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Rumor Alert- Shortage Of Federal Air Marshals?

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Update:

3/26/08, 5:35 p.m.
Christopher Said:

Yesterday I mistakenly wrote and subsequently reiterated last night in a comment that the percent of flights covered by air marshals is in the “double digits.” Frankly, this was a result of my haste to provide information and to get the truth out quickly about our federal air marshal program. It is simply not appropriate to discuss percentage of flights covered.

In no way was I trying to provide information that is inappropriate for release or to mislead the public in any way. The definitive numbers that we can provide about the program are; the number of marshals we currently have is in the thousands, our true attrition rate (that is any air marshal leaving the agency for any reason) is approximately 6.5 percent since the expansion of the program in the Fall of 2001 and that we deploy air marshals based on intelligence and risk.

Since launching this blog 60 days ago, our only goal has been direct, honest, personal communications with the traveling public. I sincerely apologize for this error and hope that it has not degraded or devalued the important dialogue that has been started on this forum.

I have edited the post below to reflect the facts of the matter. Again, I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

Christopher
EOS Blog Team

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
CNN aired a story on Anderson Cooper 360 from investigative reporter Drew Griffin on the federal air marshal service. In the piece, anonymous air marshals, pilots and other "experts" discuss "staggering" attrition rates and make assertions that less than 1 percent of flights are actually covered by air marshals. Below are the facts on how we deploy air marshals, air marshal attrition rates, and the reality behind this highly successful program.


Myths:

"Of the 28,000 commercial airline flights per day in the U.S., less than 1 percent are protected by federal air marshals."

"I would have to guess it's fewer than 1 percent of all my flights," the pilot said. "I'm guessing by coverage of when I go to those cities, fewer than 1 percent."

"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."

"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 with is not affiliated with the air marshal service...has gone months without seeing a marshal on board."


Buster:

While the exact number of flights that air marshals protect is classified because we don't want terrorists to play a mathematical guessing game based on percentages, the actual number of air marshals employed by the agency is in the thousands.


Beyond the number of flights that air marshals physically cover, the more important question to ask is which flights are air marshals flying on. Using our intelligence-driven, risk-based approach, we deploy marshals on the highest risk flights. That means a team of air marshals might be on one flight based on intel and none may be on the next.


Simply parroting a sound bite from an anonymous expert or a pilot that flies to New York once a day with no knowledge of scheduling or intel isn't accurately portraying the situation. Random "experts" hardly encompass a qualified opinion on air marshal deployments. The bottom line is that there are thousands of hard-working, dedicated marshals flying day in and day out to protect the traveling public both domestically and abroad. We clearly told CNN their numbers were inaccurate and they chose to report these numbers anyway.


Myth:

"Air marshals who spoke with CNN anonymously...are especially troubled by the lack of coverage on flight in and out of Washington and New York."


Buster:

Flying air marshals speaking on condition of anonymity simply do not have access to global scheduling information. Every single day of the year, air marshal schedules are altered to cover specific, high-threat flights. That means on one day, many flights into and out of New York and D.C. may be covered and on other days, less flights may be covered.


The role of not releasing specific numbers of marshals or flights carrying marshals is an important one. We should not tip our hand to terrorists and let them know the mathematical probability of air marshals being on flights they may be interested in taking over or otherwise disrupting.

We fully desire terrorists to not know for sure if marshals will be on board their flight so that they will have to factor them into any plots involving aircraft.


Myth:

"Air marshals told CNN that while the TSA tells the public it cannot divulge numbers...the agency tells its own agents that at least 5 percent of all flights are covered."

"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."

"...the average taxpayer 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"


Buster:

Today, the number of air marshals TSA employs is in the thousands. We know this because we build the schedule and we assign these air marshals to flights all over the world each and every day.


Myth:

"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."


Buster:

Federal air marshal service attrition rates have been approximately 6.5 percent since the program expanded after 9/11. This isn't an exodus by any means and is comparable to other federal law enforcement agencies. The job does require extensive travel, a high level of alertness for hours on end and one of the highest firearms qualifications standards in government.

Being an air marshal isn't for everyone but that should not detract from the thousands of dedicated public servants out flying today and every day to protect the traveling public.


Myth:

"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," said David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance.


