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Air marshals to deploy on ground transit

(Reuters circulated the following article on December 14.)

WASHINGTON -- U.S. air marshals, who usually provide security on airplanes, will join local law enforcement this week to test how effectively they can boost security on ground transport, officials said on Wednesday.

Transportation Security Administration spokeswoman Amy von Walter said air marshals, bomb-sniffing dogs and TSA inspectors will work in a test program on mass transit, rail and buses in six cities across the country.

``We will be testing the agency's ability to deploy a variety of resources to quickly and effectively raise the bar of security in any mode of transportation anywhere in the country,'' von Walter said.

TSA officials said there were no specific threats to the ground-based transit.

Internal TSA documents, first reported by The Washington Post, said the program called for Visible Intermodal Protection and Response teams, or 'Viper'' teams to be deployed on the ground-based transport.

The programs from December 13-18 are each three-days long and will include mass transit and rail in Los Angeles, Washington, Philadelphia and Baltimore, but only mass transit in Atlanta and buses in Houston.

Air marshal spokesman Dave Adams said there would be no impact on the marshals' traditional responsibilities. Air marshals will continue to carry out their normal duties of traveling undercover on U.S. flights.

``Federal air marshals can only fly a certain number of hours,'' he said. ``They obviously work more hours than they can fly so we're capturing the difference between the flight hours and their regular work schedule.''

Only a portion of all the flights in the United States have air marshals on them. Air marshal officials will not disclose how big the federal air marshal service is, saying only that they number in the ``thousands'' -- a sharp increase from about 33 when four planes were hijacked on September 11, 2001.

Adams said the program was part of an overhaul of the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security launched this year.

``It's to test the federal agency's ability to quickly deploy assets to respond to a broad potential threat,'' he said.

Air marshals, who like to remain low-key and blend in with passengers, made news last week when marshals shot and killed an air passenger after they said he indicated he was carrying a bomb.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

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