The Effectiveness of Air Marshals

Air marshals are being arrested faster than air marshals are making arrests.

Actually, there have been many more arrests of Federal air marshals than that story reported, quite a few for felony offenses. In fact, more air marshals have been arrested than the number of people arrested by air marshals.

We now have approximately 4,000 in the Federal Air Marshals Service, yet they have made an average of just 4.2 arrests a year since 2001. This comes out to an average of about one arrest a year per 1,000 employees.

Now, let me make that clear. Their thousands of employees are not making one arrest per year each. They are averaging slightly over four arrests each year by the entire agency. In other words, we are spending approximately $200 million per arrest. Let me repeat that: we are spending approximately $200 million per arrest.

Posted on April 8, 2010 at 6:22 AM • 139 Comments

Comments

BF SkinnerApril 8, 2010 6:27 AM

I guess this is a rough order of magnitude for "whatever it costs".

patrick h. laukeApril 8, 2010 6:33 AM

they'll argue that it's the "deterrent" factor that can't be calculated in terms of cash money, and that the fact that they only had to make 4 arrests perversely shows that the system is working...

VickiApril 8, 2010 6:45 AM

I would agree that "number of arrests" is not the only measure of how effective police are: otherwise, you either count a high crime rate as a good sign, because it leaves lots of things to arrest people for, or you encourage bullshit arrests, like "trespassing" charges against people who have a right to be where they are, again in order to increase the arrest rates.

That said, a law enforcement group whose agents are more likely to be arrested than to make arrests is almost certainly doing something wrong, whether the agents are making 4.2 arrests per year or 420.

Alan EdwardsApril 8, 2010 6:55 AM

And how many of those arrests were actual threats to the aircraft, and not someone having a sneaky cigarette in the toilets?

Mike BApril 8, 2010 7:10 AM

Absolutely astonishing that quote came from a Republican. Their whole mantra over the past 9 years has been "Won't someone PLEASE think of the terrorists."

An innovative solution would be to offer training to rank and file sworn police officers across the country and then require that airlines provide one or two seats free to any officer with said training. Any time a police officer needed to fly they could use a dedicated web portal to book the flight free as long as they provided their protection duties in return.

Long story short instead of paying full time Air Marshalls just to fly around doing nothing we would use existing police officers (and federal agents) who would be compensated with free seats by the airline. Costs for the transportation could be metered by the system that matches police officers with flights and whatever the costs are would be borne by the airlines and their passengers instead of being a taxpayer subsidy to air travel.

GreenSquirrelApril 8, 2010 7:11 AM

Well I have never been convinced that Air Marshals are an improvement to the safety of an aircraft or its passengers. I strongly feel that the money would be better spent on improving the training and conditions of the cabin crew.

I just love the way the War on Terror has changed people's perceptions so much that throwing money away needlessly is now viewed as a "good thing."

Well done terrorists.

Mike BApril 8, 2010 7:12 AM

I should add that I know of transit agencies who provide free transportation to uniformed police officers and a local bank that provides free parking for a neighboring State Troper's official vehicle so this sort of system would not be without president.

Trichinosis USAApril 8, 2010 7:13 AM

Testify!

Here's a novel thought - instead of paying a separate, expensive LEA to perform this function, why not simply train and empower personnel (like pilots and flight attendants) who have to be on the plane ANYWAY to deal with these potential situations?

This would also work for shipping - training and arming the crew of vessels which have been targeted for piracy is a more practical solution, for all that it might put another set of quasi-legitimate predators out of business.

The last thing any of these gravy-train following mercenaries want is for people to start defending themselves. The only real security those types are interested in is JOB security.

Clive RobinsonApril 8, 2010 7:15 AM

In the UK we have an expression,

Poacher turned Gamekeeper

Basically it is about rule/law breakers who have ended working to be rule/law enforcers.

That aside I have never ever been happy with the idea of Air Marshals I could never see the point of them as the amount of trouble on flights that cannot be handled by the cabin crew is very very very low.

So a simple cost benefit on just the fuel cost of shipping their backsides around is going to be a lot lotless than break even. Any way you look at it they are going to end up a waste of resources, not just for the airlines, but those that pay their wages and expenses etc which is you the public...

They don't even rate as good P.R. or on the "warm fuzzy feeling" scales either.

Then there are the real "people hurter" problems with them...

1, They break the chain of command of the pilot to cabin crew and passengers.

Which is never good in stressful situations as people end up either being effectively paralyzed by countermanding orders, or doing their own thing which makes command decisions difficult at best.

2, They have access to weapons, which they can use as they see fit.

Weapons on aircraft is not good idea at any time for any reason, even in the most experianced of hands (which most of these marshals are not likley to be).

Even ruling out the low probability of explosive de-pressurization or other airframe handeling inhibiting effects such as breaking of control cables or breaking fuel or pnumatic systems, they are still a bad idea.

Airframe fittings are designed to be light to conserve fuel etc etc, this means that their ability to stop bullets is not good, but the ability to stop clear lines of sight is high.

This is a fairly good recipe for bystanders getting strays, and as the aircraft is effectively a tube full of bystanders it just makes the eventuality all the more probable...

Then there are other issues such as,

3, Are they sufficiently trained.

Not by most reports.

4, Are they actually trustworthy

Not by some reports.
...

There are plenty more reasons to add to the list, but at this point I think many will get the picture.

Russell CokerApril 8, 2010 7:19 AM

http://tvtropes.org/

Mike: How do you get a job as a "State Troper"? After reading the above site I'm sure it would be an enjoyable occupation.

As for being without president, Australia is one of many countries that have survived quite well without one.

KahomonoApril 8, 2010 7:34 AM

Pullquote from the speech:

" The fundamental answer is that al Qaeda's most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes but to hijack our political system. "

If a Republican finally said THAT on the floor of the House, there's hope for our system yet.

HarryApril 8, 2010 7:37 AM

I would like to see a more reliable reference than a congressman's political speech. If the stats are in the USAToday article, better to link to that. If they're not there, then were are they?

@Clive:

What you say about air marshalls applies to any law enforcement agent while flying. This includes not only police but Federal agents - anyone authorized to carry a badge and a gun and to make arrests. For the most part they not only the authority to act, but the obligation to do so.

Mike Y.April 8, 2010 7:56 AM

At an airport, I spotted a suspicious main in the waiting area. He had his back to the wall and was scoping out the crowd. He carried one small bag and was travelling alone. Then it dawned on me he could be the air marshall.

Later, he acted familiar with the flight crew. I couldn't see if he was carrying a weapon though.

If he were the air marshall, then air marshalls don't just fly back and forth for free. They observe.

I think air marshalls are a good idea, and I recall one of Schneier columns supporting air marshalls along with secured pilot doors as effective security.

Perhaps government over-hired thinking a bad air marshall is better than no air marshall. Maybe they have to reconsider that. Maybe they have to cut the budget for air marshalls given our bad economy. But air marshalls are still a good idea.

BF SkinnerApril 8, 2010 8:19 AM

@Harry

What you and Clive say about sworn officers goes triple for private security. Most states in the US regulate private security officers vaguely and the training requirement is a handful of hours.

@Mike Y
Johnny Long taught us how to spot Air Marshalls. Look for ball caps and military foot gear. They'll board first with the old people and kiddies though they are young and strapping fit. They'll usually sit in first class where they can keep an eye on the cockpit door.