Buster:

This insulting little sound bite discounts the dedicated service thousands of air marshals provide every day. While air marshals are an important layer of security, they are hardly the only thing stopping a terrorist from taking over an airplane. There are a full 20 layers of security , each vulnerable by itself but combined providing the highest level of security in the history of this nation.


Myth:

"CNN was told staffing in Dallas, Texas for instance is down 44 percent from its high, while Seattle, Washington, has 40 percent fewer agents. Las Vegas, Nevada, which had as many as 245 air marshals, this past February had only 47."


Buster:

Staffing in specific offices like Dallas, Seattle and Las Vegas has changed over the six years of the program BUT these air marshals have been shifted to other offices, not eliminated and not replaced.


Christopher

Comments

Submitted by Eric Byers on

In the first buster you say:

the actual number of flights that air marshals cover is in the thousands per day.

then in the third buster you say:

and we assign thousands of air marshals to hundreds of flights all over the world each and every day.

Which is it?

I think people can't understand you can't give numbers out, and really there isn't much to refute with especially when it's anecdotal evidence.

But even going off the "hundreds" of flights a day coverage means you cover less than 5% of the flights right there. (5% of 28,000 is 1400), which means if that comment is true, you're closer to 3%.

Submitted by Anonymous on

More ambiguities:

"This represents exponentially more than 1 percent and is well into double digits."

FYI, the number one raised to *any* exponent is still one. But saying "exponentially higher" isn't an expression that would normally be applied to a constant number anyway, it would make much more sense discussing a function.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Considering the lack of transparency and lack of logic in the way the TSA is run I would trust CNN and it's analysis over yours any day. I'm happy to see the news media playing the 4th Estate finally!

Submitted by Eric Byers on

Another thing I wanted to point out, is with the attrition rate. Attrition as is stated is normal, however this isn't saying anything about the hiring of new marshalls. It's a possibility that we're losing 6.5% (average...is this averaged over the last 10 years, or averaged per year) marshalls, but not able to hire any new ones.

I'd love to see attrition broken down by year for the last 10 years. Not a number averaged over 10 years (which could mean attrition was 1-2% 5-10 years ago, and 10%+ currently).

Submitted by Christopher on

Good comments. As you can probably tell, I wrote this post in a hurry. I have corrected the first ambiguity of the hundreds and thousands. It's more than a thousand flights per day, period.

Agree with the exponent argument as well, although math has never been my strong suit. The percentage of flights covered is many more than "less than 1" as quoted by CNN. The percent of flights covered is in double digits.

I'm sorry we can't be more specific but it's for very good reason. We simply don’t want people with bad intentions to know exactly how many flights we cover. I don’t think you’ll hear many arguments against that.

Concerning trusting CNN and their analysis over us, well that's certainly your right. My question for CNN would be, how did you come to that conclusion? As I said before I'm not a math whiz but I do know less than 1 percent is grossly under the actual number. I’d be very interested to hear that answer.

Christopher
EOS Blog Team

Submitted by Bartlett on

CNN is an entertainment medium. They live and die by ratings, and vague allegations of danger sell a lot better than happy stories of success. CNN is not above inventing stories out of whole cloth, and they are certainly not above selectively quoting sources happy to throw trash at anything. Given a choice of who to believe, I'll believe even an informal TSA statement over an anonymously-sourced CNN hit piece any day of the week.

A better question, though, is how much air marshal coverage is really needed? I appreciate their presence as one element of defense in depth, but I don't necessarily consider 20% coverage four times as good as 5%, nor do I think there is any rational way of computing it. Security is absolutely part theater, and the chief value of the air marshal program is the fact that a class of bad guys know about it and don't know precisely how big it is.

Flights where the air marshals have to actually intervene are uncommon enough to be news items in and of themselves. Flights where they should have intervened but there weren't any would seem to be newsworthy as well, but I haven't heard of any. I know that TSA keeps track of the former - do you watch the latter as well? How do you know? Either number would be interesting data.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"So you may be left asking yourself, why did CNN report this?"

So TSA is saying that CNN reports are false?

Why would CNN do something like that?

TSA has proven itself to not be trustworthy.

Citizens are terrorized at the hands of TSO's. TSA rules are secret so no one know if the procedures they are going to be accepted today at any given airport.
The rules that are not secret are not followed by TSO's.

