- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Just like the government’s original “sky marshal” program was allowed to slide into near oblivion in the years leading up to the September 11 terrorist attacks, once again all the posturing about airline security and passenger safety is reportedly giving way to bean counters and bureaucrats more interested in talk than action.

At the same time the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is cutting federal air marshal flights, because it doesn’t want to pay for hotel accommodations for tired lawmen, the agency is continuing to drag its feet on the program for training pilots to fly armed.

This isn’t just another example of bureaucratic stupidity; it is a textbook case of criminal negligence. If TSA Chief James Loy and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge cannot grasp the importance of both programs to national security, then it’s time for them to clean out their desks, go home and write their memoirs. The nation cannot afford this kind of empty leadership.

The disclosure ironically coincided with the revelation that al Qaeda may be planning more suicide hijackings here and abroad. It left anyone with even mediocre intelligence to wonder just what Messrs. Ridge and Loy are thinking, if they are thinking at all.

Insiders — make that air marshals — have tipped off MSNBC that the program is “suffering budget troubles” and the bureaucrats (who presumably don’t fly on commercial jets, considering their evident growing disinterest in security) are looking for ways to cut costs. In this case, cutting costs translates to cutting corners, and the consequences of doing things on the cheap should have become obvious about the time that the World Trade Center was tumbling into a cloud of dust and the Pentagon was burning.

When we originally proposed that commercial pilots fly armed, early on the afternoon of September 11 we weren’t looking for publicity, just prevention. It was gratifying that so many others quickly grasped the importance of passenger safety and cockpit defense — concepts that now appear to have escaped Mr. Ridge and Mr. Loy, if they were ever present at all.

Members of Congress, airline pilots, passengers and survivors of the September 11 attacks never again want our collective guard to be let down. We’re not so sure about the budget cutters who are now trying to quietly trim the airline security program.

Our call for armed pilots was based on common sense and history. It was obvious from the start that at some point all the hand-wringing about putting sky marshals on commercial jets would give way to budget considerations. It only seemed natural to arm pilots, because sooner rather than later, it was predictable that not every airplane would have a sky marshal, but they would all still have pilots.

It’s not like pilots can’t learn to shoot. After all, they’ve learned to fly airplanes. What’s more difficult? We trust them at the controls of a jumbo jet, why not in control of a handgun to defend that jet?

Yet, the TSA has deliberately dragged its feet on the armed pilot program, inventing one roadblock after another to discourage pilots and delay implementation of the congressionally mandated training program. It is time for some answers.

Why should American citizens be expected to submit to screening procedures that treat them like criminals, when the TSA is deliberately slashing airline security?

Why has TSA suspended upgraded training for air marshals, according to MSNBC?

Why has armed pilot training been shifted from Georgia to New Mexico, creating just one more impediment in a program already deliberately littered with bureaucratic potholes?

TSA spokesman Bruce Turmail insisted to MSNBC that his agency “remains committed to aviation security.” That’s like an abortion activist proclaiming a commitment to motherhood.

Lofty pontificating about airline security on the Sunday morning talk circuit will not prevent determined lunatics from trying to commandeer airplanes so they can be turned into occupied guided missiles. Condescending assurances that the skies are safe won’t matter much to the victims if another jet is crashed into an office high-rise or government building, or maybe just an urban neighborhood.

Here’s a thought for Mr. Ridge, Mr. Loy and their bean-counting subordinates: Hotel rooms are cheap, talk is cheaper. Innocent lives are expensive.

Joe Waldron is the executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and a former Marine Corps intelligence officer. Dave Workman is CCRKBA communications director and senior editor of Gun Week.

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