This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," May 11, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERRY GAINER, CAPITOL POLICE CHIEF: We didn’t know what it was. I mean, the whole air defense system in Washington is set up to keep people out who aren’t supposed to be in the air space. And the wonderful thing is, is that there is a layer of protection that starts at the local departments managing any of these buildings, whether it’s the White House or other government buildings, and spreads out like an onion from there. And everybody played their part.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: Well, as everyone now knows, the threat turned out to be a little mosquito of an airplane that had no hostile intent and probably couldn’t have done much damage even if it slammed into the Capitol (search). But it still got within three miles of the White House and the Capitol. What if it had been a bigger plane traveling much faster? What then?
For answers, we turn to Air Force Colonel Keith Snyder, director of operations for the continental U.S. at NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (search), which is responsible for the air defense of Washington.
Colonel, welcome. Tell me what would have happened. Suppose this had been a Learjet going like mad, or a Gulfstream, or some larger jet. What would have happened then?
COLONEL KEITH SNYDER, NORAD SPOKESMAN: Well, good evening, Mr. Hume.
And our procedures are basically the same in how we handle all of the potential violators into that air space up there. As you saw today, we scrambled those aircraft. It was an interagency effort, in terms of the departments that participated in that event. You saw the Department of Defense (search) ...
HUME: Right. Suppose it was a faster plane. What would have been different?
SNYDER: Nothing would have been different, in terms of our military response. We would still go after and intercept that target, and attempt to dissuade that individual flying that aircraft from entering into the air space and continuing on into the Capitol.
And as you saw today, we employed flares out there with our fighters to get them to veer away. And we have employed those same logic trail and the same procedures to any aircraft.
HUME: Well, how do you — I know. But, look, people here tonight, Colonel, that this little airplane got within three miles of the Capitol. Now, it wasn’t traveling all that fast.
HUME: If a faster plane got within a few miles of the Capitol, it would have been seconds away from posing a threat to the Capitol. Would the response have been — first of all, would a larger, faster plane have been allowed to get that close before action was taken?
SNYDER: We would have been working that airplane probably a little bit quicker than we were with the small, low-altitude, slow target that we had today. So we’d have been working him a little bit faster. I can’t get into the exact timelines that would go on, but the procedures are all the same. And the national command authorities at very high levels are involved in conferencing on the calls and the appropriate actions would have been taken.
HUME: Well, somewhere along the way, somebody probably had to make a determination, based on what you saw when you got your planes up, and they got close to this little airplane, that it probably wasn’t much of a threat. Am I correct in assuming that?
SNYDER: Exactly. That’s correct. The pilots would pull up, see that it’s a small single-engine aircraft, make a determination, along with the FAA, trying to get a hold of the pilot on the radio, and try and see if there is anything unusual about that airplane.
Those are all cues and indicators to us, as to any potential action that we may have to take. And then we if we can’t contact him on the radio, we are going to try and maneuver that airplane away from the protected air space.
HUME: I take it that that’s what happened today. What was the problem with the radio contact?
SNYDER: I have no idea why the individual flying that airplane was not in contact with the FAA and air traffic controllers. We knew that he was on a VFR code.
HUME: What does that stand for? What’s a VFR code?
SNYDER: It’s a transponder code that shows that they are under visual flight rules.
HUME: What does that mean?
SNYDER: And those are normal. It means that any aircraft or pilot that wants to fly in this country can go out and fly his aircraft under visual flight rules.
HUME: And the visual flight rules?
SNYDER: And in the national Capitol region…
HUME: Right, he has to know.
SNYDER: He has to abide by certain rules. But he should know that he cannot fly his aircraft into the national Capitol region because it is a restricted air space. He needs to read the notices to airmen that are published by the Federal Aviation Administration (search) to know that he is not allowed to fly under those types of rules within the national Capitol region.
HUME: OK. So it’s pretty clear that this chap had no hostile intent. He is flying down here in this little tiny airplane. He should know what the areas are that he shouldn’t stray into and he did it anyway.
HUME: Now, we had an incident last summer, you’ll recall, when Governor Fletcher (search) of Kentucky’s airplane flying up here for the Reagan funeral observances flew into restricted air space. You had to scramble planes then.
Apart from radio contact and the pilot’s obligation to know where he or she is and what they are doing, is there any other signaling mechanism that you have to tell these planes when they get into the restricted air space?
SNYDER: Starting on the 21st of this month, we are going to start employing a visual warning system around the national Capitol region to warn pilots visually that they are straying into air space and they are not cleared to enter. Clearly, for those aircraft that under air traffic control and flying the proper procedures, that device obviously won’t be used.
HUME: Because they’ll hear it on the radio, right?
Right. Got you.
SNYDER: That’s correct.
HUME: Colonel, thanks very much for joining us..
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