I think I will put my trust in CNN on this one.

Prove them wrong!

Submitted by Courtney on

Frankly, will all the words here, you've said nothing more than your standard response to criticism:

"Everything is fine but you just have to trust us because we can't tell you why."

Keeping everything secret has less to do with security and more to do with avoiding accountability.

Kudos to CNN for reporting on your performance to your bosses (the American public).

Submitted by Anonymous on

"So you may be left asking yourself, why did CNN report this? Good question. They accept comments"

No, the real question is what form of petulant revenge will the TSA and the Bush Administration take against the reporter, Anderson Cooper, and CNN for daring to question one of their most visible symbols of power?

Submitted by Ben Arnold on

Christopher,

Here's a little bit of Media 1.01 for you. I'm surprised that Ellen Howe isn't running around doing all sorts of damage control spin right now.

Fact #1: Here's how the media works: I say 1+1=3.. You say 1+1=5. The story isn't that we're both wrong. The story is that we disagree.

Go on CNN and tell your side of the story. I dare you.

Fact #2: I was once involved in a high-level policy discussion about classified information. One of our well-respected consultants told us that the half-life of a secret fact in Washington is 7 years. So, that means you people in the TSA can expect that half of the classified information you have created will be made public within 7 years. So, the time is coincidentally right for all of this to be coming out.

It's interesting what your priotities are here on the blog. You're clearly in damage control mode. As you have seen, many of the responders on the blog call it like it is and back you into a corner.

Good luck with this one. Clearly, the public holds you to a higher standard concerning your trustworthiness, integrity, and priorities than your Administrator. I suspect your congressional liaison people will be getting busy starting tomorrow morning.

One final thought: Don't flatter yourselves about the Air Marshall program. The people over on www.flyertalk.com frequently play "spot the FAM" for a hobby. And, they are very good at it.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The solution is to let all law enforcement officers and retired LEOs fly armed. We let them carry their weapons everywhere else. This would be a great force multiplier.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"The solution is to let all law enforcement officers and retired LEOs fly armed. We let them carry their weapons everywhere else. This would be a great force multiplier."

Subject to a security check, I would agree. LEO's do have an incidence of suicide and domestic violence that should be filtered out....

Submitted by Christopher on

Ben,

I welcome any “Media 1.01” lessons you’d like to impart. In fact, the other day I was watching a PBS show about journalism and the bureau chief of some AP bureau was saying that during President Reagan’s term, he had dozens of reporters that fact checked his every word and today, that same bureau chief had only a handful of reporters total. I agree, the days of “we report, you decide” are in the rear view mirror and have been replaced by “he said, she said.”

That’s the real challenge in communicating with the public on issues like this one. We write the air marshal schedule, we pay the salaries, we issue the guns yet our word is held with the same esteem or less as a guy wearing a bag over his head or a pilot flying to New York once a day. It’s not really “damage control” as it is true myth busting.

Concerning “Go on CNN and tell your side of the story. I dare you.” We worked with CNN on this piece for weeks, giving them fact after fact and as you so eloquently pointed out, it’s the controversy that sells. Now, not all CNN reporters are like that. In fact we work with several that are very fair. This isn’t about TSA versus CNN. It’s about telling the truth.

I’ll close with the experts out there picking the air marshal. I too thought I was a proficient air marshal spotter until I attended an all hands meeting in Chicago and I was amazed by the reality that all air marshals do NOT look the same at all…Kind of gives you something to think about next time you’re flying, doesn’t it.

Christopher
EOS Blog Team

Submitted by Anonymous on

Is TSA and the FAMS counting Air Marshals that return to their past federal job or a new federal position as a LOSS? I think not. They claim that person is still employed by the federal government and not a loss by their definition. If you define the 'statistic' you can make it show anything you want it to.

If they count all the dozens each month nationwide that return to Border Patrol and other agencies, the attrition rate cannot be under 7%.

They are only counting the losses due to Air Marshals leaving for private sector law enforcement, security and high-threat protection jobs overseas. Some even leave law enforcement altogether.

Submitted by Anonymous on
". . .My question for CNN would be, how did you come to that conclusion? As I said before I'm not a math whiz but I do know less than 1 percent is grossly under the actual number. I’d be very interested to hear that answer."

