Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 8, 2006

House report on air marshals released

Filed under: Aviation Security — by Christian Beckner on June 8, 2006

The House Judiciary Committee has now released the report on the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) that received media and blogosphere attention a few weeks ago: “Plane Clothes: Lack of Anonymity at the Federal Air Marshal Service Compromises Aviation and National Security.”

The Washington Times reported yesterday that TSA had attempted to prevent the release of the report by trying to classify it in its entirety – a move that the House Judiciary Committee rebuffed, to their credit. After reading it, I understand why TSA wanted to hide this report from public view. It paints a very troubling picture of Thomas Quinn’s tenure as head of the FAMS, and accuses him of failing to respond fully to the Judiciary Committee’s original requests for information dating back to 2004. The appendices of the report contain numerous internal memoranda and e-mails from air marshals who questioned the FAMS’ policies on dress, boarding procedures, hotel policies, etc. -some of whom were then apparently retaliated against. Many of these are stirring reading, notably the resignation letter of air marshal William Meares, found on pages 125-127 of the PDF.

It also contains a number of interesting minor details about the operations of the FAMS itself. For example, it implies that air marshals ask or require the flight crew to keep open the curtains separating first class and coach on their flights – a potential tip-off to the presence of marshals. And who knew that a cat head key chain (page 129) could be used as a weapon?

The FAMS’ response to the issues raised in the report suggests that many of these vulnerabilities have been addressed. But this recent expose of the Denver FAMS office is a worrying sign that problems persist. It’s important that Congress stay focused on this issue, and ensure that the FAMS lives up to its significant responsibilities.

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