Justice Dept. May Favor Cockpit Stun Guns
W A S H I N G T O N, May 2 — Electrical shock devices such as stun guns show the most promise among non-lethal weapons for use by a flight deck crew trying to stop a hijacking, a Justice Department official said today.
But despite growing appeals from pilots to be allowed to carry firearms, the Bush administration has not yet taken a position on whether lethal weapons should be provided to flight crews, said Sarah Hart, director of the Justice Department's criminal research unit, the National Institute of Justice.
She spoke at a hearing called by Republican leaders of the House Transportation Committee. They have introduced a bill to allow pilots to carry firearms as a defense against events like the Sept. 11 hijack attacks.
The hearing also featured a pilot who said he had carried firearms on board in the 1970s, another pilot who had tested a stun gun on himself the previous evening, and a Boeing Co. safety expert who said most airplanes are well-made enough to withstand a few bullet holes.
The National Institute of Justice recently concluded a study assessing whether less-than-lethal weapons could be used by flight crews, Hart told the aviation subcommittee.
"We believe the electrical shock devices showed the greatest promise," because they could immediately incapacitate someone and be used in a confined space, she said.
But she added that the institute strongly recommended testing the weapons before allowing them on flight decks. Meanwhile, she said the administration has not decided whether pilots should carry lethal weapons, although some officials have expressed concerns about it.
"My understanding is that the administration has not taken an official position at this time," Hart said.
Both Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge oppose allowing pilots to carry guns.
Some committee members were frustrated that the administration had not moved to certify either lethal or non-lethal weapons since Congress passed an aviation security measure giving officials scope to do so after Sept. 11.
"This bill was passed last fall. I can't believe they haven't come to a conclusion on whether pilots should be armed, and with what?" said Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat.
The Bush administration planned to decide the stun-gun issue as early as this week but senior Transportation Department officials said that action could be delayed while the issue plays out in Congress.
Many airline pilots want to be able to pack pistols in the air — and have already done so in the 1960s and 1970s after another spate of hijackings, a representative of the nation's largest pilot's union told the subcommittee.
"I can tell you without equivocation that many pilots are willing and prepared to assume the responsibility for training and carrying a weapon," said Stephen Luckey, a Northwest Airlines captain and chairman of the national flight security committee of the Air Line Pilots Association.
Luckey said he was one of about a dozen pilots who were selected in the mid-1970s by the FBI to carry a firearm.
Pilots handed a petition to Rep. John Mica, a Florida Republican and chairman of the subcommittee. They said they had collected 44,576 signatures, including thousands from pilots, urging flight crews be allowed to carry guns in the cockpit.
The bill introduced this week by Mica and Rep. Don Young, an Alaska Republican, could deputize pilots as federal agents. That would give them the same liability protection as undercover air marshals.
But some committee members said they were worried that hijackers might simply grab a pilot's gun. "I would not want a terrorist to get hold of a captain's weapon," said Rep. Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat.
Boeing safety expert Ronald Hinderberger said the risk of loss of an aircraft due to a stray round from a handgun is very slight -- although there was a remote chance of a fire or explosion "given an unfortunate placement of shots and combination of conditions."
"Boeing commercial service history contains cases of gunfire on board in-service airplanes, all of which landed safely," he said.
But Henry Krakowski, a United Airlines captain and vice president for safety at the carrier, urged officials to approve a leading stun gun, TASER, saying United had tested the weapons in cockpits and trained about a third of its pilots to use them.
He had been stunned by a TASER in a hotel room the night before, Krakowski said. "It was absolutely debilitating."
NYC Kids Still Suffered, 6 months after Sept. 11
N E W Y O R K, May 2 — Some admitted they had trouble sleeping. Others said they feared leaving the house. Most found their minds wandering back to images of burning towers and the horror.
Nine out of 10 New York City schoolchildren suffered at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress six months after Sept. 11, and almost 10 percent likely had the disorder, according to a study released Wednesday.
Mental health researchers participating in the report, which studied more than 8,000 children at 94 schools, were particularly surprised to find that children throughout the city — not just near Ground Zero — showed symptoms of several psychiatric problems.
"The school system, above all, has to be cognizant of the fact that they are trying to do a job with students who are very troubled, very troubled today because of 9/11," said Christina Hoven, a Columbia University psychiatric epidemiologist who led the study.
In the 1.1 million-student public school system, an estimated 75,000 children likely showed six or more symptoms of post-traumatic stress — enough to be diagnosed with the disorder, according to the Board of Education study.
Researchers said the study was groundbreaking in its comprehensive examination of children's response to a major disaster.
The study surveyed children in grades 4-12 in late February and early March, finding that 76 percent often thought about the terrorist attack, 24 percent had problems sleeping and 17 percent had nightmares. The study was based on questions posed to the children themselves.
Fifteen percent of the children surveyed showed symptoms of agoraphobia — the fear of venturing outside the home. Hoven compared that with a 1996 study of several cities that showed about 5 percent of children on average suffer from agoraphobia.
