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Protecting Commercial Airliners

Aired September 29, 2003 - 07:32   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back to the White House right now, where the Bush administration plans to spend $100 million researching and developing technology to try and protect commercial airliners against attacks from shoulder fired missiles. Some say the technology is already out there and should be used to protect planes now.
In a moment, we'll talk with Senator Charles Schumer of New York State.

But first, a report from Patty Davis in D.C.


PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is when a plane is the most vulnerable to shoulder fired missiles, during takeoff and landing. With thousands available on the black market for as little as $5,000 apiece, terrorism experts consider the missiles one of the most serious threats to commercial aviation.

NEIL LIVINGSTONE, TERRORISM EXPERT: It's only a matter of time until a civilian jetliner is shot down by a missile.

DAVIS: The Department of Homeland Security recently announced it will spend $100 million and take two years to develop a prototype of an anti-missile system. The focus is on existing infrared technology. Some military planes already have infrared lasers. Sensors detect incoming missiles and in this exercise, a laser jams the missile and sends it off track.

But some in Congress say the administration should begin outfitting all 6,800 U.S. commercial planes with anti-missile technology now.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D-CF), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We've seen it happen on the ground and we've seen people die because of this before in the world. And we cannot afford to wait.

DAVIS: Last month, this British arms dealer was arrested in New Jersey for allegedly trying to sell a shoulder fired missile to an undercover FBI agent. Last November, terrorists tried to shoot down an Israeli passenger plane in Kenya.

(on camera): Although U.S. officials have no credible information that terrorists plan to use shoulder fired missiles against U.S. planes, they're working aggressively to deny them the opportunity. But finding the right, fail-proof technology, they say, will take time. Patty Davis, CNN, Reagan National Airport.


HEMMER: Senator Charles Schumer of New York says the Bush administration is not doing enough to protect airliners against a missile attack.

Senator Charles Schumer is our guest now here live in New York City.

Nice to see you again.


HEMMER: We talked again a couple of weeks ago on the anniversary of 9/11.


HEMMER: Good to see you again.

What's your proposal? What should be done?

SCHUMER: Well, it's a very simple proposal. We do have the technology. In fact, our military planes are armed against this. Air Force One is armed against this. El Al arms all of its airliners against this.

HEMMER: What's the price tag?

SCHUMER: The price tag is about a million dollars a plane.

HEMMER: Who pays?

SCHUMER: Well, what we propose is for new planes it be built into the system, and that'll be amortized. If the big planes cost $150 million, $151 is going to, paid over a period of time. For the existing planes, frankly, with the airlines in such bad shape, they don't have the money to pay for it.

But what we propose is we're putting, over the next 10 years, about $80 billion into anti-missile defense. That's for 10 years from now, if, god forbid, you know, North Korea develops an ICBM that can reach us here. The danger to the -- with the shoulder held missiles is right now. So what we're proposing is take $4 billion out of that this year, $4 billion out of the $80 billion next year and arm all our planes.

HEMMER: Let's talk about a few options right now. Steve Israel, a rep from New York, a Democrat, says, "If one surface to air missile is fired at a single commercial airliner, it would be the end of aviation as we know it."


HEMMER: Is that over stated a little bit?

SCHUMER: A little, bit just think, if you're bin Laden or some other terrorist, who knows who, we know that terrorists have access to these shoulder missiles left over from Afghanistan and other places. Let's say, god forbid, you smuggle three of them into this country. Easy to do, not on an airplane so much, but in a container or on a ship. And then one morning someone was in an airport in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, and at the same time shot three planes down.

How many people would fly for the next six months? It certainly would send our economy into a tailspin.

HEMMER: Critics are saying, though, there are other pressing concerns when it comes to the airline industry. The cargo hold, make sure that explosives can't be loaded onto a plane, a big issue. Also, if we look back at November of last year, that Israeli charter jet in Kenya. They launched a missile at that. It missed wildly off to the side.

SCHUMER: It did.

HEMMER: There are those who contend that the accuracy of these missiles aren't nearly what they could be.

SCHUMER: You know, that depends on...

HEMMER: And your response is what?

SCHUMER: It depends on the missile. Some are less accurate than others. Some are older than others. Not only do they have these stingers left over from Afghanistan, the terrorists do, but they have says, a pretty advanced Soviet version. And the bottom line is yes, there are lots of different problems. My basic beef with the administration -- and I've been generally supportive of them overseas in what they’ve done -- is a post-9/11 world, you can't be too careful.

The terrorists can go on the Internet. If they know that we're vulnerable here and not vulnerable there, they'll look at the vulnerability here. Most intelligence experts believe that this is probably the greatest vulnerability. We ought to do something about it.

HEMMER: We just have a few short seconds left here. I want to switch topics to another area here, where you are calling for what amounts to a special council -- is that the proper way to phrase it?

SCHUMER: I will be today. Yes.

HEMMER: You're going to ask the Justice Department to put special council investigative unit onto the White House to find out who leaked the name of a CIA operative...

SCHUMER: Right. The leaking of the name of a CIA operative is a dastardly act. It not only endangers the life of an agent, who obviously has put his or her life on the line for America, but all of their operatives and the security of America. It's a despicable thing to do. And there, some of the newspapers report that it was the White House that did it.

Well, I don't think that it, that there's enough independence to let this be done by the attorney general, who's, after all, the president's appointee. The independent counsel law expired, but there's still law for a special counsel, where the attorney general can appoint somebody who can do an investigation. If you appoint someone of real, rock ribbed integrity, I think that's the only way the public will have faith that there will be a complete and thorough and fearless investigation that will go wherever it leads.

HEMMER: In a word or two, what have you heard from the White House over this?

SCHUMER: Not yet. I'm going to be proposing it this afternoon.

HEMMER: Thank you, Senator.

We'll talk again.

Charles Schumer from the State of New York.

SCHUMER: Thank you.


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