GreenSquirrelApril 8, 2010 8:19 AM

@ Harry at April 8, 2010 7:37 AM

I agree with Clive and also agree that it applies to any LEO in the air. The cabin crew should be properly trained and empowered to deal with the situations they are expected to face. You dont need a gun to make arrests and guns on planes never strike me as being a good idea.

@ Mike Y. at April 8, 2010 7:56 AM

Basically then, knowing that Air Marshalls are active prevented you reporting a possible terrorist to the authorities?

Equally, had you been a terrorist, the Air Marshall "outed" himself enough that you knew who to take out if you wanted to get your hands on a weapon on the plane.

The Air Marshalls observe along with Airport security, airport staff, CCTV, cabin crew and other passengers. What cost effective value does the Air Marshall add?

What are they a good idea for?

Do we have any figures that compare like for like flights with / without Air Marshalls to determine how many incidents there are that couldnt be dealt with in another means?

Ironically the underpants bomber was dealt with by passengers, implying no Air Marshall was needed on that plane.

bickerdykeApril 8, 2010 8:51 AM

come on.. you have to give them at least their well earned credits for arresting someone for somking on the toilet....

yodaApril 8, 2010 8:55 AM

allowing any armed men onto international flights is lunacy. There will be far more incidents of violence and no terrorists will be deterred.

killickApril 8, 2010 9:52 AM

@ MikeB. I like your idea of law officers booking a free seat on flights in return for doing duty as a marshall. But, we'd need to have a rule that the cost is billed to the US at no more than the most cheaply sold seat on that flight. Otherwise the airlines would turn this into a new subsidy.

John CampbellApril 8, 2010 9:52 AM

From the article:

"This money is a total waste: $860 million for people to sit on airplanes and simply fly back and forth, back and forth. What a cushy, easy job."

Ummmm... Somehow I do not think any of these folks are riding in First Class, right?

Even if you have no fear of flying you may acquire one even if you DON'T spend an eternity waiting in the TSA's round-up of passengers.

Consider the amount of training (for emergencies) that flight attendants need to attend (and keep current on!) that seldom, if ever, really gets exercised.

An Air Marshal isn't really there to make arrests... their job is a bit like that of a nuclear warhead on a missile... a deterrent (Not that I am really a great believer that such a deterrent will cause a cabal to be deterred).

I suspect, given the miserable working conditions for the job, that misbehavior after a fairly short period of time would trigger some amusing-- and, likely, not-so-amusing-- behaviors to discharge stress.

So... who wants to see armed people on unemployment?

(Perhaps this should be part of unemployment benefits... you get a short-term job to fly around which allows you to look for work in different places...)

Richard SchwartzApril 8, 2010 9:59 AM

I like the fact that the Congressman quoted Ian Lustick. 31 years ago I took a seminar taught by Professor Lustick, and he was a smart guy and outstanding young teacher back then. If he can teach common sense to a Congressman, it's obvious that he's only gotten to be smarter and an even better teacher in the intervening years :-)

AppSecApril 8, 2010 10:00 AM

@yoda
"allowing any armed men onto international flights is lunacy. There will be far more incidents of violence and no terrorists will be deterred."

Does that mean they aren't allowed to carry more liquid also? ;-)

BCSApril 8, 2010 10:10 AM

What is the rate of arrests among the general public? That is how many people do you have to know before you can expect one of them to get arrested in the next year?

My totally uneducated guess is fewer than 1000 people.

esmApril 8, 2010 10:31 AM

I'd like to echo the point made by John Campbell and Vicki above: my first reaction when reading this was to wonder if using number of arrests as a job performance metric was reasonable. Do we really want air marshals to have an incentive to arrest more people (see the "smoking in the lavatory" comment), or do we want them there as an intelligent, armed response to a real threat on a flight, which I'd hope would be a rare occurrence?

That doesn't diminish the arrest record of the group, however. That's more than a little disturbing.

BF SkinnerApril 8, 2010 10:32 AM

It could also be taken as a measure of effectiveness. Not of deterrence but of the combined effect of screening and active people hunting countermeasures.

DanielApril 8, 2010 10:37 AM

The problem with putting regular police of domestic American flights is an annoying little detail called jurisdiction. Regular cops don't have the legal authority to do *anything* outside their legal jurisdiction. They are a stuffed suit. Worse, all they have to do is make one wrong move and the lawsuit will come flying to the tune over time of much more than 200 million.

Federal air marshals may or may not be a bad idea; but putting local cops on the plane is definitely a terrible idea.

DanielApril 8, 2010 10:43 AM

"The fundamental answer is that al Qaeda's most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes but to hijack our political system."

I would also like to add that I think this perspective is woefully naive. Terrorists haven't hijacked our political system. Rather, certain elements of our political system have found a respectable cover for doing that which they want to do. If it hadn't been terrorists it would have been something else. Any excuse will serve a tyrant whether that tyrant be individual or a political interest group.

Daniel RothmanApril 8, 2010 10:50 AM

- please note that Air Marshals normally 'hand off' arrests to folks in the local jurisdiction - the number cited is not indicative.

- MikeY above is correct, Air Marshals are trained observers both in the air and in the terminal.

- the primary job of Air Marshals is to defeat any attempt to take control of the aircraft. We (the US) hasn't seen many attempts to take control of aircraft in recent years (though Mexico had an incident relatively recently). It is distinctly possible (though non-confirmable) that part of the reason we have not had these issues is because of the deterrent effect of Air Marshals.

- there are existing programs to train both law enforcement and cockpit crew to fly armed and effectively extend the deterrent effect of law enforcement in the air. These programs are administered by TSA/Office of Law Enforcement(OLE), in close conjunction with TSA/OLE/Air Marshal Service. Note that flying law enforcement does not have the regular rigorous training of Air Marshals, and flight coverage of flying law enforcement is non-systematic.

In summary, Air Marshals are like stealth bombers. You want them around. You want them in the air. You want them to be deadly serious and effective. You want them to be unobserved. You desire the deterrent effect they project.

But you never want to actually have to use them.

unLOLedApril 8, 2010 11:02 AM

Predictable result of such articles:
They will arrest more people. The $/arrest will drop hyperbolically.
Even if the +4 arrested in 2010 (what a progress! arrest rate up by 100%) are freed later on or convicted of only minor trespassings.

mcbApril 8, 2010 11:02 AM

@ Obijan

"But who else is going to keep the skies safe by arresting people trying to have sex in the bathroom?"

Wow, an $860 million dollar government-subsidized birth-control program.

unLOLedApril 8, 2010 11:04 AM

Alternatively (even simultaneously) they can then claim that they were able to reduce the cost per arrest by as much as 50%!
How efficient they suddenly become!

AndrewApril 8, 2010 11:05 AM

Security guards don't make arrests much either. Let's sack them all too.

I also think that the Air Marshal program is a boondoggle, but that's because of the practical difficulties of running that type of operation as a general deterrent to a very rare event.

A chunk of the same money spent on training flight attendants would yield far better results.

However, I do think that FAA and DOJ should maintain a civilian expertise for combat (armed and unarmed, by experts and by the barely trained) aboard aircraft, not to mention breaching and disablement when the plane is on the ground. No point in having training unless we are teaching the good stuff. Maintaining this expertise means shooters, and I can see keeping Air Marshals around just for this purpose. We can find them other things to do, such as fly on high-risk flights, surveill particularly suspicious persons or circumstances, and provide a backstop to armed diplomatic couriers and other Federal agents flying armed who don't have that skillset.

