U.S. Calls for Marshals on Foreign Jets

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, Dec. 30, that has been edited for clarity.

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HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY TOM RIDGE: Any sovereign government retains the right to revoke the privilege of flying to and from a country or even over their air space. So, ultimately the denial of access is the leverage that you have.


JIM ANGLE, GUEST-HOST: Yet another move by Homeland Security to try to foil terrorist hopes of striking the U.S. this holiday season. Tom Ridge announced today that he will be asking some foreign flights to put armed sky marshals aboard their planes.

To discuss that and other aspects of the terror alert, I'm joined by Peter Brooks, a senior fellow for National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation (search) and a columnist for The New York Post.

Peter, thanks for joining us.


ANGLE: Now, why -- this is slowly unfolding since the alert went up. We have learned something additional, every couple days, though people told me we knew a lot of this at the outset. We learned that Air France flights were targeted on their way to Los Angeles and those flights were delayed. What is behind this latest move?

BROOKS: Well, what we are trying to do here is push out our air borders. We realize that it is just not American, domestic carriers that are potential tar -- are potential weapons. You know, these are ballistics missiles, essentially. But overseas carriers as well. We have two million people who pass through the airports every day. Many of these are visitors to the United States. A large 747 flying to Los Angeles from Paris could bury itself into a hotel in Las Vegas and kill many, many people. And so what we are trying to do is push back our air security borders.

ANGLE: Yes. The concern is any plane that flies over or to the United States, obviously.

BROOKS: Absolutely. This is certainly the case.

ANGLE: Now, we are familiar with what the U.S. has done with the security -- screening security going in the airport, the enforced cockpit doors, armed pilots, all that kind of thing, sky marshals. What have other nations' airlines done?

BROOKS: Not too many of them have participated in that. Some of them -- of course, the Israelis have always been very concerned about this. But there are not too many others. Some have brought on reinforced cockpit doors. I don't think anybody else has pilots that are armed. So this is a real concern. We need to try to get them to do this as well.

I think Secretary Ridge was very gentle today. In fact, I probably would have made it -- I'm not in his position but -- I would have made it a requirement...

ANGLE: You don't have to be as diplomatic, right.

BROOKS: I would have made it -- I would have certainly made it a requirement that doors become reinforced, that there are air marshals. Even if there aren't air marshals on the aircraft. It gives an air of deterrence. It complicates the terrorist's ability to do something. And also, we looking at airman manifests, I mean a whole bunch of things. This Paris incident really should focus our mind that this is really a global struggle, not just about homeland security. It is about security starting overseas.

ANGLE: Well, and the terrorists have shown that they are adept at adapting.

BROOKS: Absolutely.

ANGLE: That they see it -- it's in some ways, it is what people do about burglars. You put up bars or you put an alarm system in the house, the burglar goes somewhere else.

BROOKS: That's right.

ANGLE: The idea here is to keep, as you say, pushing the borders out. Clearly, the terrorists were looking for some weakness in the system and believe they found it in foreign airlines flying here.

BROOKS: Absolutely! And I think this is -- they are looking for vulnerabilities. In fact, the Turkey bombings last month, from some of the debriefing, we found out they decided not to attack the American base at Incirlik. Because it was too heavily defended, so they went against soft targets. They went against synagogues. They went against British consulate and a British bank. So they are looking for vulnerabilities and they will try to exploit them. Asymmetric warfare.

ANGLE: Now, Ridge also mentioned today, that the U.S. has done a lot on a lot of fronts. Not only with flights, and now foreign flights, but also with ports, with things like nuclear power plants, chemical plants, all that sort of thing. He said we are now in a position where there is "unparalleled protection." I take it all of these other things are a constant concern as well.

BROOKS: Oh, absolutely. We can never have absolute security unless you turn it into the police state. And that is not our way of life. And that's what the terrorists want us to do; they want to change our way of life. Our level of our ability to protect ourselves and defend ourselves is at unprecedented levels, compared to two years ago.

But there are still a lot of things that can be done. You talked about containers. There are millions of containers ships that come to the United States. One of those could be laden with a weapon of mass destruction. We have to be concerned about them.

ANGLE: In fact, I think I saw a report today, that we have permission from 18 nations so far to put customs agents in foreign ports.

BROOKS: Absolutely. This is called the Container Security Initiative, or CSI. And what this does is push back our borders, once again, for surface water transportation to these mega ports, like Rotterdam and Hong Kong and Singapore. And start looking at cargo then -- there instead of when it gets here when that is where the terrorist would want to explode it.

ANGLE: Now, as far as the question of airplanes coming here from abroad, some nations are cooperative. The Brits have already started, and started Sunday. Others nations seem a bit resistant here. But it seems to me it is easier for another nation to put sky marshals on than it is to have happened what did with Air France, which is having to cancel the flights.

BROOKS: Absolutely. And that is very important. But of course there is expense involved. Sometimes these are national airlines ... they are not private airlines. So there is also the issue of sovereignty, being told what to do by United States. Some people think this is the United States in the war on terror; it's not a global struggle.

But if you look around the world, Jim, it is a global struggle. People are being struck in Saudi Arabia, in Turkey, in Iraq. And this probably thwarted an attack in France. And so France could have been a target here. So I mean we have to be very vigilant and convince others they need to be just as vigilant. It is in their best interests.

ANGLE: It is not just convincing them, though. If a plane is flying here from some other nation, we have the right to deny them the ability to land. Right, to deny that landing rights?

BROOKS: That is right. And that is our leverage. At this point that is our leverage to do that. We certainly don't want to do that. At this point, hopefully we will get the cooperation and coordination we need. Secretary Ridge kind of edged up to that today. I think this was the first step in a number of steps we're going to have to take to ensure our security.

ANGLE: It didn't come to that with France. France cooperated and Secretary Ridge noted that today.

BROOKS: Absolutely. I think the French are a little disgruntled because of the fact is that they didn't find a smoking gun based on the intelligence we had. But remember, it leaked out of Paris a little too early, a number of people didn't show up, especially that Tunisian pilot in training. So they might be unhappy that they didn't have something to hold up to say we got somebody.

ANGLE: To find somebody...

BROOKS: Right. So, they might be a little bit there.

ANGLE: Peter, thank you.

BROOKS: Thank you, Jim.

ANGLE: Always a pleasure.

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