Marshals spokesman disputes congressional draft report
From Mike M. Ahlers CNN
Friday, May 19, 2006; Posted: 11:00 p.m. EDT (03:00 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The
Federal Air Marshal Service is jeopardizing the safety of
rank-and-file officers with policies that could reveal the
identities of the plainclothes marshals, congressional
investigators said in a draft report obtained Friday by CNN.
The service's dress code and check-in procedures at
airports and hotels make it harder for the marshals to
remain anonymous, the House Judiciary Committee draft report states.
An air marshal trainee drills
in an airplane mockup.
The report is the product of a two-year investigation.
The criticisms in the congressional draft report have
previously appeared in media accounts, and marshals service
spokesman Dave Adams said Friday that many of its
conclusions were inaccurate or reflect outdated policies.
The report goes on to criticize the service for allowing
several major media outlets -- including CNN -- to do
profiles of marshals at work, stating that the coverage
revealed details that could help terrorists spot air
marshals on planes.
The report also says service officials have unduly
restricted air marshals' free speech rights and have
retaliated against marshals who have publicly complained
about service policies.
The 28-page draft report was written by investigators on
the House Judiciary Committee at the behest of committee
chairman James Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican. The
draft will be discussed at a meeting Thursday, when the
committee could adopt it or take other action, committee
spokesman Jeff Lungren said.
The Federal Air Marshal program, which puts plainclothes
officers on airplanes, started in the early 1960s in
reaction to airplane hijackings and grew to include nearly
400 officers in 1987. But the numbers dwindled to 33 before
the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, after which the
program was revitalized. Although the number of air marshals
is classified, it is believed that there are several
The report addresses the following areas:
Grooming and dress codes requiring air marshals to wear a
jacket or suit "simply does not advance a goal of having
Federal Air Marshals blend in with the traveling public in
all circumstances," the report states. It recommends a dress
code that "reasonably reflects the nature of modern air
Adams said that criticism was outdated. The agency
changed its policy in 2005 to allow air marshals to dress in
clothing appropriate to the area they are traveling in, he
The agency requires air marshals to stay at designated
hotels and show service credentials to desk clerks, the
draft report states. That practice "unnecessarily
jeopardized their identity and, subsequently, national
security," it states.
The policy has allowed hotels to expose the presence of
air marshals as guests, the report states. In fact, the
Sheraton at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, airport once
declared the agency "company of the month" for booking rooms
at the hotel.
Adams disputed that, saying air marshals are required to
show federal government identification, but not air marshal
identification, to get government room rates. He said the
practice does not jeopardize security.
The report states procedures for bypassing airport
checkpoints and boarding aircraft expose air marshals to
detection by terrorists. The armed air marshals must show
identification to airport screeners to bypass checkpoints,
and they must pre-board planes to notify airline pilots and
crews of their presence.
Adams said federal regulations require air marshals to
show a picture ID and badge to airplane crews. The policies
are designed to prevent "blue-on-blue" incidents -- cases in
which law enforcement officers mistake other law enforcement
officers for miscreants.
Because air marshals should not flash identification in
front of the general public, the only reasonable way to
identify themselves is by pre-boarding, Adams said.
The draft report recommends that the agency open
discussions with other entities to ensure than anonymous
boarding procedures are available.
The report also expresses concerns about marshals
officials' "over-eagerness to disclose sensitive security
information to national media outlets," noting that several
news organizations have been allowed to fly along with air
marshals and observe their training.
NBC and CNN have both accompanied air marshals on
missions, though neither network showed the air marshals'
faces nor revealed details of the operations deemed
sensitive by the agency.
But, the draft report states, the broadcasts and other
print coverage revealed details that could help terrorists.
The report states that the FBI told the Federal Air Marshal
Service that an al Qaeda terrorist in custody "was able to
devise a plan of attack based upon information" in a Fox
The captured terrorist, according to a report in the Army
Times newspaper, gleaned information from a Fox News
broadcast of January 7, 2006 -- including where air marshals
typically sit and their hand-to-hand combat techniques --
that could help defeat air marshals.
Adams questioned the reliability of the terrorist, saying
that Fox never accompanied an air marshal on a mission and
that he can find no record of the supposed January 7 news
Adams said the organization has been careful in dealing
with the media and that no sensitive information has been