- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

A convicted terrorist with links to al Qaeda has told U.S. law-enforcement officials that he developed a plan to take out federal air marshals and hijack a plane based on information in a TV news report.

The terrorist told authorities the Jan. 7 report revealed the typical seat assignments of air marshals, their unarmed combat techniques and how they are trained to shoot in hostage situations.

Officials played down the significance of the report, but it highlights the difficult line that federal security agencies must walk when dealing with the press.

The FBI passed along the warning to the Department of Homeland Security last week in a memo called a Law Enforcement Intelligence Information Report, Federal Air Marshal service spokesman David Adams told United Press International.

Mr. Adams said the report does not identify the terrorist by name but indicates he has “previous ties” to al Qaeda and is in jail.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko confirmed the FBI had sent the report. “It’s a genuine FBI document,” he told UPI, referring further questions to the marshal service.

Mr. Adams played down the report’s significance, saying the service was confident in marshals’ “excellent training” and pointing out that the air marshals were just one line of defense in a “multilayered aviation security system.”

The news, first broken by the Federal Times newspaper, threatens to reopen a long-running dispute between air marshals and their management about the degree of access that TV journalists have been granted to the service’s operations.

Jon Adler, national executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which represents more than 24,000 federal agents, accused the air marshal service’s recently departed director, Thomas Quinn, of “trading safety for sound bites” in his press relations policy.

In an April 2004 letter to lawmakers, Mr. Adler complained about several TV reports that he said had revealed key details of how marshals work and train.

“We’re not happy about [last week’s FBI report] but it proves our point. … Lives were put at risk,” Mr. Adler said.

Mr. Adams said that “no sensitive operational procedures were disclosed” in any of the reports to which Mr. Adler had referred in his 2004 letter. “We are always very careful” when giving the press access he said.

He defended the service’s continued cooperation with the press.

“Part of our concept of operations is public awareness,” he said. “These reports helped in building public confidence,” he said, and also served as “a deterrent … to the would-be terrorists out there.”

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