The one Federal civilian agency that still takes gunplay seriously is the US Marshal's Service. Perhaps give the Air Marshal program to them?

John CampbellApril 8, 2010 11:06 AM

Hmmm...

@Daniel Rothman: "the primary job of Air Marshals is to defeat any attempt to take control of the aircraft. We (the US) hasn't seen many attempts to take control of aircraft in recent years (though Mexico had an incident relatively recently). It is distinctly possible (though non-confirmable) that part of the reason we have not had these issues is because of the deterrent effect of Air Marshals."

How do you prove a negative?

It's like a set of metric for firemen... when there haven't been many fires lately, does that mean it is safe to downsize a fire department?

(I once wrote on this about System Administrators... how do you prove you are doing your job if your job is to prevent an outage?)

Hopefully you won't use the Miles Vorkosigan method of proving a negative... ;-)

Daniel RothmanApril 8, 2010 11:49 AM

@John Campbell
your point is well taken - the unprovable negative.
@Andrew
further amplifying, yes it's tremendously difficult to manage/engineer a capability for deterrence/prevention of a rare event. It doesn't mean that the rare events aren't worth preventing.
In terms of gunplay... I'd suggest you look at the qualifying requirements for Air Marshals - among the toughest in law enforcement, and Air Marshals regularly take down inter-agency competitive events.

It's a difficult balance to strike - no doubt. Part of the reason I post to Schneier's boards is because of the thoughtful quality of his posts, and the quality of the community. It's exactly that type of thought and balanced consideration that's required to consider _actual_ security improvements and capabilties for air travel.

paulApril 8, 2010 11:51 AM

Number of arrests is not quite the stupidest possible metric for a job like this, but it's close. I bet somewhere there's a beancounter complaining that bank security guards haven't fired on robbers in years, or that the officers who guard federal buildings never make arrests. If there are crimes but they don't make arrests that's one thing. But even if they just move the crime somewhere else (considering how expensive this particular crime can be) they're likely cost-effective.

Daniel RothmanApril 8, 2010 11:52 AM

Full Disclosure: I am an employee of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS). I'm not law enforcement. I'm posting in a private capacity, and am not a spokesman or representitive for FAMS.

Robert HalloranApril 8, 2010 11:56 AM

@John Campbell: (I once wrote on this about System Administrators... how do you prove you are doing your job if your job is to prevent an outage?)

When I was working for a former dot-com company, making server software, the comment was "what's the SA's name when everything's working? Who cares? What's the name when it's broken? Mud."

SA's are the gnomes in the woodwork; you only notice them by the results of their absence...

RoyApril 8, 2010 12:12 PM

There is no collection of data which would allow us to assess the effectiveness of air marshals. The policies employed are not evidence-based but faith-based.

Nobody SpecialApril 8, 2010 12:24 PM

>bank security guards haven't fired on robbers in years, .. guard federal buildings never make arrests

Not quite - they are a visible deterrent, sky marshals are undercover. It's like claiming that my top secret spy satellite which watches all aircraft movements has prevented hijackings.

A sky marshal would have prevented a 9/11 hijacking - but under todays reality so would 150 angry passengers.
They aren't going to stop somebody detonating a bomb in their seat.

How long until the first sky marshal shoots somebody for being drunk, smoking in the toilet, having a foreign accent or wearing a T’fillin (all reasons for diverting planes)? Perhaps when they do we will need secret-service agents on each flight to watch the sky marshals, then secret^2 agents to watch them...

ScottApril 8, 2010 1:01 PM

I have taught all of the women in my family; if someone carjacks you the first and only thing you tell yourself is "I'm now dead." Don't believe them when they say "I won't hurt you." YOU ARE DEAD.

Now with nothing to lose, go for it. Aim for the largest light pole, concrete barrier, truck and slam into it. You're belted in, your airbag will go off. Odds are that the dirtball won't have the presence of mind to have do so. Send him thru the windshield. Yea, you may be injured or die, but you're already dead, so there's nothing to lose.

Likewise...gone are the days of hijacking planes for ransom. Save the $860M, get rid of the FAMS, they serve no purpose. Passengers will no longer sit idly by and let someone take over or try to blow up an aircraft, without some sort of intervention. Odds are you're going to die anyway. You've nothing to lose.

sandrewApril 8, 2010 2:04 PM

@John Campbell
It's like a set of metric for firemen... when there haven't been many fires lately, does that mean it is safe to downsize a fire department?

Wouldn't the analogy be closer if you said we need to keep the firemen because having them is a deterrent to fires breaking out

CraigApril 8, 2010 2:12 PM

Security sometimes needs a human factor to it, and their are many flights per air marshal, would have been interesting to know how many flights to air marshalls, then you would have people screaming for more air marshalls :-)

vaderApril 8, 2010 2:23 PM


@Camphell:

Since I'm a big fan of Miles Vorkosigan: What is his method of proving a negative (apart from talking himself into trouble faster than anyone else :-)?

HJohnApril 8, 2010 3:22 PM

@Moshe Yudkowsky: So... all that time I spent on guard duty was a waste of time because I didn't shoot anyone?
________________

That's the problem I have with analyses that do not account for preparedness or deterence value of something. Your guard service certain was of value. I do believe in peace through strength and readiness.

I'm leaning towards thinking the marshall system is not as cost beneficial as it should be, but I acknowledge there is much I don't know. (how many ground arrests result from them, how they are trained to defuse without causing panic, etc.)

You know, I am also thinking that a more efficient use of air marshall's may be a great alternative to the no-fly list. Air marshall's could be assigned seats on flights near people who intelligence or background (or whatever) appear to be at a higher risk on flights. The no-fly list now are just people too dangerous to fly but not dangerous enough to arrest, which is an infringement on liberties. This would not only allow people who are innocent to fly, while setting up those who are real threats to actually be caught and get what they deserve...rather than let them know they are on the TSA's radar and leave them free to target something else.

Then again, this wouldn't be the first time I was wrong about something.

I sincerely appreciate your service. People like you do far more to keep us free than you get credit for.

periApril 8, 2010 3:42 PM

@BCS: "What is the rate of arrests among the general public?"

Dimensional analysis is your friend!

(4.2 arrests / year) x (8 years) = 33.6 arrests.

(307 million people) / (33.6 arrests) = 10 million people per arrest.

Clive RobinsonApril 8, 2010 3:56 PM

A thought occurs ;)

What is the probability of a sky marshall being on the same plane as a terrorist attack?

Currently since 9/11 we have seen two attempted attacks on planes flying to the US from Europe (Captn Underpants and Cpl Hotfoot) in neither case was a sky marshal present (I'm not sure what the status of air marshal service was when Richard Reid tried to blow his foot off though).

In the same period of time how many flights have entered the continental US?

And how many of them had air marshals on them?

Thus what is the probability for there being an air marshall on the next US bound aircraft with a terrorist attack on it?

Anybody care to do the maths?

robwinsApril 8, 2010 4:24 PM

Amazing. I had no idea that federal air marshalls were even subject to the very laws they're supposed to be upholding.

Clive RobinsonApril 8, 2010 4:31 PM

@ Moshe Yudkowsky,

"So... all that time I spent on guard duty was a waste of time because I didn't shoot anyone?"