Sorry, that is SSI. ;-
Submitted by Anonymous on
Christopher said, " . . . That’s the real challenge in communicating with the public on issues like this one. We write the air marshal schedule, we pay the salaries, we issue the guns yet our word is held with the same esteem or less as a guy wearing a bag over his head or a pilot flying to New York once a day."

I think you have put your finger directly on the largest problem TSA faces - not the threat of terrorism but the lack of trust the agency has with the traveling public.

Sadly, you are entirely correct that TSA's word is less credible than "a guy wearing a bag over his head". Perhaps TSA management might spend some time reflecting on why this is the case. I'll offer a few likely causes: 1) making demonstrably false statements (e.g. ID checking ensures no one on the no fly list gets through security, when "homemade" boarding passes can be printed with any name), 2) unnecessarily hiding behind "that's SSI" when asked legitimate questions regarding procedures, 3) engaging in "mission creep" by questioning persons immigration status or whether they are carrying allegedly illegal (though not prohibited) objects, 4) allowing TSA employees (admittedly a small percentage) to harass flyers and make up rules on the spot with impunity.

I have to say that based on my own experience with TSA and what I've witnessed others endure, I'm inclined to believe the non-TSA person in any dispute. I wish it weren't so but, frankly, TSA has well earned my distrust.
Submitted by Ibored on
Random “experts” hardly encompass a qualified opinion on air marshal deployments.

Your not an expert, you are a PR hack. So basically what you just said is

"people who are trying to get information out and risking their careers to do it are less trustworthy than me in my role as a spin doctor"

You have created a catch 22 for any criticism. If they tell the truth you call them liars, fire them (remember no whistleblower protection), and then you tell the people of this country 'trust me'. If they are lying you have the same response.

We clearly told CNN their numbers were inaccurate and they chose to report these numbers anyway.
If you would have provided a real rebutle based on real facts they would have run it, or you would have run it on your blog.
Submitted by Anonymous on

"This represents exponentially more than 1 percent and is well into double digits."

Saying 1 raised to any power is still one is kind of a cop out. When ever you're referring to a percentage of a number, then you mention that something is exponentially larger... they're obviously making claims relative to the number generated by the percentage, not the percentage itself...

But.... 1 percent of 28,000 is 280. By saying it's exponentially more than 1 percent means that it would be 280 raised to some exponent. Lets take the smalled whole number exponent that's not 1.... which would be..... 2. 280 raised to the second power (or more simply: 280 x 280) is 78400.

Since there are only 28000 flights each day, it's pretty tough to have people on exponentially more flights than 280 of them.

My point is to not use loaded words like advertisers do just to make your point, when the math behind them will point out that you were only struggling to cover yourself. It might be interpreted as just making the whole statement up.

Submitted by Anonymous on

In reference to you ability to spot the FAM, when you attended this "all hands meeting in Chicago". Are we to understand the entire Chicago Field Office was taken off the flight schedule that day?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Let me tell you something as someone who used to be a flying armed police officer and knows a lot about this issue as I have many friends in this agency... I highly suspect that these men are NOT Air Marshals. The Marshals are SICK of flying many flights without any intelligence about the passengers on these flights. In other words, they are being blindly scheduled on various flights based on only how important the airport is to the gov't (like DCA is more critical than Helena, Montana!). That's all the rationale behind the covering of the flight! No intel whatsoever is given to them. Morale is still low even with minor changes that occurred recently. The Marshals actually do not want to fly more than they do already (let stupid CNN study the number of "high risk flights" covered like into/out of DCA, LGA, BOS... they will find that the majority of those are in fact COVERED! All the time.) The Marshals want to INVESTIGATE cases and conduct aiport police duty rather than fly aimlessly. All honest pilots know that the Marshals are having the juices squeezed out of them b/c all that 95% of Marshals do is fly, fly, fly. The public needs to know that they have a couple of guys with guns on board who are often exausted (and bored!!!) to effectively fight the terrorist threat as a result of flying so much. Which makes it more of a hazard to have them on board than not have them! It looks like these men in the video are impostors, perhaps supervisors who are trying to pressure the TSA to make Marshals fly even more that they do now! CNN is a bunch stupid "reporters" who fell for it - for tabloid ratings, of course. Screw the fact that terrorists are watching and taking notes...

