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U.S. Pact Allows Use of Armed El Al Guards


About three decades ago, El Al, the Israeli national airline, negotiated special permission with American authorities to station armed undercover agents in U.S. airports, a former El Al official said Friday.

El Al had such agents in the Tom Bradley International Terminal on Thursday in accordance with the agreement, said Joel Feldschuh, who served as chief executive of the airline from 1996 to 2000 and is now a private aviation security consultant.

He refused to say whether the agents who subdued and killed the gunman Thursday worked for El Al or an Israeli government security service.

"It's not a big difference," Feldschuh said. "El Al is a government-owned company. What is most important to know is that they are well trained."

Peter Walsh, who heads the global aviation security practice for Mercer Management Consulting, said he was familiar in general with the agreement, which in addition to allowing El Al to have armed undercover agents in U.S. airports, allows the Israeli carrier to have armed agents aboard planes landing in the United States.

One U.S. government official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the arrangement, saying: "Let me put it this way: No one was surprised to hear that El Al had undercover people carrying weapons."

Security consultants said the Israeli national carrier may be the only airline in the world that regularly provides armed protection in otherwise unsecured sections of airports.

Because El Al has long been a terrorist target and is subsidized by its government, it spends far more than other carriers on security, 8% of its revenue contrasted with about 0.5% across the industry, consultants said.

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