The AP reported over the weekend on a forthcoming report by the House Judiciary Committee entitled “Plane Clothes: Lack of Anonymity at the Federal Air Marshal Service Compromises Aviation and National Security.” From the AP story:
The draft report, “Plane Clothes: Lack of Anonymity at the Federal Air Marshal Service Compromises Aviation and National Security,” cites the service’s dress code, which is supposed to prevent marshals from drawing attention to themselves.
In practice, the report found, “many federal air marshals indicate that the dress code actually draws more attention to the identity of the federal air marshals because of its rigid requirements that prevent federal air marshals from actually blending in with their surroundings.”
The report by the House Judiciary Committee, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press on Friday night, identified several policies by the service that the report concluded undercut the goal of preserving the marshals’ anonymity.
The report also faults the service for requiring marshals to stay at designated hotels and show their credentials upon checking in. It said that in one instance, the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel in Florida designated the service “company of the month” because of the number of rooms it had reserved at the hotel.
“This public designation essentially advertises for any terrorist wishing to attack a location populated by a concentration of federal air marshals that such a target is the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport,” the report says, referring to the hotel.
And the report raised questions about boarding procedures by marshals, expressing concern that these procedures could give away the identity of the marshals.
Some of the issues in this report have already been resolved. The Washington Times noted in January that the dress code has been relaxed and the hotel policy has been changed, so in many ways this report has been overtaken by events. But my personal observation is that it’s still not that hard to identify air marshals on flights, based on their boarding patterns. It would probably be a good idea for the FAMS to shift to procedures where air marshals are blended into the regular passenger boarding process.
I’ll post a link here to the full report when it’s publicly released.
Update (6/8): Here’s a link to the full report.