Submitted by Anonymous on

I've seen considerably fewer air marshals since they ramped up. I used to see many more individuals bypassing security, boarding before even the handicapped, etc.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Sadly, you are entirely correct that TSA's word is less credible than "a guy wearing a bag over his head". Perhaps TSA management might spend some time reflecting on why this is the case.

Actually, I wouldn't blame TSA management. The problem is with their bosses, who are part of an administration that has compiled a consistently shameful track record of seven years of untruthfulness, incompetence, and contempt for the general public. Based on that track record, any statement from any official representative of any Executive Branch agency must be treated with extreme skepticism. Even if it (perhaps inadvertently) turns out to be true.

Similarly, the pattern we consistently see here of answering any substantive questions or criticism with "We can't tell you because it's classified for National Security reasons, but you'll have to trust us when we say that it's necessary to protect the Homeland" is practically the trademark of this administration. Unfortunately, the administration's track record means there's no reason to trust anything the TSA says or does. If the TSA management actually wants our trust, they will have to do a lot of work to earn it. But I don't think that's possible, at least not under the current administration.

That said, the TSA officials running this blog are most likely telling us the truth, as they understand it. They're also doing the best job they're allowed to do in attempting to put a human face on an agency perhaps justifiably reviled by the public it's supposedly serving. But they're constrained not only by the obligation to parrot the Official Party Line flowed down from the top, but particularly by the administration's fetish for secrecy.

Similarly, most individual screeners at airports are doing the best job they can, from their position at the bottom level of an inept Homeland Security bureaucracy that's flawed from the top down. It's the people at the top who are responsible for what we endure at airports, and for the way we're treated like animals or prisoners. It's the people at the top who transform what may or may not be "robust intelligence" into all those ridiculously arbitrary and stupid rules about liquids and shoes.

The screeners can only implement those rules as best they can. Unfortunately, they bear the brunt of the inevitable passenger outrage at a stupid situation over which they have no more control than the passengers. And, of course, when that's questioned we have the usual pattern of the people at the top denying all accountability and blaming all the problems on "rogue" screeners who are merely implementing flawed policies flowed down from the top.

All this distrust can't possibly be good for security. But it seems we're stuck with it.
Submitted by Anonymous on

"Christopher said:

I’ll close with the experts out there picking the air marshal. I too thought I was a proficient air marshal spotter until I attended an all hands meeting in Chicago and I was amazed by the reality that all air marshals do NOT look the same at all…Kind of gives you something to think about next time you’re flying, doesn’t it."

I don't need to know what they look like, though there are similarities in dress as their weapons need concealment.

Much more likely than not, at least one (if not both) of the FAM's on board will be sitting in FC, so the universe of possibilities is greatly narrowed.

Eliminate those having alcohol, sleeping, couples or others flying together, children, and those in window seats (to name a few examples) and the universe is narrowed such that the FAM (if one is on board) is fairly easy to pick out.

So it is not only appearance that is important; it is also actions, which are much harder to conceal.

Submitted by Abelard on

If you want me to believe you instead of CNN, then you have to earn my trust.

Right now, I see a blog that is public relations theater where issues raised are never really addressed. Suggestions are made without even a "Wow, that's a good idea and were going to look into that." Anonymous TSOs pop on here and tell us that we can't have any medication in our carryons without a prescription and you say nary a word of correction. Legitimate questions are asked and either met with silence or we are told the answer is SSI.

No contrition. No humility. No modesty. Just face-saving P.R. or deafening silence.

You want my trust?

Earn it.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Christopher said:
"We simply don’t want people with bad intentions to know exactly how many flights we cover. I don’t think you’ll hear many arguments against that."

Here is one:
you have already told us that more than 5% of flights are covered (meaning air marshal on board), and you say at other points that the percentage number is in the double digits. Based on this, we can assume that this number is somewhere around 10-12%. If it were higher than you would say that more than 10% or more than 15% are covered (it doesn't make any sense to give out numbers that are grossly too low, you don't want terrorists attacks thwarted by air marshals, you want them not to attack at all).

28,000 flights per day implies that there are roughly 3000 air marshals deployed on a given day, according you you. We can quibble over the odd hundred, but that number is probably no more than 10% off. My point is that, if you give us a number and round to, say, the nearest thousand, you give someone with malicious intent no more information than they already have.

