There was an error in this gadget

Followers

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sources: Air marshals missing from almost all flights

(CNN) -- Of the 28,000 commercial airline flights that take to the skies on an average day in the United States, fewer than 1 percent are protected by on-board, armed federal air marshals, a nationwide CNN investigation has found.

art.marshal.file.afp.gi.jpg

An air marshal, far left, trains during a simulated hijacking days after the 9/11 attacks.

That means a terrorist or other criminal bent on taking over an aircraft would be confronted by a trained air marshal on as few as 280 daily flights, according to more than a dozen federal air marshals and pilots interviewed by CNN.

The Transportation Security Administration flatly denied those reports.

Greg Alter, assistant special agent in charge of the federal air marshal program, said the 280 number "grossly understates coverage by an order of magnitude" and that the number is "four digits," but he would not elaborate.

In a post on its Web site responding to the CNN story, the TSA said it would not disclose the number of air marshals flying each day so as not to "tip our hand to terrorists." However, it said, "The actual number of flights that air marshals cover is thousands per day." Read the full response

The investigation found low numbers even as the TSA in recent months has conducted tests in which it has been able to smuggle guns and bomb-making materials past airport security screeners.

The air marshal program began in 1970, after a rash of airline hijackings, and it was expanded significantly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Specially trained to safeguard passengers and crew aboard crowded aircraft, air marshals were seen as a critical component in the overall effort to secure America's commercial aviation system.

One pilot who crisscrosses the country and flies internationally told CNN he hasn't seen an air marshal on board one of his flights in six months. A federal law enforcement officer, who is not affiliated with the air marshal service and who travels in and out of Washington every week, said he has gone for months without seeing a marshal on board.

Neither individual wanted to be identified because neither is authorized by his employer to speak.

Yet another pilot, who wanted to protect his identity because he carries a weapon in the cockpit, said he regularly flies in and out of New York's airports and almost never encounters an air marshal.

"I would have to guess it's fewer than 1 percent of all my flights," the pilot said. "I'm guessing by the coverage of when I go to those cities, fewer than 1 percent."

Air marshals who spoke with CNN anonymously in order to protect their jobs are especially troubled by the lack of coverage on flights in and out of Washington and New York, the two cities targeted by the 9/11 hijackers. Marshals, pilots and other law enforcement officials told CNN these flights are protected by far fewer air marshals than in the past. Video Watch an air marshal reveal the "truth" he says is being hidden from the public »

The TSA refuses to release either the total number of marshals regularly assigned to flights or a percentage of daily flights that are covered, but called the numbers given to CNN "a myth."

Alter denied CNN an on-camera interview with Dana Brown, director of the Federal Air Marshal Service.

"Since the Federal Air Marshal Service post-September 11, 2001, expansion, the volume of risk-based deployments has consistently remained at, near or exceeded target levels," Alter wrote in an e-mail to CNN. He added, "Today, many thousands of dedicated and highly trained Federal Air Marshal Service [sic] work diligently around the globe to make air travel safer than it's ever been."

But Alter did not specify what those target levels are, and those inside the marshals service say there are nowhere near "thousands" of air marshals working the skies.

Air marshals told CNN that while the TSA tells the public it cannot divulge numbers because they are classified, the agency tells its own agents that at least 5 percent of all flights are covered.

But marshals across the country -- all of whom spoke with CNN on the condition they not be identified for fear of losing their jobs -- said the 5 percent figure quoted to them by their TSA bosses is not possible.

One marshal said that while security is certainly one reason the numbers are kept secret, he believes the agency simply doesn't want taxpayers to know the truth.

"I would be very embarrassed by [the numbers] if they were to get out," one air marshal said.

"The American public would be shocked. ... I think the average person understands there's no physical way to protect every single flight everywhere," the air marshal said. "But it's such a small percentage. It's just very aggravating for us."

Sources inside the air marshal field offices told CNN the program has been unable to stem the losses of trained air marshals since the program's numbers peaked in 2003 -- and many of those who have left have not been replaced. Read how Drew Griffin got the story

CNN was told that staffing in Dallas, Texas, for instance, is down 44 percent from its high, while Seattle, Washington, has 40 percent fewer agents. Las Vegas, Nevada, which had as many as 245 air marshals, this past February had only 47.

The Transportation Security Administration is advertising for applicants to fill 50 air marshal positions.

Federal Air Marshals

  • Deployed to detect, deter and defeat hostile acts
  • Blend in with passengers to protect the flying public
  • Trained in firearms and recognizing terrorist behavior
  • Learn special tactics for use during flights
Source: Transportation Security Administration

The decline in the number of air marshals comes as no surprise to pilots. David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance and a pilot himself, said that, based on conversations with other pilots and marshals, he believes the TSA is overstating the number of flights that are protected by a federal marshal.

