Armed and Anonymous

On your next flight, the passenger in the seat beside you could be a federal air marshal.

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“You cannot take anything or anyone for granted,” says former marshal Mooney. “In my day I had all the confidence in the world. I knew, if I had to, I could nail a terrorist between the ears if he was standing at one end of a 747 and I was standing on the other. And that was before all the new firearms technology and simulator training. This new group, these new air marshals, are going to be something.”

Mooney and his crew of Atlantic City firemen watch from a special platform, erected for VIPs and the families of those lost at the World Trade Center. On the unfinished wood railing in front of them, scrawled in ballpoint, are the plaintive entreaties of family members of the dead and missing. In the distance, the firemen watch as one of the constantly moving cranes excavates another layer of debris and unearths a new chamber of smoldering heat. Exposed to the air for the first time in two months, the chamber ignites and the ever-present trickle of smoke that continuously rises from the ruins suddenly transforms to a surge of smoke and flame. As the Atlantic City firemen look on, several N.Y.F.D. firemen turn a half-dozen hoses loose on the source, and in time the billowing plumes begin to dissipate.

Soon, Mooney and his group of firemen take their leave of ground zero. Those still at the site hear the unmistakable roar of a heavy jet climbing out of Newark. No one can help glancing skyward.

Ping Ping Ping
Federal Air Marshals carry the polymer-framed .357-magnum Sig Pro SP2340, firing bullets that are frangible—on impact with metal or glass, they mushroom and break apart, so they can’t rip into an airliner’s fuselage. FAMs have been instructed that when the aircraft is at risk and they have to fire their Sig Pros, they must shoot to kill. “These guys don’t pull their weapons out and start spraying,” says Bo Bosiljevac, a former Army Ranger, Navy SEAL, and currently a special operations and counter-terrorism instructor at Blackwater Lodge, a privately owned, 5,200-acre firearms and tactics training facility in Moyock, North Carolina. “They don’t rattle easily, and when they pull their weapons out, they take deadly aim. They’ve trained repeatedly and they do not miss.

“I cannot tell you exactly how air marshals do things,” says Bosiljevac. “But I can tell you some standard practices that are used by those in the security field.” He sits down in one of the chairs at a Blackwater firing range. “Now if something happens and I need to act, I do not have to stand up to do so,” he says. “I can use the seat in front of me as a gun rest, take the hand the gun is not in and place it against [the head of] the passenger in front of me so they do not get in the line of fire. I can even use the elbow of my gun hand to keep the other person in front of me out of the way. Drawing your weapon is one quick, fluid movement. You would be surprised how fast a trained agent could draw, accurately aim, and get a shot off—faster than most people could pull the trigger.” In what seems like one motion, Bosiljevac draws a holstered semi-automatic pistol and fires three quick shots: ping ping ping. Three times he hits a metal target 20 yards away. Then Bosiljevac gets up and moves forward, constantly firing, constantly hitting the target. “Surprise, speed, and aggressive action are the cornerstones,” he says. “When you engage, aggressively identify yourself as a counter-attacker—that draws the terrorists’ entire attention onto you. They cannot help it. It is an automatic reflex—self-preservation. That pulls the terrorists’ potential deadly force away from the cockpit, flight crew, and everybody else and aims that lethal force on you.” And studies have shown that in a one-on-one gun battle between a trained terrorist and a trained agent, the agent is going to win. “I know some FAMs; all I can tell you is that they are extremely sharp, highly motivated guys,” Bosiljevac continues. “I would not want to tangle with any of them on any given day. And that is no joke. They are really, really good.”

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