July 21, 2006

National Security Failure--Air Marshals Compromised

Air Marshals from Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, and Las Vegas assert that management policies endanger air marshal anonymity, putting every flyer at risk (video):
All of the air marshals attacked management for systematically exposing their covert status, willingly compromising their undercover assignments, and ultimately risking the safety of air passengers from coast to coast.

"Our anonymity is the only thing we have as a defense. Without anonymity, we might as well wear our guns on the outside of our shirts and announce where we're sitting," said an air marshal in Las Vegas.

The air marshals said policies and procedures established at headquarters are compromising their security in airports, on airplanes and in the hotels where they stay.

"If the terrorists know who the air marshals are, they can ambush them, take their weapons, and take over the aircraft," said one air marshal.

"Do you believe that's happening now?" Kovaleski asked him.

"Children can identify us," he replied.

A majority of the air marshals' concerns center on procedures in place before the plane leaves the runway.

Currently, air marshals must publicly display their credentials and their badge three times in airports: once as they bypass security at the checkpoint, again to the gate agent and finally to the pilot in the cockpit.

"The procedures we're required to follow right now make us stick out like sitting ducks. Any trained terrorist organization will have absolutely no problem determining who we are and how best to defeat our tactics," said one air marshal.

They said this information is publicly available and that there's no danger in sharing it because it's information any potential terrorist can easily access.

Their frustration is amplified by the fact that, for several months, air marshals have attempted to convince top managers to change the policies that compromise public safety. But nothing has changed.
More background:
Federal air marshals across the country are telling 7NEWS that airline passengers' safety has been compromised and managers lied to Congress to cover it up.

7NEWS Investigators coordinated a series of television reports airing Thursday night in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas after Investigator Tony Kovaleski spoke to air marshals in each city.

Managers of the Federal Air Marshals Service have said that complaints came from a just few disgruntled employees in Denver. But now, 17 air marshals in four states are sending a message that the $679 million that taxpayers spent this year on the Federal Air Marshals Service paid for a failing system that puts the public in danger and ignores the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001.

Never before have this many federal air marshals risked their jobs, their paychecks and their federal careers to expose what they all call a critical failure in national security.

"We do not want to come before the media. This is the last hope that we have to get these dangerous policies changed," said one federal air marshal.

"Our job is to prevent another Sept. 11 from happening. We can't do that. Not under these circumstances, not under these conditions," said another federal air marshal.

"I am so completely and utterly frustrated," said a third federal air marshal.
This is not the first time the issue has been raised:
"I think the problems with the Air Marshals Service could be solved with new management and about 48 hours. Nothing's broken here that can't be fixed with a little integrity and common sense," said Don Strange, a former special agent in charge in Atlanta.

Strange ran the Federal Air Marshal Service's Atlanta office and was in charge of four states.

Concerned about national security and before he was removed from his job, Strange sent two memos in August 2005 to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

In the memos, Strange said the Federal Air Marshal Service is "a morally corrupt agency." He said current policies "unnecessarily endanger the lives of federal air marshals and the flying public."

He also alerted Chertoff that senior managers at headquarters were "lying to Congress and the media about policy issues."

"As a matter of fact, I called senior management at the Air Marshal Service and said, 'You guys are lying to Congress. You are lying to the media. We can't do that. We won't have any credibility as an agency if we do that,'" said Strange.
A congressional report confirmed the air marshals' allegations:
The agency's credibility took another hit when a congressional investigation produced a highly critical report in May. But what was the impact of the House judiciary report?

"Really nothing," said a federal air marshal.

"So, a report, more than a year in the works, and nothing came of it?" Kovaleski asked.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," said a federal air marshal.

The congressional investigation confirmed what air marshals have attempted to change internally for more than two years. It said any policy or procedure that potentially compromises the identity of a federal air marshal is a policy or procedure that compromises commercial aviation and national security.
Why compromise on a vital part of national security that has no partisan angle, no question of judicial/executive/legislative overreach, and suggests only a failure at the bureaucratic level to deal rationally with reality on the ground--contact your representative. . .

Here is the list for Colorado:
Wayne Allard, 202-224-5941
Ken Salazar, 202-224-5852
Bob Beauprez, 202-225-2645
Diana DeGette, 202-225-4431
Joel Hefley, 202-225-4422
Marilyn Musgrave, 202-225-4676
John Salazar, 202-225-4761
Tom Tancredo, 202-225-7882
Mark Udall, 202-225-2161

House
Senate

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