Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has approved the use of military assets in the hunt for the Washington area sniper whose shooting spree has so far claimed nine lives.
The decision to deploy military surveillance aircraft to help look for the elusive sniper follows a formal request for Pentagon assistance from the Federal Bureau of investigation, the FBI.
A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the aircraft will be manned U.S. Army planes capable of what are termed "visual observation" and direct communications with law enforcement authorities on the ground.
The official indicates that while the aircraft and on-board equipment will be operated by military personnel, FBI agents will also be on board to direct the airborne hunt for the sniper. That decision stems from the law barring the military from direct engagement in domestic law enforcement activities and limiting the Pentagon to a supporting role only.
The official says it is unclear how soon the aircraft will begin flying over the Washington area but says the deployment will take place as soon as possible.
In the meantime, a Bush administration official says Army investigators are now working with Justice authorities to review the military records of soldiers with sniper training.
The official provides no details.
However Pentagon officials stress there is still no reason to believe the sniper responsible for the Washington area killings has a military background.