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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Air Marshals Cut as Terrorism Fears Increase

Aired July 30, 2003 - 19:10   ET

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

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Moving on now to report about federal air marshals. After a report terrorists may be plotting new hijackings this summer security measures on airliners and at airports are getting new scrutiny.
We have Jeanne Meserve and Patty Davis standing by with a pair of reports for us tonight. First we go to Jeanne Meserve in Washington.

Jeanne, the "Washington Post" reports just as the terror threat may be increasing there have been cutbacks in the federal air marshal program. What does the government say about that?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On one hand, reports of possible terrorist hijackings. On the other, reports of cutback in the federal air marshal program. The contrast, red meat for congressional Democrats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cut in air marshals should not happen now and it should not happen ever. Not until we know that the war on terrorism has clearly been won.

MESERVE: Homeland officials acknowledge they do want to move money away from the air marshal program to help cope with the Transportation Security Administration's budget shortfall of almost $1 billion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by!

MESERVE: It means advanced training of air marshals would be curtailed and some hiring, too. Some members of Congress are already putting up road blocks.

Meanwhile, homeland security officials insist the same number of missions is being flown.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: America should know that every air marshal that we have is being deployed and additional resources are being directed to that very critical mission.

MESERVE: Congressional Democrats say they have tried five times to increase funding for TSA, but have been rebuffed by the administration and congressional Republicans every time.

They say the administration is not spending anywhere near enough to make the country safe and merely shift funds around to cover the most pressing and publicized security shortcomings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bottom line is the Homeland Security Agency is like the proverbial bed where there are five children and enough covers for four.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The administration, predictably, disagrees with that assessment, but it is trying hard to diffuse the controversy over air marshals, now authorizing the TSA to solicit help from other federal agencies to boost the number of air marshals flying.

Also, Anderson, late news from CNN's Kelli Arena. Government sources tell her that Ali Abd Al-Rachman Alfasi Al-Gamdi (ph) was one of the sources about the aviation threat. He was allegedly one of the key organizers of the May 12 al Qaeda attack in Saudi Arabia. The source tells CNN that al-Gamdi (ph) is being held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Jeanne Meserve, thanks for the update and the new information, as well.

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