Put it another way if there had been double the number of guards would you all have been twice as effective?

The old military appropriations reasoning is,

You only know when you have "to little" defence because you get attacked...

Which is then usually followed by the very old politico hook of,

If you knew what we know about the enemy...

And if that fails to open the purse strings,

Well Sen XXX we notice that the ideal site for developing project YYY is in your juresdiction and it would create ZZZ jobs...

bApril 8, 2010 4:33 PM

Is there another source for this? I followed the link, and it's a press release from a Republican Congressman from Tennessee. Take anything a politician says with a massive grain of salt. Given the current state of politics, I'd even say listen to none of it

Speaking of Smoking On the Plane...April 8, 2010 5:14 PM

from today's "Best of the Web Today"

The Associated Press reports from Denver on an air-terror scare:

A Qatari diplomat trying to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom sparked a bomb scare Wednesday night on a flight from Washington to Denver, with fighter jets scrambled and law enforcement put on high alert, officials said.

No explosives were found on the man, and officials do not believe he was trying to harm anyone, according to a senior law enforcement officials [sic] who spoke on condition of anonymity.

ABC News reports that "when the marshals demanded to know what he was doing, the man identified himself as a diplomat from Qatar and responded, perhaps sarcastically, 'I'm trying to light my shoes on fire.' "

abcdApril 8, 2010 5:22 PM

Guard Duty:
The guards were presumably visible. Thus there is some deterrent value, though how much is not easily known. If the number of guards were doubled or halved, this would probably be visible by attackers, if they care about number of guards at all. It could be they don't care.

Sky Marshals:
They operate undercover. If the number is double or halved, no one knows except the Sky Marshal Service. The the Service says the number is doubled or tripled but does nothing in fact, who would know? If the attackers don't know, or they don't care, about the number of marshals, then what difference does increasing the number really make?

tylerApril 8, 2010 5:26 PM

@Mike B,

To expand on that, why not let certain military occupations in on the training as well. With all of the troops, cops, and feds that would be willing to do this for free or even break even for the airline airfare, there would probably be more police on planes on a given day than there are air marshalls.

mooApril 8, 2010 5:40 PM

@Alan:
Don't worry, the terrorists have won.

Years ago it used to be legal to smoke on an aircraft. Now we have this diplomat who gets arrested and interrogated for hours because he got caught having a smoke in the lav on a plane, and when they asked him what he was doing, he made a joke about trying to light his shoes on fire.

http://abcnews.go.com/WN/...

The guy has diplomatic immunity, so at least he won't get charged with some sort of heinous crime. I hope he most diplomatically told them to go screw themselves.

When I say "the terrorists have won", I mean of course the politicians and powerful elite who benefit from having a scared populace give up its hard-won freedoms for the illusion of a little security. What a pathetic shadow of its former self the Land of the Free has become.

Cat VincentApril 8, 2010 5:53 PM

If nothing else, the suggestions on this thread may spawn a whole new sub-genre of thriller: "It's Die Hard. With a Sky Marshal!"

Seriously, a greatly educational thread - thanks all round.

TomApril 8, 2010 6:11 PM

Careful! Too many complaints and the TSA will give them arrest quotas like a traffic cop!

tApril 8, 2010 7:35 PM

Great. That would an improvement to our flying experience. Air marshalls with quotas.

JKBApril 8, 2010 8:12 PM

Always some idiot! Promoting arrests for the sake of arrest rather than looking to see if the effort is successful in its purpose of preventing attacks aircraft. I'm not saying the Air Marshals are effective just that start judging cops by number of arrests and you'll get a lot more made up arrests. Just ask NYC, just recently a cop started speaking out about arrest quotas and how the police just picked people at random to keep their numbers up.

If a police force was 100% successful in preventing crime, the cops would make few arrests as their would be no crime. Of course, it wouldn't take long for some idiot to decide that the number of cops need to be cut, reducing the number on the street, and a subsequent rise in crime.

DGApril 8, 2010 9:18 PM

Let's see, cost of fighter escorts, response on the ground, aircraft availability. Hey! Not arresting one smoker might have cost close to two million dollars in addition to the extra $85 million DHS is asking for the Sky Marshal program.

Off hand if you have to justify it in a press release, it may not be worth it:

http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/...


Statement by Secretary Napolitano on Actions by Federal Air Marshals on Board United Flight 663

Release Date: April 8, 2010

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Contact: 202-282-8010

“I commend the Federal Air Marshals on board United Airlines flight 663 last night, who swiftly responded to a potential threat to passenger safety while the plane was in flight. These highly trained individuals took appropriate and immediate action to secure the aircraft and communicate the potential threat to authorities on the ground—ensuring that the flight was met by TSA and law enforcement officials when it landed safely in Denver. I spoke to the Air Marshals this morning, and I expressed my appreciation for their vital service keeping passengers around the world safe from potential threats of terrorism—work that nearly always goes unnoticed. We always treat security-related incidents seriously until verified otherwise, and thankfully this incident posed no actual security threat.”

Background
Since the attempted terrorist attack on Dec. 25, 2009, the Transportation Security Administration has increased deployments of Federal Air Marshals on domestic and international flights, along with many other enhancements to aviation security personnel and technology. The President’s fiscal year 2011 budget request includes $85 million for increased Federal Air Marshals flight coverage.

###

Daniel RothmanApril 8, 2010 10:11 PM

@peri:
regarding CDI.org article - note that it's dated 2003. there are many (_many_) inaccuracies in the article.

Please allow me to direct your attention to the most recent GAO report on the FAMS:
http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-09-273

@nobody special:
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? as it turns out, there is a standard procedure in the FAMS for "check rides" in which managers fly the same flights along with flying FAMs. Standard law enforcement practice in the novel environment.

@HJohn
allowing dangerous people onto airplanes along with the general flying public in order to catch them at it is almost certainly a bad idea. Safe to say that protecting the other 200-300 passengers (among other goals) is more important than catching one bad guy.

@Clive Robinson
Rest assured there are regular reports to congress as to flight coverage by air marshals. Thus there are folks inside FAMS who regularly track and report those numbers all the way up through DHS/TSA/OLE/FAMS, to OMB, to GAO, and to congress.

See the GAO report, and the referenced excerpts from the Homeland Security Institute for the best descriptions of CONOPs and metrics available.

Daniel RothmanApril 8, 2010 10:13 PM

Travel Tip of the Day:

If you're an Arab diplomat caught smoking in the loo of an airplane, don't joke that you're trying to set your shoes on fire.

The Federal Air Marshal Service has no sense of humor that we are aware of.

pdf23dsApril 9, 2010 12:55 AM

allowing dangerous people onto airplanes along with the general flying public in order to catch them at it is almost certainly a bad idea.

OK, you are an idiot. Only an idiot could support the No Fly list.

ytApril 9, 2010 1:12 AM

@Mike B: Many airlines offer travel benefits that allow employees fly as "non-revenue" passengers by paying the break-even cost of putting a rear end in a seat on the plane (as opposed to letting the seat stay empty and lose money). About 15 years ago when I worked for an airline, that cost was $20 each way for coach, $40 each way for first class. The cost of allowing police officers to fly free would be negligible compared to the current budget for the air marshal program.

ytApril 9, 2010 1:39 AM

@BF Skinner: [how to spot an air marshal] I had one following me a while ago. He was wearing normal clothes and no cap, although he did only have one small bag. What gave him away was his behavior: when you follow a woman and her young daughter to the bathroom, it's going to set off alarm bells. The fact that he was so bad at his job that *I* could spot him didn't exactly inspire my confidence about having an armed man on the plane. I spent the flight terrified he would mistake my attempt to use the bathroom as a hostile move.

