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Aussie Air Marshals Take to the Skies

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Aussie Air Marshals Take to the Skies

Old 18th Dec 2001, 20:51
  #1 (permalink)  
The Guvnor
Posts: n/a
Cool Aussie Air Marshals Take to the Skies

From news.com.au

Look at the name of the author ... is this a wind-up?

Licence to kill for air marshals

Tanya Targett

AIR marshals will have a "licence to kill" when they take to the nation's skies next week to defend passengers against the threat of terrorism.

The undercover armed agents – men and women – will be able to shoot first and ask questions later without identifying themselves, senior intelligence sources have revealed.

"If there is a terrorist with a machinegun or something running towards the cockpit there's not going to be a lot of time to say, 'Stop'," an official told The Courier-Mail.

"They are authorised to use lethal force if necessary."

The marshals, dressed as ordinary travellers and with false identities and cover stories, will carry concealed modified Heckler & Koch 9mm pistols with special ammunition designed not to penetrate an aircraft's skin.

Trained to US and Israeli air marshal standards, the Australian officers also will be equipped with extendable batons and handcuffs.

Marshals will work in pairs on domestic flights, with more on VIP aircraft or planes flying long-haul international routes.

They will have guidelines for using force, and will be skilled negotiators, chosen from about 6000 applicants for their temperament and demeanour and tested for drugs and alcohol. Air marshal auditors, unknown to the marshals, will randomly monitor their work.

But while air marshals will have extraordinary powers, they will have to account for their actions.

Marshals will still face legal negligence charges and courtroom convictions if they fail to use appropriate force for the circumstances.

The first group of 22 air security officers – former counter-terrorist first response team members from the Australian Protective Service – hit the skies next week. A total of 111 marshals are expected to be flying by the end of next year.

The Police Federation yesterday criticised the recruits, claiming police were better trained for the job than most of the APS.

But Attorney-General Daryl Williams defended the air marshal program and said training had been to world's best practice.

Virgin Blue spokesman David Huttner said the airline had not had any consultation with the Government despite operational and safety concerns.

"At this stage we are not clear as to how this will improve safety on board the aircraft", Mr Huttner said.

"Some of our pilots have expressed concern about the specifics of (the program)."

A Qantas spokesman said the airline had been consulted but declined to reveal further details.

It is understood officers would not wear bulletproof vests and would be able to proficiently fire their pistols up to 50m from a target. But they were unlikely to shoot more than 5m from a target to avoid hitting passengers.

Authorities also were looking into the use of electronic stun guns and mace spray but were unlikely to use either. Officials fear the mace could spread to passengers through the aircraft's air-conditioning.

As part of the air marshal program, agents will have to conceal their true occupation from family and friends.

One unsuccessful sky marshal applicant was an 85-year-old World War II veteran who wanted to die serving his country.

Senior intelligence officers said about 2 per cent of the applications were from "nutters" who offered to bring their own weapons to save on ammunition costs.

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