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can't repair because the disk is locked

I get the message "can't repair because the disk is locked" (or some variation of that) when trying to repair a disk using Disk Utility, Drive Genius, DiskWarrior. Also get a similar message when I try to format (partition) the same drive with Disk Utility. What does it mean that the disk is locked? How do I unlock it?

Booting from an external firewire drive running Snow Leopard, attempting to repair the internal drive on a Mac Book Pro (2GHz Intel Core Duo).

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