Submitted by Anonymous on

"I too thought I was a proficient air marshal spotter until I attended an all hands meeting in Chicago and I was amazed by the reality that all air marshals do NOT look the same at all…Kind of gives you something to think about next time you’re flying, doesn’t it."
Christopher, it's not the look that gives them away, it's the walk of shame. As a former FAM, my issue isn't with the numbers of flights covered, it's that it is blatantly obvious when FAMs are on board and when they aren't. If the FAM team complies with the boarding procedure policy to the letter, every observent person on that plane will know who they are. There is no way around that, and I still feel for my brothers and sisters in the air because of it. That's the real issue, not flight coverage numbers.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I AM A FEDERAL AGENT AUTHORIZED TO CARRY A FIREARM ON COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT. MY SPOUSE IS AN EMPLOYEE OF AMERICAN AIRLINES. AS SUCH, I OFTEN TRAVEL IN A "NON-REVENUE" CAPACITY. HOWEVER, ACCORDING TO AMERICAN AIRLINES, I AM NOT AUTHORIZED TO CARRY A FIREARM IN A NON-REVENUE CAPACITY. HERE IS THE KICKER...I CAN WALK UP TO THE TICKET COUNTER...PURCHASE A TICKET..AND AMAZINGLY, I BECOME AUTHORIZED TO CARRY A FIREARM. LAST I CHECKED, AMERICAN AIRLINES LOST TWO PLANES RESULTING IN THE DEATHS OF THOUSANDS. ONE WOULD THINK AMERICAN AIRLINES WOULD WELCOME AN ARMED FEDERAL AGENT, NOT OBSTRUCT ONE. SHAME ON AMERICAN AIRLINES AND THEIR POLICIES...AND SHAME ON THE TSA FOR ALLOWING FOR NOT CHALLENGING THIS RIDICOLOUS POLICY TO STAND.

Submitted by Anonymous on

You may have "worked with CNN for weeks" on the story but Ben Arnold asked not whether you cooperated, he asked why nobody from TSA would go on camera and answer CNN's charges. Let us see on screen the faceless bureaucrats who so breathlessly label as myths CNN's charges but refuse to look into a camera and let the flying public decide for themselves who's telling the truth.

This blog should supplement, not supplant, TSA's responses on media outlets. If you run and respond to every media report here on this blog instead of putting one of TSA's taxpayer funded executives on camera, this becomes merely an instrument of propaganda, rather than a legitimate instrument to provide the public with information.

Submitted by Anonymous on

This is only the tip of the iceberg on the Air Marshal story. Let us assume there are only one or two percent of domestic flights covered by a Federal Air Marshal team on any given day.

What are the issues in hiring and retaining quality people? Why do Federal Air Marshals not respect their management.

I remember seeing the past FAM Director referring to his FAMS as "peabrains" and "fleas" when they were speaking out against corruption. This is documented in the mainstream media. Has the mismanagement been eradicated or is it just in a more hidden form now?

The TSA states they were working with CNN on the story. Why were officials bragging they were going to perform a reversal on this story and prove CNN wrong before it aired?

The real story seems to be how the FAMS ever got to this point. I hope CNN follows up with such stories as I do not expect TSA to tell the public the state of affairs in this blog or elsewhere.

Please tell us the story behind the numbers CNN.

Please pray often for your airport screeners. They do a very difficult, vital and thankless job. I could never do their job, but we need good people to tirelessly do it every day. The better our screeners perform, the safer we all are.

Submitted by Caroline Online on

Interesting blog - Congrats on making Blogs of Note!

Submitted by Bob Robertson on

The answer is simple. Abolish the TSA and let the airlines themselves determine what security best serves their aircraft and their customers.

It would be very efficient to have at least one crew member trained to the standards required by the airline and their insurance company, armed and ready. Very likely the insurance company would require more than one on any given flight.

An airline might also choose to allow anyone not legally barred from carrying arms to do so. This takes care of retired LEO, active service military, people with CCWs, etc.

Given the statistical results of 30 years of wide-spread legal CCW (concealed carry weapon) licenses in the hands of common citizens, I would far more trust someone with a CCW than a professional LEO.

