Air Marshals Across Country Warn Passengers Aren't Safe

Marshals Say Managers Causing Total System Failure

Federal air marshals across the country are telling 7NEWS that airline passengers' safety has been compromised and managers lied to Congress to cover it up.

7NEWS Investigators coordinated a series of television reports airing Thursday night in Atlanta, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas after Investigator Tony Kovaleski spoke to air marshals in each city.

Managers of the Federal Air Marshals Service have said that complaints came from a just few disgruntled employees in Denver. But now, 17 air marshals in four states are sending a message that the $679 million that taxpayers spent this year on the Federal Air Marshals Service paid for a failing system that puts the public in danger and ignores the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001.

Never before have this many federal air marshals risked their jobs, their paychecks and their federal careers to expose what they all call a critical failure in national security.

"We do not want to come before the media. This is the last hope that we have to get these dangerous policies changed," said one federal air marshal.

"Our job is to prevent another Sept. 11 from happening. We can't do that. Not under these circumstances, not under these conditions," said another federal air marshal.

"I am so completely and utterly frustrated," said a third federal air marshal.

7NEWS and its partner TV stations talked to air marshals in four cities across the country.

"I fear for my safety, and I fear for the public's safety," said a federal air marshal in Las Vegas.

"I believe very strongly that there are problems within the Federal Air Marshal Service," said another air marshal in Dallas.

"It's criminal. It's absolutely unconscionable," said a federal air marshal in Atlanta.

A Denver federal air marshal said he first spoke to 7NEWS because "if something doesn't change, another 9/11 is very possible."

All of the air marshals attacked management for systematically exposing their covert status, willingly compromising their undercover assignments, and ultimately risking the safety of air passengers from coast to coast.

"Our anonymity is the only thing we have as a defense. Without anonymity, we might as well wear our guns on the outside of our shirts and announce where we're sitting," said an air marshal in Las Vegas.

The air marshals said policies and procedures established at headquarters are compromising their security in airports, on airplanes and in the hotels where they stay.

"If the terrorists know who the air marshals are, they can ambush them, take their weapons, and take over the aircraft," said one air marshal.

"Do you believe that's happening now?" Kovaleski asked him.

"Children can identify us," he replied.

A majority of the air marshals' concerns center on procedures in place before the plane leaves the runway.

Currently, air marshals must publicly display their credentials and their badge three times in airports: once as they bypass security at the checkpoint, again to the gate agent and finally to the pilot in the cockpit.

"The procedures we're required to follow right now make us stick out like sitting ducks. Any trained terrorist organization will have absolutely no problem determining who we are and how best to defeat our tactics," said one air marshal.

They said this information is publicly available and that there's no danger in sharing it because it's information any potential terrorist can easily access.

Their frustration is amplified by the fact that, for several months, air marshals have attempted to convince top managers to change the policies that compromise public safety. But nothing has changed.

"I think the problems with the Air Marshals Service could be solved with new management and about 48 hours. Nothing's broken here that can't be fixed with a little integrity and common sense," said Don Strange, a former special agent in charge in Atlanta.

Strange ran the Federal Air Marshal Service's Atlanta office and was in charge of four states.

Concerned about national security and before he was removed from his job, Strange sent two memos in August 2005 to Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

In the memos, Strange said the Federal Air Marshal Service is "a morally corrupt agency." He said current policies "unnecessarily endanger the lives of federal air marshals and the flying public."

He also alerted Chertoff that senior managers at headquarters were "lying to Congress and the media about policy issues."

"As a matter of fact, I called senior management at the Air Marshal Service and said, 'You guys are lying to Congress. You are lying to the media. We can't do that. We won't have any credibility as an agency if we do that,'" said Strange.

The agency's credibility took another hit when a congressional investigation produced a highly critical report in May. But what was the impact of the House judiciary report?

"Really nothing," said a federal air marshal.

"So, a report, more than a year in the works, and nothing came of it?" Kovaleski asked.

"Nothing, absolutely nothing," said a federal air marshal.

The congressional investigation confirmed what air marshals have attempted to change internally for more than two years. It said any policy or procedure that potentially compromises the identity of a federal air marshal is a policy or procedure that compromises commercial aviation and national security.

"We're standing on top of the mountains and we're screaming at the top of our lungs to change these things, and our agency isn't listening," said a federal air marshal.

"Nobody wants to be in the headlines, but we would also like a voice. We would like someone to listen to us and stop the insanity," said another federal air marshal.

Strange said the issues were worth losing his job.

"And if it causes changes to make people safer, then no question about it," said Strange.

The director of the air marshals, Dana Brown, declined 7NEWS' request for an interview on the issues raised by the 17 air marshals.

Instead, the agency sent a memo that did not address any of the points raised in 7NEWS' report. It did say the agency is currently assessing the agency's policies, practices and procedures.

You can read the entire statement from Brown by clicking here.

Also, if you believe Congress should investigate this matter, contact members of Colorado's delegation listed below.

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