Jakub NarębskiApril 9, 2010 2:40 AM

@Clive Robinson:

> "Weapons on aircraft is not good idea at any time for any reason, even in the most experianced of hands (which most of these marshals are not likely to be)."

I assume that they are issued special ammo that is safe to use in airplanes. There is for example a special type of bullet, which consists of small balls inside material - it flattens when discharged (I might not explain it correctly; I have read about special ammo long time ago). It suposedly kicks like a mule, but is not a danger to structural integrity of aircraft.

Hmmm... it looks like Air Marshalls are using Glaser Safety Slug ammunition (a bit different from what I have described, but with the same purpose).

GreenSquirrelApril 9, 2010 3:14 AM

(Late getting back to the party as always)

As mentioned above the deployment of Air Marshalls is based on faith and, basically, there is no way to properly evaluate their cost effectiveness. What ever issue is brought up against them their supporters can cry "but how many attacks have the deterred" and quite rightly there is no way of giving a sane answer.

To that same end, I am requesting a subsidy from the US DHS for a special stone I have. Every day by pouring tap water on this stone I prevent terrorist attacks on the US. I have the same level of proof this works as you have for the deployment of Air Marshalls on planes.

Air Marshalls put a weapon in the hands of some who may, or may not, act professionally and allow it onto the plane. In a previous post I was lambasted for implying that different rules should apply to different classes of aircraft passenger and in this instance I can agree that it is wrong.

Scenario 1: If a group of terrorists want to attack a plane, all they need to do before boarding is identify the air marshall (which doesnt seem massively difficult, if all else fails, light up in the toilet and he will out himself) then the mission is overpower him and have a gun.

Unless the Air Marshalls have a Jason Bourne quality, three or four people on a plane will be pretty effective.

Scenario 2: the Air Marshalls are there to observe. Why does he have a gun? Is the CCTV system broke? Can he move about the aircraft without drawing attention to the same degree as the cabin staff? Why isnt he in an overt uniform like the security guard examples we have above. A visible deterrent can prove to be effective because the BADPEOPLE know he is there. Hinting he might be in the shadows scares children but not much else.

Basically Air Marshalls are a broken idea. There is no way of measuring their effectiveness (*). They are, at best, a solution without a problem.

(*) Ok we could compare the number of flights with Air Marshalls on vs the number without and see how many were hijacked? Does that paint them in a good light?

The pedant can point out that two flights without Air Marshall were attacked but would the presence of an Air Marshall have changed the outcome? Maybe we would have two less people for questionning but thats about it.

Clive RobinsonApril 9, 2010 4:06 AM

@ peri,

"I see what you are thinking and I think the answer is a little more complicated than you suspect because Sky Marshals do not choose which flights to get on by going to random.org and picking a random flight"

I decided on "random" as a way to establish a mid point bench mark for the maths.

I suspect you know why but briefly (for me ;)

We would first need to know all the drivers for the determanistic choice of which flights get "graced" with an air marshall.

And for a whole heap of reasons we are not going to get told that.

Obviously the important one being it would "educate the enemy" and give them a good way to come up with a reliable avoidence technique.

That aside a determanistic choice has very real problems, especialy when dealing with very rare events especialy if the event it's self uses a determanistic choice.

To be effective the FAMS choice has to align very "closely" with the enemy choice to be better than a pure random choice. If however it does not closely align with the very low occurance but determanistic events the outcome is actually going to be a heck of a lot worse than if a random choice was made.

And this gets considerably worse the lower the "sampling size" or % of flights FAMS put an air marshal on looking for very low "defect rate" travelers or terrorists.

A part of the science of metrology has the actual maths needed and the required measurment uncertainty and sensitivity to give defect detection confidence figures,

http://www.springerlink.com/index/...

Likewise EW signal processing for signals in noise with a "Low Probability to Detect" has maths for your chances of detecting low level determanistic signals considerably below the mean level of random signals (noise).

I could dig around to come up with some figures but the CNN page,

http://edition.cnn.com/2008/TRAVEL/03/25/...

Does the donkey work and they say as few as 1% or 280 flights a day are covered by an "on board FAMS air marshal".

Apparently the TSA meaning of a covered flight is very different and thus claim the number of coverd flights is over 1000 a day. From the article the TSA "covered" is any flight with a "gun holder" including a pilot etc in the cockpit (I wonder if it includes part time Harbour Masters as well).

At less than 1% "covarage" or sample rate and a defect rate measured in 2 parts (terrorists) in ~7 thousand million (number of US air passangers since 9/11*), the confidence figures are way way to low to justify the program.

-----
* I have not been able to quickly find the actual figure so it is based on the 562million US domestic and international passenger figure for the first nine months of 2006 I did find. So for the nine and a half years since 9/11,

562E6 x 4 x 9.5 / 3 = 7119 million.

However that's 2E6/day which with the CNN figure of 28000 flights a day gives 71 passengers per flight which says you might need a pinch of salt, before swallowing it.

Clive RobinsonApril 9, 2010 4:51 AM

@ Jakub Narębski,

"I assume that they are issued special ammo that is safe to use in airplanes. ... It suposedly kicks like a mule, but is not a danger to structural integrity of aircraft."

Although I do have concernces for the air frame integrity, I also have considerable concernces for the inoncent passangers who would have a high probability of getting caught by strays that may or may not pass through the "soft furnishings and fittings" of the cabin. Esspecialy as the cabin design makes them like "rabbits caught in the headlights", "fish in a barrel" or "rats in a trap" (pick your own from these "saws" or the many many more there are).

You need to consider the TSA alows (possibly encorages) other officers within the DHS and LEO community to "carry on board" as well as pilots in the cockpit, to get the number of "covered" flights up for their figures.

I seriously doubt all those non FAMS guns have "air frame safe" ammunition...

And as there appears to be well over twice* the number of non FAMS gun holders as FAMS gun holders on "covered" flights. And those non FAMS gun holders will most likley not be "aircraft trained", the use by FAMS of "airframe safe" ammunition is probably a moot point at best.

---

* This assumes that what the TSA is quoted as saying is true (in the CNN link in my post above this one), of well over 1000 flights with guns on a day, of which CNN belive only less than 300 are FAMS guns...

Clive RobinsonApril 9, 2010 5:05 AM

@ GreenSquirrel,

"Scenario 1: If a group of terrorists want to attack a plane, all they need to do before boarding is identify the air marshall (which doesnt seem massively difficult..."

Esspecially if they are there to "primarily" watch a locked cockpit door.

For obvious reasons they would need to have not just a clear sight line to the door, but also easy access to it and have good sight/shoot lines on the aproaches to the door. This puts them in only a handfull of seats.

Then they will "stand out" by "not fitting in" with the norm for passangers in that area (often but not always first class).

I won't say it makes them "sitting ducks", more like "boils on a pigs backside".

