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U.S./Mexican Officials in Talks to Allow Armed Air Marshals on Cross-Border Flights

Federal air marshals may soon be officially permitted to carry tasers on flights between the United States and Mexico if a new accord is struck.

Mexico’s National Security Commissioner Renato Sales confirmed this week that his country is in talks with U.S. officials to allow armed federal air marshals on some flights between the two countries. Details of the aviation security negotiations were revealed by Reuters the day before Sales first spoke publicly about the potential deal.

Sales said that any agreement would only allow federal air marshals to carry non-lethal weapons such as tasers and would affect only flights operated by U.S. airlines. He noted that the talks were entered solely in the interest of aviation security. The commissioner explained that any discussion about allowing armed U.S. agents to operate on commercial flights to and from Mexico is isolated from contentious trade negotiations between the two countries and insisted that any future permission to allow federal air marshals should not be viewed as a concession on the part of Mexico.

“They would only be on commercial [U.S.] flights, on [U.S.] airlines, not on Mexican airlines,” Sales said in comments broadcast on Univision News on Tuesday. “But it’s still not finalized. We’re still in talks. I can assure you that we’re not going to negotiate NAFTA in exchange for the air marshals.”

Because of the highly secretive nature of the federal air marshal program, there is no real way to know if the negotiations will result in a change in U.S. policy or if the entire exercise is merely a display of diplomatic niceties. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will not confirm which flights routinely carry federal air marshals or even how many active duty air marshals are employed by the agency.

According to the federal air marshal service’s public mandate, its jurisdiction very much has a global reach. “The federal air marshal service detects, deters and defeats hostile acts against aviation,” the agency reveals. “Federal air marshals are armed federal law enforcement officers deployed on passenger flights worldwide to protect airline passengers and crew against the risk of criminal and terrorist violence.”

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