In his e-mail to CNN, Alter wrote, "In 2007, the Federal Air Marshal Service attrition rate was approximately 6.5 percent, the same approximate average it has been for almost the entire period since the agency's expansion after September 11, 2001."

"I can only speak for myself and the 23,000 members of my organization, and we are not seeing anywhere near the coverage they are asserting they have," Mackett said. "They are whistling past the graveyard, hoping against hope that this house of cards that they call airline security doesn't come crashing down around them."

As it turns out, the words "coverage" or "covered" have special meaning when applied to the air marshal service. In his e-mail to CNN, TSA's Alter said, "The Federal Air Marshal Service employs an intelligence driven and risk based approach to covering flights."

In a phone conversation with correspondent Drew Griffin, Alter said he uses the term "covered" to mean that a federal marshal is on board. But air marshals and pilots CNN spoke with say that's not exactly the case.

These sources say the marshal service considers a flight "covered" even if a marshal is not on board -- as long as a law enforcement officer or pilot in possession of a firearm is on board, even if that person is flying for personal reasons. The "covered" designation includes pilots armed in the cockpit.

"Yes, they've specifically told us that we're a covered flight when there's an armed, trained person on the plane, then that's a covered flight," said the pilot who regularly flies in and out of New York and who is trained under a federal program to carry a weapon in the cockpit.

The firearms training program for pilots is budgeted at $25 million. And while it is popular among airline pilots, many complain that they have to spend as much as $3,000 of their own money for lodging and meals when they take the course.

By comparison, the federal air marshal budget this year is $720 million. But air marshals who spoke with CNN question where the money is going when their numbers are dwindling and fewer than 1 percent of flights are covered on any given day.

"I'm afraid in the past, the only things that have really worked has been to call out the media and say we need people to call their congressman, call their senators and tell them they want better protection, and hopefully the changes will trickle down to us," one marshal said.

Critics also ask whether our government is doing enough to protect the public if the number of marshals protecting planes is down and screeners aren't catching weapons in controlled tests. Former Rep. Tim Roemer, D-Indiana, voted against the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the bureaucracy that oversees the federal air marshal service under the auspices of the TSA. He also served on the 9/11 commission that investigated the terrorist attacks.

"This is an agency or department that is critical for the U.S. long-term security needs," Roemer said. "So the basic building blocks, the front line of defense are air marshals. If you're not providing that safety for our people on a pretty basic program seven years after 9/11, we've got a lot of work to do at the department, and probably Congress has a lot more work to do on its oversight."
Original here

Pilot's gun goes off in cockpit during packed Easter flight

A gun carried by a pilot accidentally went off on a packed passenger plane, it has emerged.

The pilot on the U.S. Airways flight had been allowed to carry the weapon under anti-terrorism precautions.

It went off in the cockpit of the flight from Colorado to North Carolina on Saturday.

Officials said none of the 124 passengers or five crew of the Airbus A319 was injured and the plane landed safely.

> Authorities in the United States have launched an immediate inquiry into the potentially disastrous incident.

Luckily, none of the 124 passengers and five crew members on the flight from Denver to Charlotte, North Carolina, was injured, according to US federal officials and the airline.

The US Airways Airbus A319 plane landed safely in Charlotte, according to a statement issued by the airline.

The incident occurred on Saturday on full flight 1536, which was in the air between 6:45 and 11:51 a.m., according to US Airways officials.

The pilot, who was not identified, was allowed to carry the gun through the U.S. Federal Flight Deck Officer programme run by the Transportation Security Administration, officials said.

The programme trains pilots to carry guns on flights as part of American's anti-terrorist protection policy. It was launched in 2003.

The circumstances of the incident remain unclear. TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said the gun discharged in the cockpit, but she could not release how the gun was being transported at the time.

The TSA issued a statement saying that the plane was never in danger but that the agency and Federal Air Marshals Service take the matter seriously and it is receiving immediate attention.

An airline spokeswoman said the plane has been taken out of service to make sure it is safe to return to flight.

Officials said that the pilot was re-qualified in the programme last November.

Original here

Top 10 Reasons To Have Sex Tonight

(WebMD) When you're in the mood, it's a sure bet that the last thing on your mind is boosting your immune system or maintaining a healthy weight. Yet good sex offers those health benefits and more.

That's a surprise to many people, says Joy Davidson, PhD, a New York psychologist and sex therapist. "Of course, sex is everywhere in the media," she says. "But the idea that we are vital, sexual creatures is still looked at in some cases with disgust or in other cases a bit of embarrassment. So to really take a look at how our sexuality adds to our life and enhances our life and our health, both physical and psychological, is eye-opening for many people."

Sex does a body good in a number of ways, according to Davidson and other experts. The benefits aren't just anecdotal or hearsay -- each of these 10 health benefits of sex is backed by scientific scrutiny.

