Air Marshals Say They Fear Managers More Than Terrorists
Air Marshals Fear Retaliation After Speaking Out
6:34 AM, Jul 25, 2006
Air marshals across the country have spoken up, telling 7NEWS that their safety and the safety of all airline passengers was being compromised because air marshals have to show identification three times at the airport, making it easy for anyone, including terrorists, to figure out who they are.Now those air marshals believe they may lose their jobs because they came forward. Air marshals said the retaliation is part of the culture inside the nearly 5-year-old federal agency, and that it's happened before and now they fear it will happen again."The managers in the air marshal service are experts at retaliation. They have perfected it. They know every loophole around the whistleblower laws," said an air marshal in Las Vegas.That's the reason why nearly all 17 air marshals 7NEWS spoke with insisted that we disguise their faces and digitally alter their voices. "I'm definitely more afraid of my managers than I am of terrorists," said an air marshal in Dallas. "I will probably be fired if they find out who I am," an air marshal in Atlanta said.Air marshals across the country blame senior leadership for systematically blowing their cover by forcing them to publicly display their credentials, pre-board planes and report to pilots in the cockpit."I have the gun. If the terrorist knows I have the gun and knows where I am at, he has the potential to surprise me and take the gun," said an air marshal in Atlanta.They've risked their jobs by going public because they said for three years they've tried to fix the problems internally and for three years, nothing has changed."This is the only option available to us. This is it, our last shot," said an air marshal in Dallas.Spencer Pickard was the first air marshal to openly attack management for ignoring the public's safety. He said just days after an interview with ABC's "20/20," the retaliation started.They're trying to find a way to justify firing me for what I did on '20/20,'" Pickard said.Pickard was placed on paid administrative leave and is currently the focus of an internal investigation. "I'm willing to give up my job. What I'm hoping is that I don't have to give up my job and nothing changes. That would be the ultimate disappointment," Pickard said.Don Strange, a former agent in charge of the Atlanta office, believes top management retaliated against him for trying to fix the agency's problems.While heading the Atlanta office, he repeatedly alerted management to procedures that endangered the safety of air marshals and airline passengers."In this memo, you say the agency is out of control. What did you mean by that?" 7NEWS' Tony Kovaleski asked."I mean, you have a disconnect unlike anything I have ever seen between the workforce and the management," Strange said.Air marshals say that management disconnect has lead to record turnover inside the agency."There is not one air marshal I know that does not have an application for another job somewhere," said an air marshal in Las Vegas.But according to headquarters, the attrition rate of air marshals last year was only 5 percent -- a number that is widely questioned by current and former air marshals."I don't see how that (number) can possibly be true. But they have played games with the numbers before," said Strange.Nearly two dozen air marshals in four states said their national agency is dysfunctional. They claim it fails to provide the safety that taxpayers pay for, and instead, focuses management time on internal retaliation."(Retaliation) is synonymous with this agency," said a federal air marshal in Las Vegas.An Atlanta air marshal said that if headquarters can figure out who the whistleblowers are, "they will be systematically weeded out. They will be shown the door ... An absolute witch hunt."For two months, 7NEWS has asked the director of the federal air marshals to answer the concerns raised in the station's investigations. Each time, Director Dana Brown has declined a request for an interview. The agency's only response is that it is currently reviewing all policies and procedures.Spencer Pickard has asked to spend his administrative leave in Dallas with his mother who doctor's have diagnosed with cancer --- the agency has declined his request.. He says its more retaliation for trying to fix the agency.