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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

U.S. Military Authorized to Shoot Down Hijacked Commercial Planes

Aired September 27, 2001 - 16:22   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: To the Pentagon for more on the whole issue of the circumstances under which commercial passenger planes could be shot down. Our military affairs correspondent Jamie McIntyre joining us -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As the government expands the restricted airspace over the United States, the question falls to what extent will the U.S. military have to enforce that in the event of a problem? Before the September 11 attacks there were no formal procedures for the U.S. military to deal with a hijacked plane that was operated by suicide bombers intent on attacking the United States.

Only the president could make a decision to authorize to shoot down a civilian airliners, something thought to be unthinkable. Now after September 11 the military has streamlined somewhat its procedures, and put in place a procedure where, if the president could not be contacted, or did not have time to make a decision, a very senior and experienced military commander would be able to make that anguishing last-minute decision.

Again, Pentagon officials stress that this would only be an extraordinary last resort for the military to take this action. And it would only be if the president could not be contacted. Outgoing joint chief chairman, General Hugh Shelton said today the U.S. public has nothing to fear from these combat air patrols that might be pressed into this mission.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. HUGH SHELTON, JOINT CHIEFS CHMN.: We have got a great Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Army, but specifically the pilots that fly. They are bright. They are dedicated, and they are very, very good. They are the best in the world. The last thing in the world that one of them wants to do is engage a commercial aircraft.

So don't get the impression that anyone is flying around out there that has a loose trigger finger, that's not the case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld insisted that there are elaborate procedures in place to make sure there's no accidental shoot down of an aircraft. And he also said that he wasn't going to detail the precise procedures because he said that might give some advantage to people who would want to use knowledge of those procedures to their own advantage to do harm to the United States -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Jamie McIntyre reporting from the Pentagon.

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