Brief History: Air Marshals

Tim Shaffer / Reuters

An air marshal wields a pistol during a stimulated hijacking shortly after 9/11.

Three days after the attempted Christmas bombing of Northwest Flight 253, President Obama announced that federal air marshals would ride shotgun on more flights to and from the U.S. Armed, highly trained and unobtrusive, thousands of marshals are currently flying U.S. skies. But whether they can prevent airborne attacks is debatable.

Armed guards have policed American aircraft since the first hijacking of a U.S. jet, in 1961--when a Miami man took over a plane bound for Key West, Fla., and demanded that it fly to Cuba--and subsequent incidents prompted President Kennedy to declare that a "border patrolman" would be placed on...

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