Friday, May 19, 2006

Air marshals: DHS policies blew our cover, made us sitting ducks

Recommended at Daily Kos and Booman Tribune

Chalk up another "catastrophic victory" for the WarOnTerrahTM. According to a report by ABC News, US air marshals can't work undercover, and describe themselves as "sitting ducks" for any terrorists.

Not because they are incompetent, or because they aren't proficient at their jobs, but because policies of the Department of Homeland Security have painted a target on their backs. And in a comment that we have heard before, the Federal Air Marshals are "a badly broken service" and they "cannot protect the public [right now]".

So what has been done to address these complaints, which have been made to management of the air marshals over the past three years? Well, retaliation against the whistleblower -always the best recourse chosen to address security issues in this Brave New World....

I saw this on Good Morning America earlier today and just couldn't believe how bad these policies are, as well as how badly the air marshals' jobs are compromised by the required policies issued by DHS. So what happens if you dare speak up about the compromising of your safety?

According to the VP for Health and Safety of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association's Federal Air Marshall, Shawn McCullers:

It has become pattern and practice for the FAM Management to initiate fraudulent charges against FAMs that have spoken up and out against the many security, health, safety, and policy violations committed and perpetrated against the rank and file FAMs.

And, believe it or not, a voice of reason on this is none other than Rep. James Sense(less)Brenner whose House Judiciary Committee is going to be issuing a very critical report about the air marshal security issue. Even Sensebrenner knows this is a bad thing:

Committee Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner says the air marshals lack of anonymity violates federal law. He hopes the Federal Air Marshal Service Agency will "at least be a little bit more compliant with the law and whistleblowers, rather than trying to shut them up,"

Some of the more egregious examples of the violations include the following:

  • Requiring them to wear khakis and jackets (no jeans or other clothing);

  • Requiring them to check in and identify themselves as air marshals;

  • Requiring them to board the plan early with the flight attendants;

  • Requiring them to sit in aisle seats near the front of the plane;

  • Requiring them to consistently stay in the same hotels near the airport; and

  • In one instance, a hotel had a big sign that welcomed the federal air marshals.

I kid you not.

One of the federal air marshals, Frank Terreri, filed a formal complaint asking the Office of Special Counsel to investigate the Federal Air Marshal Service due to abuses and other things that blew their cover as well as not letting the air marshals speak about their jobs, the agency or the abuses. For example, the petition asserts that:

In his petition, Terreri alleges "gross mismanagement, abuse of authority, violations of law, and a substantial threat to air safety, created by repeated disclosures of operational tactics and FAMS policies that compromise the identities of individual air marshals."

Terreri also criticizes FAMS' management for endorsing at least six nationally broadcast news segments that disclosed the exact weapons carried by air marshals and the tactics they use in dealing with hijackings and terrorist attacks.
In his petition, Terreri repeatedly warns that FAMS' public disclosure of such details "gives terrorists a greater tactical advantage in a setting already tipped in their favor.

Terreri also said that:

[a]ir marshals are not able to work undercover because check-in and boarding procedures at airports make it impossible for air marshals to maintain their anonymity:

"We're supposed to be undercover. But basically when everybody knows who you are, you're just the guys on the plane with the gun. Either they're gonna avoid you or overcome you, you're at a severe disadvantage."

There will be an interview on ABC News tonight with an air marshal about this, who of course fully expects to be fired within minutes of the show's airing. The video from this morning's GMA can be found here.

So, the air marshals can't keep us safe on board the planes. The cargo holds aren't inspected. Airports fail security tests as weapons are smuggled through screeners. More recently, 21 US airports failed screening tests where bomb materials were smuggled through security.

But I have to take off my shoes every time I fly. And scores of women have to be harassed and molested by TSA thugs. And others are carted off based on misinformation.

Tell me again how we are safer?

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