WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two Air Force generals have been authorized to order the military to shoot down any civilian airliner that appears to be threatening U.S. cities, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
The move follows revelations by Vice President Dick Cheney that in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, President Bush had ordered the military to intercept and shoot down any commercial airliners that refused instructions to turn away from Washington.
After receiving warnings that commercial planes had veered off course, military fighter jets scrambled over Massachusetts and Virginia on the day of the terrorist attacks. But they were unable to respond in time, officials have said.
Under new rules, the two generals will be able to order action themselves in extraordinary circumstances in which the proximity of the threatening plane, time and other factors would make it impossible to take the decision higher up, Pentagon officials said Thursday. They spoke on condition of anonymity.
Maj. Gen. Larry K. Arnold at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., would have that authority for the 48 contiguous states. Lt. Gen. Norton A. Schwartz at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, would have authority for Alaska, the New York Times reported.
Following the terrorists attacks, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ordered fighter jets at 26 bases nationwide to be prepared to take off on 10-minute notice.
Reserve units have been called up to supplement the effort in which F-15s and F-16s fly 24-hour patrols over dozens of American cities.
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