March 25, 2008, - 11:56 am
By Debbie Schlussel
**** SCROLL DOWN FOR UPDATE: A Pilot Responds to Schlussel ****
CNN reports that less than 1% of American flights have a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) aboard. Hmmm . . . $720 million sent to Michael Chertoff for the FAM program for just this fiscal year. Where did the money go? (Watch the video interview with anonymous Federal Air Marshal whistleblowers):
Of the 28,000 commercial airline flights that take to the skies on an average day in the United States, fewer than 1 percent are protected by on-board, armed federal air marshals, a nationwide CNN investigation has found.
That means that a terrorist or other criminal bent on taking over an aircraft would be confronted by a trained air marshal on as few as 280 daily flights, according to more than a dozen federal air marshals and pilots interviewed by CNN. [DS: This means that only 560-1,100 Federal Air Marshals are working and in the air at any one time. Um, again, where is the $720 mill going?]
The investigation found those low numbers even as the Transportation Security Administration in recent months has conducted tests in which it has been able to smuggle guns and bomb-making materials past airport security screeners. . . .
One pilot who crisscrosses the country and flies internationally told CNN he hasn’t seen an air marshal on board one of his flights in six months. A federal law enforcement officer, who is not affiliated with the air marshal service and who travels in and out of Washington every week, said he has gone for months without seeing a marshal on board. . . .
Yet, another pilot, who wanted to protect his identity because he carries a weapon in the cockpit, said he regularly flies in and out of New York’s airports and almost never encounters an air marshal.
“I would have to guess it’s fewer than 1 percent of all my flights,” the pilot said. “I’m guessing by the coverage of when I go to those cities, fewer than 1 percent.”
Air marshals who spoke with CNN anonymously in order to protect their jobs are especially troubled by the lack of coverage on flights in and out of Washington and New York, the two cities targeted by the 9/11 hijackers. Marshals, pilots and other law enforcement officials told CNN these flights are protected by far fewer air marshals than in the past. . . .
Air marshals told CNN that while the TSA tells the public it cannot divulge numbers because they are classified, the agency tells its own agents that at least 5 percent of all flights are covered.
But marshals across the country — all of whom spoke with CNN on the condition they not be identified for fear of losing their jobs — said the 5 percent figure quoted to them by their TSA bosses is not possible.
One marshal said that while security is certainly one reason the numbers are kept secret, he believes the agency simply doesn’t want taxpayers to know the truth.
“I would be very embarrassed by [the numbers] if they were to get out,” one air marshal said.
“The American public would be shocked. … I think the average person understands there’s no physical way to protect every single flight everywhere,” the air marshal said. “But it’s such a small percentage. It’s just very aggravating for us.”
Sources inside the air marshal field offices told CNN that the program has been unable to stem the losses of trained air marshals since the program’s numbers peaked in 2003 — and many of those who have left have not been replaced. . . .
David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance and a pilot himself, said that, based on conversations with other pilots and marshals, he believes the TSA is overstating the number of flights that are protected by a federal marshal.
In his e-mail to CNN, Alter wrote, “In 2007, the Federal Air Marshal Service attrition rate was approximately 6.5 percent, the same approximate average it has been for almost the entire period since the agency’s expansion after September 11, 2001.”
“I can only speak for myself and the 23,000 members of my organization, and we are not seeing anywhere near the coverage they are asserting they have,” Mackett said. “They are whistling past the graveyard, hoping against hope that this house of cards that they call airline security doesn’t come crashing down around them.” . . .
The federal air marshal budget this year is $720 million. But air marshals who spoke with CNN question where the money is going when their numbers are dwindling and fewer than 1 percent of flights are covered on any given day.
The next time you board a flight anywhere, your safety is likely in your own hands . . . and that of the terrorists who may be aboard. There isn’t a Federal Air Marshal anywhere for miles.
Michael Chertoff is atop the Department of Homeland Security, and under him, Kip Hawley heads the equally deceptively-named Transportation Security Administration which oversees the Federal Air Marshals.
Again, what happened to the money? And why aren’t we more adequately protected on flights? And how many times will these two men continue to pass the buck before the end of the year, when–thankfully–their time is up?
**** UPDATE: A pilot, who understandably wishes to remain anonymous, writes:
I am an armed pilot and I agree with the 1% assessment of FAM coverage. However, in rebuttal (and not in defense of DHS or “the skull”) there are quite a few armed pilots out there, the exact number I am not allowed to disclose. As long as we don’t accidentally discharge our weapon, we are there and trained and ready to defend our aircraft, and thus, our passengers.
I read your website daily, and I also study Islam and am attempting to learn Arabic so I someday may become a translator in the hope of defeating this Islamic menace we face. Notice I used the term Islamic menace and not Islamic extremist or war on terror.
Keep it coming, you are a g-dsend.
Thanks, anonymous pilot. And hopefully, many in your line of work have the same philosophy about the imminent threat, er . . . “Religion of Peace,” that faces us.
Tags: air marshal, Airline Pilots Security Alliance, airline security, CNN, David Mackett, Department of Homeland Security, federal air marshal, Federal Air Marshal Service, federal law enforcement officer, federal marshal, Kip Hawley, Marshal, Michael Chertoff, New York, President, translator, Transportation Security Administration, USD, Washington