Air Marshals Accuse Managers Of Compromising Safety

Senator Calls For Federal Inquiry After 7NEWS Investigation

U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard is calling for a federal inquiry into the Denver office of the Air Marshal Service after several current and former air marshals blew the whistle on serious security breakdowns and talked exclusively to 7NEWS Investigator Tony Kovaleski.

The agency's national director will be in Denver on Tuesday and that's clearly one reason why the air marshals are talking. While they cannot and did not disclose sensitive or classified information, the air marshals do want the public and the national director to hear the truth.

"To tell you the truth, the American people aren't safe and neither are the air marshals," said one air marshal.

"I am definitely more afraid of my managers than I am of terrorists," another air marshal said.

In the days following Sept. 11, 2001, more than 200,000 Americans applied to become federal air marshals. Only the best were handed the badge and the responsibility of protecting the flying public.

"After the events that transpired on 9-11, I felt a personal duty to do my part for this country," one air marshal said.

"We watched with the rest of the country that day and vowed we were never going to let that happen again," an air marshal said.

During the past weekend, five current Denver-based federal air marshals put their careers at risk, exposing breakdowns in security that they say their managers have created or failed to fix.

"If something doesn't change, another 9-11 is very possible," one air marshal said.

"It's a disservice to the American people and a disservice to the federal Air Marshal's Service not sitting here," said another air marshal, explaining why he was talking to Kovaleski.

"This isn't the first choice -- sitting in front of a TV camera?" Kovaleski asked.

"This is absolutely the last choice," an air marshal said.

All five air marshals asked 7NEWS to disguise their identities and alter their voices. They want to alert pilots, passengers and politicians and they want to keep their jobs.

"I know that I'll receive retaliation for what I'm saying if they find out who I am," an air marshal said.

All five air marshals say the security and morale problems begin behind office doors -- with management maneuvers compromising air marshals' undercover identities.

"You might as well put us in uniform and put us on the planes with semiautomatic weapons," said one air marshal.

"You're saying anybody with any kind of intelligence could pick you out on most flights?" Kovaleski asked.

"Absolutely," one air marshal said.

"In my opinion, I will be the first target on that aircraft because they no longer have to bring on board any weapon of any type, other than a shoestring to strangle me while I'm sitting in my seat, take my weapon, and then they have the aircraft," an air marshal said.

During the past week, 7NEWS Investigators have talked with more than a dozen current and former Denver-based air marshals. Many confirmed knowledge of a year-long internal investigation into management of the Denver office.

"Are the personnel issues inside Denver's federal air marshal's office compromising public safety?" Kovaleski asked.

"I believe that the issues are compromising public safety significantly," said one air marshal.

All five current air marshals claim they have repeatedly warned management in the Denver office -- warnings that have produced no apparent change or reaction. It's amplified tensions and reportedly contributed to 10 percent of Denver's air marshals turning in their badges.

"I have not met a Denver federal air marshal that is not actively looking or open to another job," said one air marshal.

"I'd take a $50,000 pay cut and I know guys that have left this office that have taken more of a pay cut," said another air marshal.

"Do you feel at times that you are on a sinking ship?" Kovaleski asked.

"Everyday," a federal air marshal responded.

The agent in charge of the Denver office was told he could not talk to 7NEWS on camera and 7NEWS has been told that the national director of the federal air marshals will not comment.

The only statement to 7NEWS from the agency said in part that "the federal Air Marshal Service strives to be responsive to its workforce and, when warranted, moves to address valid concerns in an appropriate manner."

Allard released this statement:

    "Today it was brought to my attention, by KMGH-TV Channel 7, that there are potentially serious management problems at the Federal Air Marshal Service's Denver office. I will be reviewing Tony Kovaleski's entire report very closely tonight. However, based on excerpts sent to me prior to tonight's report by KMGH-TV, I will be asking for an investigation into the allegations raised by this investigative report. I am determined to work with the Federal Air Marshal Service and the Transportation Security Administration to ensure our airline safety is never in jeopardy."

Sen. Ken Salazar released this statement:

    "Protecting the American people is one of my highest priorities as a United States senator. Reports of problems with the Federal Air Marshall Program at Denver International Airport, if true, are disturbing. I will work with the Department of Homeland Security to identify any problems that exist and help solve them as quickly as possible. We must do everything we can to keep our skies, borders, ports and other critical infrastructure safe."

The Federal Air Marshals Service released this statement:

    "The Federal Air Marshal Service is committed to safeguarding passengers and crew aboard our nation's commercial aircraft. To that end, we are continuously reviewing our policies and programs to be responsive to an ever-changing security environment and to the needs of our employees. As an organization, the Federal Air Marshal Service strives to be responsive to its workforce and, when warranted, moves to address valid concerns in an appropriate manner."

Question or comment on this story? Have a story idea or news tip? Contact 7NEWS Investigators at 303-832-TIPS or e-mail us.

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