Anyway, I've had my leasurly coffee, back to the more important matter of building the base boards for my eight year old son's model railway, so I have peace at the weekend ;)

BrineApril 9, 2010 5:55 AM

My problem with authority figures, or at least homeland security, is that it is much, much more likely that my life will be made worse by an overzealous border guard/TSA agent/cop who doesn't like people taking pictures than the terrorists these guys are ostensibly protecting me from. I don't have any problems with people in authority who are actually doing their jobs with a reasonable amount of restraint, but thanks for the free psychobabble session.

BF SkinnerApril 9, 2010 6:42 AM

So this arrest. Does that like increase their effectiveness rate by 25% or because there were two ... only 13.5%

Johnny's no tech hacking talk in 2007 shmoocon.org/2007/videos/No-Tech%20Hacking%20-%20Johnny%20Long.mp4

What he's saying is we hang all kinds of tells off us. I wasn't complete in what I was saying about the ball cap. You'll see in the video it's about the brand name on the cap.

Regarding ammunition on aircraft - explosive decompression won't happen to the degree that it's Goldfinger dangerous. Mythbusters tested this in their season ten youtube.com/watch?v=Fi1_1l7M8FA

The risk I see is ventilating not only the target but the civilians behind them. Which may become more likely due to the flimsy structure inside the cabin.

BernCApril 9, 2010 7:05 AM

Boy, there are lots of comments on this article. That means something doesn't it? My only interest is that I liked the Wesley Snipes movie! Anyone else?

periApril 9, 2010 8:33 AM

@Daniel Rothman: "regarding CDI.org article..."

I really wasn't that happy with that article either. Thanks for taking the time to find the much more recent, reliable and accurate GAO report.

HJohnApril 9, 2010 8:43 AM

@Daniel Rothman: "allowing dangerous people onto airplanes along with the general flying public in order to catch them at it is almost certainly a bad idea. Safe to say that protecting the other 200-300 passengers (among other goals) is more important than catching one bad guy."
_______________

I tend to agree in concept. My problem is that, if these people are really that dangerous, certainly there is enough evidence to investigate them.

The overall point was not to put dangerous people on airplanes to catch them in the act, it was that unless they've been charged with or convicted of something they still have rights.

I just don't know how many of the people on the list are actually dangerous.

BernieApril 9, 2010 9:27 AM

I wonder how many lives would be saved if we put doctors on flights. Air Physicians might be a better way to spend that money. (I don't know; I'm just pulling the idea out of the air.)

HJohnApril 9, 2010 10:06 AM

@Bernie: "I wonder how many lives would be saved if we put doctors on flights. Air Physicians might be a better way to spend that money. (I don't know; I'm just pulling the idea out of the air.)'
_________

Probably not many. I don't know of many casualties on planes due to medical issues, but I do know that a passenger having a serious health incident on a plane is unlikely to cause the whole plane to crash into a building.

I would also bet that, on many flights with a couple hundred people, the odds of at least one passenger being a doctor, nurse, paramedic, EMT, or at least CPR certified is pretty high.

There is also no deterent value. The grim reaper doesn't say "rats, a doctor on the plane, I better not take this one." Whereas a person will attack where they perceive us as vulernable.

I personally think airplane terrorism will be quite rare because of the excessive attention (to the point of overkill) we pay to it and the irrational worry we have...they want to hit us somewhere we aren't looking, not some place we are paranoid about. Besides, anyone who tries to hijack a plaine will be beat to a pulp by scared passengers.

periApril 9, 2010 10:09 AM

@Clive Robinson

I thought you made a valiant effort at running the numbers but I think your sources are lying to you.

I haven't trusted CNN very much with facts since they let their science staff go and my faith in their accuracy has been further damaged by their assertion of 280 flights covered in 2008. It seems to me CNN is low on that number by an order of magnitude -- we know there are currently 4,000 marshals. It seems to me salt one needs along with those CNN numbers is likely to clean out your average household.

If you take the numbers from the GAO report suggested by Daniel Rothman then we have 4,000 air marshals covering around 29,000 flights per day. If they average one flight a day then air marshals are on about 14% of all flights.

I also wanted to suggest that I think the numbers you got for total flights since 9/11 is an order of magnitude high:
(29,000 flights/day) x (365.25 days/year) x (9.5 years) ~= 100,626,375 flights.

I also wanted to point out another complication: I'm not sure those two attacks since 9/11 are really a fair representation of the "defect rate." I've always personally believed that terrorists haven't really needed leave their backyards since the wars started in the Middle East. The US may have only seen two inept bombers on planes trying to blow up planes but the troops have seen thousands of bombings. I can't even guess at the order of magnitude of "defect rate" after US troops are gone so I would find your argument more convincing if you assumed, for the sake of argument, that the "defect rate" is the total number of IEDs.

At any rate it is always nice to read your comments!

HJohnApril 9, 2010 10:24 AM

One thing we should keep in mind when calculating percentages is what we can't measure.

The TSA screens over 750 million passengers per year. All go through metal detectors. Everyone knows there are metal detectors, and everyone knos that if they try to take a gun on board they will both be caught and be prosecuted.

So, let's say we go an entire year without ever detecting a gun. Or even we only detect one gun in a year**. That is virtually a 0.0%. Even the once a year is 0.00000013%. They'd have to find hundreds of guns to even get close to 1 in a million passengers.

Would we then conclude that it is not a real threat and a waste of money? Of course not, because we all understand the deterent value. If we did away with metal detectors, we don't know how many would try, but most of us would be comfortable betting it wouldn't be long before someone had a gun on a plane.

**Actually, I am close to an airport where someone tried to take a gun on the plane in her purse. It was an elderly woman after 9/11 afraid of terrorists. So I won't say it never happens, but it is clearly rare. Not because it is not a risk, but because there is deterent.

Measurements are tough.

MichaelApril 9, 2010 10:48 AM

You sir, have lost any credibility you had. What an unbelievable 'strawman,' you've composed. I seriously hope you don't believe this incendiary bullcrap you've posted.

AnonCowApril 9, 2010 12:49 PM

Air marshals became irrelevant after 9/11 because passengers and crews now realize that allowing hijackers to take over a plane will also result in their death, so they might as well die killing the hijackers.

And air marshals wouldn't be able to prevent the detonation of a bomb since it would happen to fast and there is nothing a marshal can do about sudden cabin depressurization.

Daniel RothmanApril 9, 2010 1:12 PM

@HJohn
You're reinventing several sets of law enforcement "levels of interest". For people that might be bad guys, depending on how certain law enforcement is, they might be, "of interest", "under investigation", on a "no-fly list", on a "terrorist watch list", or have actual outstanding warrants. again, i'm not law enforcement, so my particulars are almost certainly garbled - I'm trying to convey the flavor of the process.

Each different level of interest has different law enforcement techniques associated with it, and is based on evidence available and risk to others.

Point being that if there's specific information regarding a specific threat from a specific individual ("joe has a bomb, and is planning to blow up flight VL250 out of LAX on 4/9/10"), then that individual will be detained WAY before they actually board the plane. What will NOT happen is a decision to let joe board the plane with malign intent, with a plan to apprehend joe when he "makes his move". That would be irresponsibly endangering the other 200-300 passengers on the plane.

Without specific information/intelligence on a specific threat, but with information regarding individuals on a flight, there are investigative and observation techniques to, for instance, observe contacts between individuals of interest on a flight, or exchange of materials, etc. These observational activities are not intended to lead to an in-flight arrest, but are supportive of broader investigations into patterns and contacts.

