President says it's safe to fly

Bush unveils plan for more marshals on U.S. airliners

Tougher cockpit doors

Terrorism Strikes America

The Response

September 28, 2001|By David L. Greene and Marcia Myers | David L. Greene and Marcia Myers,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

CHICAGO - President Bush, seeking to rally the crippled airline industry, called on Americans yesterday to return to the skies and urged the nation's governors to station National Guard troops at airports to give travelers a renewed sense of security.

"Get on the airlines, get about the business of America," Bush told hundreds of flag-waving airline workers outside a hangar at O'Hare International Airport.

The president also said he plans to put the federal government in charge of airport security, place armed marshals aboard more flights and take other measures to protect passengers and crews, including strengthening cockpit doors.

Bush said he is trying to provide "visible security measures" at airports, especially in the short term while passengers are still jittery, "so the traveling public will know that we are serious about airline safety."

Aides traveling with the president said Bush wants to create a new federal agency, or a new office within an existing Cabinet department, to manage and oversee airport security.

Bush did not go as far as some congressional lawmakers had hoped. Many Democrats want all security personnel at airports to be federal employees.

Instead, the president said he wants to retain the private contractors who now provide security, but he intends to place uniformed federal workers in the nation's 420 commercial airports to supervise passenger and luggage security.

Federal responsibilities would include performing background checks on airport personnel and training them in their duties.

Bush said he was committed to restoring faith in air travel after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and portrayed the airline workers arrayed before him as soldiers in the recovery effort and the war on terrorism.

"You stand against terror by loading a bag or serving a passenger," Bush told them. "You're expressing a firm national commitment that is so important, that we will not surrender our freedom to travel, that we will not surrender our freedoms in America."

Addressing the terrorists, he said, "While you may think you have struck our soul, you haven't touched it."

In Maryland, Gov. Parris N. Glendening responded to the president by activating about 100 members of a National Guard infantry unit - the 3rd Brigade of the 29th Infantry Division - to supplement security at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and at regional airports in Hagerstown and Salisbury.

But until the Guard members are trained in military policing - which could take two to three weeks - state troopers will be stationed at the airports. Troopers were dispatched to their new posts last night.

Even as the president worked to restore faith in flying, his aides were discussing the drastic actions the federal government might be forced to take if an attack on the order of Sept. 11 is mounted again.

The New York Times reported yesterday that the president has given two Air Force generals the authority to order a hijacked commercial jetliner shot down without checking with him if time is of the essence and the plane is headed for a populous area.

"Every attempt would be made to go to the highest chain of command, all the way to the commander-in-chief," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday. "If the plane is nose down and threatens safety and security of the American people, that's the type of situation we're talking about."

Shooting down a passenger jetliner, McClellan said, "is the last resort." He added, "The senior-most official at the last possible moment to make that decision will have the authority."

At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said, "There are a lot of safeguards in place."

A week after the terrorist attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney revealed that the president had ordered U.S. fighter jets to shoot down the fourth plane that was hijacked the morning of Sept. 11 if the jetliner approached Washington and the pilot refused to change course.

Bush's order never had to be carried out because the plane crashed into a remote field in Pennsylvania.

In Chicago yesterday, Bush offered additional steps to improve airline safety, positioning himself on a podium in front of two commercial jets, one from American Airlines, the other from United. The four planes hijacked Sept. 11 belonged to those two carriers.

He called for a major expansion of the federal air marshals program. Now, armed plainclothes federal agents ride on some domestic flights. An administration official said there would be a "dramatic increase" in the number of flights with marshals, but did not offer an exact number.

"Americans will know that there's more of them," the president said. "Our crews will know there's more of them. And the terrorists will know there's more of them."

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