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News Briefs

Union Wants to Allow Flight Attendants to Carry Stun Guns

NEWSDAY

As the climate of airplane cabins and cockpits has shifted to fear in recent weeks, flight attendants are pushing for federal permission to arm themselves with stun guns should they encounter hijackers.

The group’s largest union, the Association of Flight Attendants, says it wants its members to have on-board access to such devices, according to its president, who approached federal lawmakers with the idea this week during House aviation security hearings.

“We consider that [stun guns are] the weapon of choice,” said Patricia Friend, the group’s president, who said the union is opposed to pilots carrying firearms. “We would definitely need extensive training not only on how to use it, but under what conditions you would need to use it.”

Stun guns are widely used by law enforcement agencies across the country. The devices vary. Some, with the brand name of Tazer, use compressed gas to shoot barbs connected to metal wires into skin to temporarily incapacitate an attacker with an electric shock.

Other, less sophisticated versions, are box-like, with metal prongs that convey an electrical charge when they make contact with skin. They range from a few hundred dollars to $1,000, depending on the type.

Report Cites Bioterrorism Vulnerability

THE WASHINGTON POST -- WASHINGTON

The federal government’s plan for responding to bioterrorism is a collection of poorly coordinated, often underfunded, projects that span 11 separate Cabinet-level agencies, according to the first comprehensive report on the subject since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Further, the study by the General Accounting Office warns that state and local health departments appear equally unprepared to deal with a biological assault, despite the fact they are likely to be the first to respond.

“Bioterrorism remains a low probability, but a growing probability, coupled with a high vulnerability for our nation,” said Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who, along with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., requested the report.

In this year’s budget, the Bush administration has allocated $343 million for dealing with a biological attack, $113 million of which is for the Pentagon to protect soldiers in the field. The rest, which amounts to less than $1 per U.S. civilian, goes to projects as diverse as environmental assessments, pharmaceutical stockpiles and computer upgrades.

More money is being spent by the Defense Department and other federal agencies on prevention and detection, although Frist and Kennedy argue it is nowhere near enough. They have urged President Bush to spend an additional $1 billion to immediately upgrade public laboratories, train medical personnel, pursue new vaccines and therapies and secure overseas stocks of biological weapons.

U.S. Embassy in Indonesia Warns of Mounting Threat

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- JAKARTA, INDONESIA

Concerned by mounting threats against Americans in Indonesia, the U.S. Embassy here said Thursday that it will begin withdrawing “nonemergency” employees and family members who wish to leave the country.

In a strongly worded warning, the embassy urged other Americans to consider leaving and advised those who remain in Indonesia to “exercise maximum caution.”

Outside the U.S. Embassy, more than 1,000 demonstrators burned American and Israeli flags and an effigy of President Bush on Thursday to protest the expected U.S. military action in Afghanistan. Some chanted, “Go to hell, America.”

In recent days, several Islamic fundamentalist groups have threatened to kill Americans if the United States retaliates against Afghanistan for the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and near Washington.

One radical newspaper published a death threat this week against U.S. Ambassador Robert Gelbard. On Thursday, the ambassador criticized Indonesian authorities for not taking action against extremists .

“They have not been prepared to act, to warn or to arrest people who break the law when there are threats against the lives of Americans,” Gelbard told reporters.

Pentagon Unveils Medal For Civilian Workers in Attacks

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- WASHINGTON

More than two centuries after George Washington awarded the first Purple Hearts to veterans of the American Revolution, the Pentagon has created an equivalent medal for civilian employees killed or wounded in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The Medal for the Defense of Freedom was unveiled Thursday by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who called it “a recognition that the world has changed, that we can no longer count on future wars being waged safely in their regions of origin.”

The new medal will be awarded to all Defense Department civilian employees who were killed or wounded in the suicide hijackings of four jetliners.

All military personnel who were casualties of the attacks will receive the Purple Heart.

“Those Department of Defense employees who were injured or killed were not just victims of terror,” Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon briefing. “They were combat casualties, brave men and women who risked their lives to safeguard our freedom. And they paid for our liberty with their lives.”