Among the benefits of healthy loving in a relationship:

1. Sex Relieves Stress

A big health benefit of sex is lower blood pressure and overall stress reduction, according to researchers from Scotland who reported their findings in the journal Biological Psychology. They studied 24 women and 22 men who kept records of their sexual activity. Then the researchers subjected them to stressful situations -- such as speaking in public and doing verbal arithmetic -- and noted their blood pressure response to stress.

Those who had intercourse had better responses to stress than those who engaged in other sexual behaviors or abstained.

Another study published in the same journal found that frequent intercourse was associated with lower diastolic blood pressure in cohabiting participants. Yet other research found a link between partner hugs and lower blood pressure in women.

2. Sex Boosts Immunity

Good sexual health may mean better physical health. Having sex once or twice a week has been linked with higher levels of an antibody called immunoglobulin A or IgA, which can protect you from getting colds and other infections. Scientists at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., took samples of saliva, which contain IgA, from 112 college students who reported the frequency of sex they had.

Those in the "frequent" group -- once or twice a week -- had higher
levels of IgA than those in the other three groups -- who reported being abstinent, having sex less than once a week, or having it very often, three or more times weekly.

3. Sex Burns Calories

Thirty minutes of sex burns 85 calories or more. It may not sound like much, but it adds up: 42 half-hour sessions will burn 3,570 calories, more than enough to lose a pound. Doubling up, you could drop that pound in 21 hour-long sessions.

"Sex is a great mode of exercise," says Patti Britton, PhD, a Los Angeles sexologist and president of the American Association of Sexuality Educators and Therapists. It takes work, from both a physical and psychological perspective, to do it well, she says.

4. Sex Improves Cardiovascular Health

While some older folks may worry that the efforts expended during sex could cause a stroke, that's not so, according to researchers from
England. In a study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, scientists found frequency of sex was not associated with stroke in the 914 men they followed for 20 years.

And the heart health benefits of sex don't end there. The researchers also found that having sex twice or more a week reduced the risk of fatal heart attack by half for the men, compared with those who had sex less than once a month.

5. Sex Boosts Self-Esteem

Boosting self-esteem was one of 237 reasons people have sex, collected by University of Texas researchers and published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

That finding makes sense to Gina Ogden, PhD, a sex therapist and marriage and family therapist in Cambridge, Mass., although she finds that those who already have self-esteem say they sometimes have sex to feel even better. "One of the reasons people say they have sex is to feel good about themselves," she tells WebMD. "Great sex begins with self-esteem, and it raises it. If the sex is loving, connected, and what you want, it raises it."

6. Sex Improves Intimacy

Having sex and orgasms increases levels of the hormone oxytocin, the
so-called love hormone, which helps us bond and build trust. Researchers from
the University of Pittsburgh and the University of North Carolina evaluated 59
premenopausal women before and after warm contact with their husbands and partners ending with hugs. Tey found that the more contact, the higher the oxytocin levels.

"Oxytocin allows us to feel the urge to nurture and to bond," Britton says.

Higher oxytocin has also been linked with a feeling of generosity. So if you're feeling suddenly more generous toward your partner than usual, credit the love hormone.

7. Sex Reduces Pain

As the hormone oxytocin surges, endorphins increase, and pain
declines. So if your headache, arthritis pain, or PMS symptoms seem to improve after sex, you can thank those higher oxytocin levels.

In a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and
Medicine,
48 volunteers who inhaled oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked lowered their pain threshold by more than half.

8. Sex Reduces Prostate Cancer Risk

Frequent ejaculations, especially in 20-something men, may reduce the risk of prostate cancer later in life, Australian researchers reported in the British Journal of Urology International. When they followed men diagnosed with prostate cancer and those without, they found no association of prostate cancer with the number of sexual partners as the men reached their 30s, 40s, and 50s.

But they found men who had five or more ejaculations weekly while in their 20s reduced their risk of getting prostate cancer later by a third.

Another study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical
Association
, found that frequent ejaculations, 21 or more a month, were linked to lower prostate cancer risk in older men, as well, compared with less frequent ejaculations of four to seven monthly.

9. Sex Strengthens Pelvic Floor Muscles

For women, doing a few pelvic floor muscle exercises known as Kegels during sex offers a couple of benefits. You will enjoy more pleasure, and you'll also strengthen the area and help to minimize the risk of incontinence later in life.

To do a basic Kegel exercise, tighten the muscles of your pelvic floor, as if you're trying to stop the flow of urine. Count to three, then release.

10. Sex Helps You Sleep Better

The oxytocin released during orgasm also promotes sleep, according to research.

And getting enough sleep has been linked with a host of other good things, such as maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure. Something to think about, especially if you've been wondering why your guy can be active one minute and snoring the next.

Original here