And gee, all that and not one cent in cost to taxpayers. A win-win situation, in fact, since the entire budget of the TSA would be eliminated.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I watched the CNN report last night.

CNN provided an opportunity for a TSA spokesperson to refute the claims made.

TSA refused to do so, instead whinning on this blog how unfair and wrong the report was.

How many people will see this blog as compared to having gone on CNN and stating TSA's case?

As said in a post early in the blogs beginnings TSA has little "Credibility" with the public and current methods of communication (or lack of) have done little to mitigate this perception of TSA.

If someone is going to slam you (TSA) why not stand up and refute the claims publicly?

CNN 1
TSA 0

Submitted by Anonymous on

TSA probably did send someone to CNN, but their prepared speech either disappeared from their luggage, or had to be surrendered as prohibited material.

Submitted by Anonymous on

When you have a credibility problem, as indeed the TSA has, you shouldn't shy away from the media -- you need to jump into the hot seat and speak up for yourselves. It looks to me like the TSA thought they wouldn't run the story without on-camera participation. That's a bad bluff you just lost, deservedly so.

As regards to the public being savaged by some TSA inspectors without recourse, I think (a) you might consider an independent ombudsman to investigate and arbitrate complaints, (b) 24/7 recorded audio and video coverage of screening areas and (c) pre-printed cards which TSA officials MUST hand out on request, stating the officer's name, whom to contact about complaints plus a time stamp to track back to the recordings.

Submitted by Michael Medley on

Airlines could give classes on airline security and make it possible for people who meet a qualification standard to become certified as airline security personnel(for instance).

They wouldn't be able to carry a weapon; but they would be trained in how to identify suspicious activity and also how to deal with it.

The airlines could offer a flying discount to everyone that's certified. This way, everyday people and the airlines will be a part of the solution, rather than depending on the government to do it for them.

This doesn't eliminate the need for air marshalls; but it would increase security at a reduced cost. Just an idea!

Submitted by Chance on
If someone is going to slam you (TSA) why not stand up and refute the claims publicly?

So this blog isn't public?
Submitted by Anonymous on

re: Chance said...
If someone is going to slam you (TSA) why not stand up and refute the claims publicly?

So this blog isn't public?


Well I guess you can pick the fly dung out of the pepper but the comment questioned why TSA would not take the opportunity for the much larger audience presented by CNN than this blog to state their case.

Yes, both are public, but which one is seen by the most people?

How many people saw the TSA reponse posted here as compared to the CNN report?

Do senior managers at TSA feel that they got their message out to the widest possible audience and won their case?

I think the answers are obvious hence;

CNN 1
TSA 0

Submitted by Andrew on

Given the lack of transparency in the TSA, in this blog, and even in this post - I trust CNN far more than I do this response. I thank CNN for shining a light.

Submitted by Bob Robertson on

michael medley said, "They wouldn't be able to carry a weapon..."

Why not?

You've already specified that the individual has been trained, certified and registered with the airline itself.

So what are you afraid of?

Submitted by Anonymous on

"Christopher Said:

Just wanted to extend the debate a little. We’ve been asked on a few occasions about how we determine the percent of flights “covered.” To the uninitiated, “covered” means there’s a team of air marshals onboard. We have been asked if this includes other armed federal, state and local law enforcement officers. The simple answer is no. To determine the number of flights we cover, we use only our air marshals."

Christopher,

You say that "covered" only includes air marshals, but FFDO's are not specifically mentioned as being excluded in your prior sentence. If an FFDO is on duty on the aircraft and there is no FAM, do you consider that flight to be "covered"?

Submitted by Anonymous on
If someone is going to slam you (TSA) why not stand up and refute the claims publicly?

So this blog isn't public?

Yes its public but the larger point was that they should respond to CNN with CNN not respond with their spin on their terms.
Submitted by Anonymous on
Airlines could give classes on airline security and make it possible for people who meet a qualification standard to become certified as airline security personnel(for instance).

That's not a bad idea which is why it will be totally ignored.
Submitted by Anonymous on

Here are some other data points on numbers:

From a recent Consumer Reports:

"While the exact number of marshals is classified, a report on the Airline Pilots Security Alliance Web site says,'The current air marshal force, 2,200 officers working in teams, protects only 5 to 10 percent of daily flights, if that.' The alliance says that's down from a peak of 4,000."