The board of education study's agoraphobia findings suggest that an estimated 107,000 city schoolchildren suffer from the disorder after Sept. 11. Hoven said the fear could be heightened for children who travel through tunnels and over bridges to get to school.
Researchers said the study found that younger children, girls and those whose family members were at the World Trade Center — whether they were killed, hurt or unharmed — were more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders.
— The Associated Press
Engineers Change Approach to Skyscraper Design
N E W Y O R K, May 2 — The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have changed the process of designing skyscrapers by requiring anticipation of the unknown, says a structural engineer with the firm that built the World Trade Center.
Engineers, who are used to working with hard data, now must imagine scenarios without facts and figures, said William Faschan, of Leslie E. Roberston Associates, the firm that built the World Trade Center.
"When it comes to earthquakes and wind, there's a whole history in building for that," Faschan said. "When it comes to what's a terrorist going to do, who are they, there are just so many unknowns out there."
Faschan spoke to a group of structural engineers in New York on Wednesday, shortly after the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Society of Civil Engineers released a new report on the trade center collapse.
The study determined that the twin towers could have survived the impact of the hijacked 767s. They fell victim to the intense blaze that caused their steel columns to soften and buckle.
"This is not the end of the story — there will now be a new set of research conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that's just beginning," Faschan said.
On Capitol Hill Wednesday, NIST Director Arden Bement said he will focus immediately on how to better protect buildings from intense fires like the one that brought down the twin towers. The agency will use the findings to recommend changes to building and fire codes.
"It's critical that we understand better the relationship between fire and structural collapse," Bement told the House Science Committee.
Of particular interest to investigators is 7 World Trade Center, which is believed to have sustained little structural damage. It was the first fireproofed steel structure to collapse due to fire alone.
The two-year, $16 million investigation by NIST is also expected to study ways to "harden" exit stairways to make them less susceptible to impact and to space them out so one blow might not render them all impassable. Such designs might have allowed occupants on the floors above where the planes hit to have escaped.
— The Associated Press
Senators to Propose Homeland Security Cabinet Office
W A S H I N G T O N, May 1 — A bipartisan group of senators is introducing a bill to consolidate several agencies into a new Cabinet-level Department of National Homeland Security.
The White House, once cool to the notion, is leaving the door ajar to making Tom Ridge a Cabinet member.
Ridge, appointed by Bush in October to oversee homeland security, is reviewing the question of Cabinet status as part of his overall homeland strategic plan scheduled to be completed in time for the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"At this time it is premature to say what the final product will be, whether it is a Cabinet-level department, a statutory office or no change, but we are not ruling anything out and will carefully review all legislation," Fleischer said in a statement.
The senators plan to introduce legislation today that would consolidate the Coast Guard, Customs Service and several other agencies into a new Cabinet-level Department of National Homeland Security. The sponsors include Sens. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Bob Graham, D-Fla.
The proposal is attractive to many on Capitol Hill because it would give lawmakers oversight authority for homeland security. As a non-Cabinet-level adviser to Bush, Ridge cannot be compelled to testify and is less accountable to Congress than Cabinet secretaries are.
Bush had been reluctant to elevate the office to Cabinet level, insisting that he has given Ridge enough power to overhaul homeland security operations from his working space just a few steps from the Oval Office.
The administration signaled its openness on the issue April 11, when budget director Mitch Daniels testified before lawmakers that Ridge's job is to recommend how homeland security should function within the government, a mandate that included determining whether his own office should be Cabinet level.
A congressional GOP source familiar with Bush's meeting Wednesday with legislative leaders said he expects Ridge's strategic plan to recommend making homeland security a Cabinet-level department. Ridge spokesman Gordon Johndroe said no decision has been made by Ridge or Bush on the issue.
A second GOP official with knowledge of the White House review said Bush's advisers have concluded the president could not use his veto authority to block any bill that made homeland security a Cabinet agency. Doing so, both officials said, would expose Bush to criticism that he is not doing everything he can to protect the nation against terror.
The GOP sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Bush may be forced to seek a Cabinet-level bill that suits him best. They said the White House has several problems with the Lieberman-Graham measure.
— The Associated Press
Ridge Addresses Senate, Sort Of
W A S H I N G T O N, May 2 — Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says that while he's willing to be "accessible" to members of Congress, he's answerable to the president.
Ridge says that's why he didn't appear today before Senator Robert Byrd's committee but instead held an informal briefing for senators on homeland security.
Byrd didn't like it one bit, denouncing the move as "sophomoric" and "made for television."
Ridge and the Bush administration have stressed that because he is an adviser to the president, he doesn't have to appear before congressional panels.
Ridge spent 50 minutes talking to eleven senators, most of whom stayed for just a few minutes.
Most of the questions were easy, and only Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow suggested Ridge should appear before Byrd's committee.
—The Associated Press