In short, Air Marshals are not out to up their arrest sheets. They're there to increase the safety and security of air travel. Grandstand-y Wesley Snipes-style in-flight confrontation is a last resort because of the risk to the other passengers in the air.

HJohnApril 9, 2010 1:46 PM

@ Daniel Rothman at April 9, 2010 1:12 PM

Good post. I enjoy the dialogue. Have a nice weekend.

BF SkinnerApril 9, 2010 3:42 PM

@Michael "You sir, have lost any credibility you had. "

said to everyone in the room presumed to be of male gender including perhaps the author of the paper who is presumed to NOT be in the room.

I am becoming less convinced of the efficacy of comments in discussions to blog posts. Even here where there are some sparking devious minds we don't really seem to be advancing our counters around the board much.

Clive RobinsonApril 9, 2010 4:32 PM

@ peri,

"It seems to me CNN is low on that number by an order of magnitude -- we know there are currently 4,000 marshals."

Hmm this is one of those very awkward things to reason out because the actual number is not that meaningful.

For instance if you assume the work shifts and do regular training (25% of time) and write reports (50% of time) and do only 35hours a week I would be surprised if they could actually manage to get 1000 air marshals deployed each day. And that's not alowing for sick holiday and administrative leave for work but not duty related activities, nor for team leaders and bottom side managment who are very probably still part of those 4000 marshals but don't actualy walk the concourse any more.

Then there is the attrition rate and training up of new recruites by existing staff...

With out knowing the norms for FAMS the 4000 number of air marshals is almost irelevant to the number that actualy cover flights.

Then of those that do walk the concourse to a flight there is also the issue of international flights which might well leave them out of the country for 24hours or more due to sensible rest period rotation jibing with flight scheduals. For instance the BA flight from London to Seattle flies once a day but has a one hour turn around, you would not expect an agent to fly the two seven hour flights both ways with only an hour turn around.

Then there is the "unknown focus" asspect where the CNN people might well have only found evidence for 280 out of 28,000 daily flights due to sampling in the wrong places.

So for many reasons only 200-500 flights a day may actually not be that far off (give me the raw data and I could get a confidence figure).

"If they average one flight a day then air marshals are on about 14% of all flights."

Due to just working hours (40h for 50w = 2000H/year) etc It can never be that high unless they do four and half flights a day each ( 4000*2000 /365.25*24 = 912 marshals / day, 29K*0.14=4060, 4060/912= 4.45).

"I also wanted to suggest that I think the numbers you got for total flights since 9/11 is an order of magnitude high:
(29,000 flights/day) x (365.25 days/year) x (9.5 years) ~= 100,626,375 flights."

It's not aircraft flights I used it's "bums on plane seats" or 2million passenger flights a day which as I said actualy sounds low as it works out at around 70 passengers per flight...

"I also wanted to point out another complication: I'm not sure those two attacks since 9/11 are really a fair representation of the "defect rate." I've always personally believed that terrorists haven't really needed leave their backyards since the wars started in the Middle East. The US may have only seen two inept bombers on planes trying to blow up planes but the troops have seen thousands of bombings."

As you probably remember that's the argument I made to say why we had only seen two "numpties" that where more of a danger to those around them thus in no way suitable for "front line" activities making and deploying IED's etc. And importantly they where set up to fail by their controlers.

Unlike the 9/11 attack which was designed to "shock and awe" and "outrage" and thus force the US onto a battle field of the enemies chosing, the aim was just to "remined" or "scare" the populas of the US, UK, etc to keep the troops where they are.

Actually bringing down another aircraft would be self defeating for the "terrorists" as it would lose them support where they most need it (back on their home turf).

"I can't even guess at the order of magnitude of "defect rate" after US troops are gone so I would find your argument more convincing if you assumed, for the sake of argument, that the "defect rate" is the total number of IEDs."

I don't agree with that, as I said civilians are not an acceptable targget for forign terrorists any longer, just the home grown wanabies and walter mitty types.

Because there is a lot of difference between the mentality required for making and deploying IED's against a worthwhile oponent and if unlucky dying "honarably on the field of combat", than it is to "suicide yourself" to kill innocent women and children civilians.

Remember a lot of those making and deploying the IED's are actually quite technicaly sophisticated and have a high degree of training, thus they are likley to realise their worth is greater to the cause alive than dead in a one off.

The mind set is compleatly different even the likes of the Red Army Faction had expectations of surviving their attacks.

Normaly you would only "suicide" as a choice of "last resort" against a high value target.

That is where the value of your life was equitably or better exchanged. The less trained or technicaly competent you are then the lower your value.

Thus the issue with the likes of Hammas paying pensions to widows and children to values that excede the value of an individuals earning capacity. It's thus a rational economic choice to "belt up and blow up a bus" etc for somebody with little or no economic prospects (it's why Israel's war of attrition against those in the occupied areas is compleatly self defeating if their aim is to get peace...).

Civilians will continue to be attacked but only where there is a definate aim or objective such as trying to destroy the tourist industry within the boarders of a home nation where there is crhonic civil unrest (such as Pakistan and the area adjoining India. This is because the "civilian's killed or injured" will actualy increase support for the cause rather than diminish it.

RaeApril 9, 2010 5:48 PM

Doesn't this just mean that they need better hiring standards?

If I were going to get rid of an agency, it would be the TSA, not the Air Marshals.

periApril 9, 2010 7:47 PM

@Clive Robinson

"It can never be that high unless they do four and half flights a day each"

One and a half: Assuming weekends off, two weeks vacation a year and 10 holidays per year it then they only work 65% of the days in the a year and thus must take ~1.5 flights per day to average 4,000 annually:
1 - (2/7 + 2/52 + 10/365.25) ~= 65%
150% * 65% ~= 100%


"So for many reasons only 200-500 flights a day may actually not be that far off "

I'm sorry, I just can't be convinced that on average only 7% of FAMS flies on any given day. I also don't think you want your argument, which probably draws the correct conclusion, to be dismissed because you seriously underestimated the AM duty cycle.


"It's not aircraft flights I used"

I misread it. That number sounds reasonable so that source was probably reliable. However, I think you may be counting the wrong thing. An AM should be able to detect and deal with multiple bombers on a detected flight so I think it would be better to count flights instead of individuals.

Might be more later when I have more time.

Mike YApril 9, 2010 9:33 PM

I'm a bit surprised at the amount of antagonism toward air marshals. I've seen metal detectors that shoot puffs of air frighten children. I've read about body scanners that are so accurate that they embarrass people. I've endured the indignity of a random pat-down by security. Air marshals, by comparison, are unobtrusive and mostly invisible.

@GreenSquirrel offered CCTV in place of an air marshal's observation skill. But observation is more than just using your eyes. You use your ears to eavesdrop. Your sense of smell might pick up something. The air marshal is really interested in the composition of that flight, not the entire airport. BTW, the effectiveness of CCTV has also come under question in this blog.

Other comments suggested a uniform is a more visible and better deterrent. Well, there are already uniformed guards and dogs patrolling the walkways. A mixture of uniformed and undercover personnel is a good thing.

Returning to the lead story, yes, it's disturbing. Maybe we do need to reduce funding, and increase training and selectivity for air marshals. But I'm not ready to toss out the program on a dubious metric (the number of arrests an air marshal makes).