And from a few years ago after the ramp-up (but probably fewer now with net FAM losses):

"Thomas Quinn, director of the Federal Air Marshal Service, dismissed press reports that the agency was covering only 3 percent to 4 percent of commercial flights in the United States on a daily basis. Although he declined to give specifics, Quinn said his agents cover 'more than 5 percent' of some 28,000 daily commercial flights in the United States."

I would think that if Quinn believed the number to be 10% or higher, he would have said so. Going from 3 percent to "more than 5 percent" is just not that significant of a difference.

Submitted by Chance on
If someone is going to slam you (TSA) why not stand up and refute the claims publicly?

So this blog isn't public?

Yes its public but the larger point was that they should respond to CNN with CNN not respond with their spin on their terms.

Many of you simply don't believe the info we have provided, so I fail to see how presenting the info to CNN (which was done) is any differant than presenting it here from a credibility standpoint.

Well I guess you can pick the fly dung out of the pepper but the comment questioned why TSA would not take the opportunity for the much larger audience presented by CNN than this blog to state their case.

The CNN report I read links directly to our mythbusters page, which gives our response. So, everyone who reads the report has the oppurtunity to click on that link and read the response.

To me, it seems like these particular criticisms are a distinction without a difference.
Submitted by Chance on
Michael Medley said...Airlines could give classes on airline security and make it possible for people who meet a qualification standard to become certified as airline security personnel(for instance).
They wouldn't be able to carry a weapon; but they would be trained in how to identify suspicious activity and also how to deal with it.
The airlines could offer a flying discount to everyone that's certified. This way, everyday people and the airlines will be a part of the solution, rather than depending on the government to do it for them.
This doesn't eliminate the need for air marshalls; but it would increase security at a reduced cost. Just an idea!

Actually, that is a very interesting idea, at least to me. Many Law Enforcement Organizations have citizen auxillery patrols (I once worked with a person who was a member of such an organization.

I don't know if this is practical to implement, but I will bring it up on our Idea Factory.

That's not a bad idea which is why it will be totally ignored.

One thing I love about this blog, it teaches me I'm not the most cynical person out there.

Chance - EoS Blog Team.
Submitted by Anonymous on

I'd love to hear American Airlines explanation for not allowing Federal Law Enforcement Officers (ex..FAMS, DEA, FBI, ATF, USSS, ICE) to fly armed in a "non-revenue" status. Perhaps the TSA or bloggers can query American Airlines for this explanation.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Many of you simply don't believe the info we have provided, so I fail to see how presenting the info to CNN (which was done) is any differant than presenting it here from a credibility standpoint.

I think the point goes to presenting TSA's side of the question at the same time that CNN was doing the report and getting it on the air.

By CNN saying that TSA was offered an opportunity to respond and did not gives an impression, earned or not, that TSA could not (would not)refute the information presented.

I believe not responding was a sign of weakness and suspect a good many people who viewed the report think so too. The impression left was CNN was being truthful and TSA had nothing to say.

Now you guys have the PR experts, what do they have to say?
Submitted by Bambee on

It's a interesting blog!
I look foraward to the next note.
thx.

Submitted by Mina Jade on

CNN shows what people are interested in. I think it is quite competent.
Which channel (or newspaper) could always tell "the" truth? It is hard to answer because they all select some parts of reality.

Submitted by Anonymous on

First I must comment on the statements of Bob Robertson above. He claims he would trust the average person with a Concealed Carry permit more than a trained law enforcement officer to protect an aircraft. WHAT?

I want FAMs on flights and I want more of them. I want their standards to stay high and not be decreased on the range or elsewhere. The public deserves the best protection that can be provided.

I hope the FAMS would go back to giving psychological screenings to prospective Air Marshals. We need people who have the correct mentality and temperment to handle this task.

Finally, I have a comment/question for the blog staff to answer. (This is probably going to require another retraction and change. Sorry blog team.)

How did the FAMS transfer and move around 200 Air Marshals from the Las Vegas office in a couple years? The FAMS does not have a mobility agreement. Air Marshals cannot simply be moved from one office to another. There are voluntary, no cost to the gov't, transfers - but how do you say 200 paid their own way to leave Las Vegas? Sounds like there is a large attrition issue in Vegas for sure.

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