantage of it.
"In the past, FAA regulations permitted pilots to carry firearms in the cockpit provided they completed an FAA-approved training program and were trained properly by the airlines," FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto told WND. "That was never put into effect because no requests for those training programs were ever made."
He said the rule required airlines to apply to the agency for their pilots to carry guns in cockpits and for the airlines to put pilots through an agency-approved firearms training course.
But a congressional source told WND yesterday that officials with the FAA and a "variety of other agencies" were briefed about a potential terrorist hijacking threat on July 5, 2001.
"It's my understanding that the briefing that was done last year originally had representatives from the FAA, the Coast Guard, the FBI," and others, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that officials from the Immigration and Naturalization Service also were in attendance and that the briefing was chaired by Richard Clarke, the government's top counterterrorism official, in the White House Situation Room.
"Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon," Clarke told the gathered officials, according to the Post.
It wasn't clear yesterday why FAA officials – after receiving information that U.S. planes could be hijacked – would still move to repeal a rule allowing pilots to be armed, even if the rule was underutilized.
It was also unclear whether FAA officials gave U.S. airlines specific information regarding the potential hijacking threat or whether the agency recommended airlines consider arming their pilots to protect planes and passengers after the briefing.
On Thursday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told reporters that around June 22, 2001, the FAA was increasingly "concerned of threats to U.S. citizens such as airline hijackings and, therefore, issued an information circular." She said the circular "goes out [to] the private carriers from law enforcement … saying that we have a concern."
The Post added that as late as July 31, the FAA "urged airlines to maintain a 'high degree of alertness'" – levels of readiness that allegedly decreased by the time of the Sept. 11 attacks.
But Capt. Robert Lambert, a commercial pilot and one of the founding members of the Airline Pilots' Security Alliance – a trade group that favors arming pilots – said he wasn't aware of the hijacking threat discussed at the July 2001 briefing.
"I can't speak for [my airline], but nothing was passed on to the pilots," he told WND. "If such a warning were disseminated by the FAA, though, the Air Line Pilots Association should have sent out an alert."
Several messages were left for ALPA, but officials could not immediately be reached for comment. An Internet search of the group's website did not produce any statements or references pertaining to the July 2001 briefing.
WND initially established contact with the FAA, but a spokesman there abruptly referred all questions about the briefing to the Department of Transportation. However, DOT officials also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
News of the briefing comes as the White House remains under fire by critics who charge that President Bush may have had advance warning of the Sept. 11 attacks. Reports yesterday said that the details of the July 2001 briefing weren't relayed to Bush until Aug. 6, 2001, while he was vacationing at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.
The president, however, struck back at his critics during a speech to the Air Force Academy football team at the White House yesterday, saying had he known about specific threats he would not have delayed taking action.
"The American people know this about me, my national security team and my administration. Had I known that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," he said.
"What is interesting about Washington is that it's a town where, unfortunately, second guessing has become second nature," Bush added.
It was unclear whether the administration was aware that the FAA had rescinded its armed-pilot rule the same month it had received warning of possible terrorist-planned hijackings. Calls to the White House for comment were not returned by press time.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation Committee's aviation subcommittee, said the lawmaker continues to support a new bill that would allow pilots who volunteer for a newly created training program to be armed.
The bill, known as the Arming Pilots Against Terrorism Act, or H.R. 4635, also contains a provision that absolves pilots and airlines from legal liability should a passenger be killed or wounded during an armed flight crewman's attempt to thwart a hijacking.
"Congressman Mica has said if pilots could carry guns [40 years ago] in response to threats, they ought to be able to carry them now in response to today's threats," said spokesman Gary Burns.
Burns labeled as "quite a coincidence" the July 2001 dates of the briefing and the FAA's revocation of its armed-pilot rule.
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Jon E. Dougherty is a staff reporter and columnist for WorldNetDaily.
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