DanielApril 9, 2010 9:55 PM

How about giving the pilots a hand gun and raising their pay to at least minimum wage? Wouldn't that solve the whole problem?

Clive RobinsonApril 10, 2010 4:16 AM

@ peri,

I'm not sure we are talking about the same thing in the same way which has caused confusion...

You said that acording to the report there where 29,000 DAILY flights not the 28,000 CNN said.

You also said,

"If they average one flight a day then air marshals are on about 14% of all flights."

Now 14% of 29000/day is 4060/day.

Now aircraft fly 24x365.25 in the US so there must be shift pattens and rotations which is why I used 40hours/week normalised to 50 working weeks or 2000hours per year for each of the 4000 air marshals giving a total of 8,000,000 hours/year of air marshal time.

Which I then normalised by hours in a year to give an avarage of 912 marshals on duty at any one time

What I wrote,

( 4000*2000 /365.25*24 = 912 marshals / day, 29K*0.14=4060, 4060/912= 4.45)

What I have shown is what each marshal has to do in 24 hours of work. And the number of flights that have to be covered in a 24 hour day.

Although they are both 24 hours, they are not the same, what I did not do was a shift length correction.

The 40hours/week assumption is based on 5 8hour shift days. So I need to divide the 4.5 by 3 which gives 1.5 flights per shift.

Time for a quick cross check ;)

14% of 29000 is 4060 flights per calender day which is 1482915 per year. Now divide by 4000 gives just under 371 flights per marshal per year. 5 working days for 50 weeks is 250 working days or shifts. So 1482915 / (4000 x 250) = 1.482915 flights per marshal shift...

So with out any training or other work admin a marshal has to do one long haul and two short haul every two shifts.

Now for other LEO's the actual "on the job" hours are between 25% and 50% of their work hours.

For instance take the Met Police of whom I know a few when you chat to them about what they do during a shift it becomes quite clear that they see a huge gulf between what they regards as "on the job" and "admin" work (most of them regard their considerable level of training as "on the job" by the way). From what they say even at the junior ranks of warranted officers (constables not CSO's) they are hard pushed to make 50% of their shift on patrol due to paperwork and other admin. Slightly more senior detectives find 25% away from their desk difficult. Then there is "court time losses" and CPS time loss...

So if we assume only 50% "on the job" time for an air marshal they have to average three flights per shift.

Now if you assume that time between flights is as short as an hour and a short haul flight is an hour it would be possible to do four short haul flights per shift.

Provided you did not care where the marshal ended up, or you had a favourable time table (which would only aply to very few routes). Either way it's going to be stressfull to do a shift of four short haul flights.

So only three short haul per shift is realisticaly possible, and even that would have routing / logistic problems.

But you still have to consider long haul and medium haul flights.

You could only do one long haul flight in a shift but importantly you would have to do two long haul as back to back shifts (which might require a "down day" in between).

You could probably (time table permitting) do two medium haul flights in one shift or two short haul and one medium haul in one shift.

So to get your three flights per shift average,

You could do it as a shift of three short haul flights on a fairly regular basis.

Or at a pinch a shift of one medium and two short haul flights.

However if you did a shift of two medium haul you'd have to do a shifts of four short haul to keep up the average and that's not going to be easy.

Like wise two long haul shifts and four shifts of four short haul, which is going to be tough.

Which means to keep your 14% average FAMS are going to favour short haul flights quite heavily. Or lose staff due to stress or much much worse fall into predictable patterns which a terrorist could easily exploit to their advantage...

Predictable patterns is the point I was making about the CNN sampaling. It they talked to mainly long haul and medium haul pilots (as they would be more senior and thus feel more secure to talk to CNN off the record) I could easily see them only seeing 280 covered flights per day due to FAMS heavily favouring short haul flights on a small subset of routes to keep up marshals average flight numbers.

Even if FAMS where not trying to keep up the average number of flights they would still end up with this predictable pattern problem if they had Intel based routing. For instance on long haul they might favour forign "flag carriers" such as British Airways or Air France flights due to where the feeder flights to London Heathrow and Paris (Charles de Gaul) come from. Thus if CNN talked to an American airline or say Virgin Atlantic pilots they would see a paucity of air marshals.

To get a more balanced (between short medium and long haul) and difficult to predict pattern I would be surprised if marshals actually covered a thousand flights a day on average.

Say 3.5% of flights which you would expect to see a variance of +-50% when looking at only a small subset, and then if you only did it for a short period you could get down to CNN's 1% figure.

Which is why I said we would need to see the "raw data" not just for CNN but for FAMS as well. And to be honest I don't think we will see it for either CNN (journolistic priviledge) or FAMS (clasified) nor do I think FAMS will see the CNN raw data or CNN the FAMS raw data.

However the whole issue does open up FAMS to external mathmatical analysis based on what is effectivly Public information simply on the known resources (GAO and others) and the likley resource limitations (from related LEA info) and probable routing (time tables).

I can see an episode of "Numbers" being based on this ;)

datApril 10, 2010 5:50 AM


i hope this report doesn't cause air marshals to arrest people simply to increase the count.

Jonadab the Unsightly OneApril 10, 2010 7:21 AM

It is worth pointing out that making arrests is not the primary or even the secondary purpose of air marshals. Their primary purpose is to help people (especially people who don't fly often) feel safer getting on a plane. Their secondary purpose is to complicate the planning of terrorism against planes, preferably to a prohibitive extent.

It can be argued that the latter is bad strategy, because terrorists will just hit other kinds of targets; but remember that a lot of people are somewhat afraid of flying in a plane anyway.

Putting one air marshal on a plane that carries eighty people is NOT very expensive, because the cost of his salary is split eighty ways. If the measure is working well, he'll never have to make an arrest; that doesn't mean he isn't doing his job. (Okay, so it's a cushy job. I'm tempted to say they should recruit frequent flyers and pay them in ticket discounts to wear a uniform, but the problem is news of that would certainly get out, and then people would be afraid to fly again, because oh no, the people who are supposed to be protecting us are just regular people, so obviously we're all going to die.)

Chris KeatingApril 10, 2010 9:47 AM

I always liked the Air Marshall idea but apparently we can't afford to have them on every flight. $860 million seems like a lot of money for the kind of coverage we're getting but maybe that's what it costs.

What I do not like are idea like "let's give the pilots guns." If you want security somewhere, then pay for dedicated, trained security personnel. Arming pilots makes about as much sense as arming, say, surgeons and then declaring their hospital secure. If it's that important to have armed individuals on aircraft, then they should have dedicated, trained security agents on nearly every flight. It seems to me that pilots have enough to do what with flying the plane... And, in my opinion, random plain-clothed Air Marshals aren't really a deterrent. I think they should be uniformed.

I agree with the Congressman that, after looking at what he says is the real date, the benefits aren't worth the cost. If you only want spotty coverage, then maybe letting off duty cops fly is a good idea -- it seems to work fine for night clubs and concerts.

vulcan@5750.dkApril 10, 2010 10:36 AM

Besides risking to die in a free fal from the skies ,with 200 tonnes of explosive fuel in a vehicle made from steel, you have to accept being humiliated, shuffled around, pose in nude-pictures,and awhole lot of other nonsense -. JUST TO TRAVEL from one place to another.! I boycott air-travel till that has stopped.Developing of SAFE air-vehicles is not done by the industry, only Hover-Swift can claim to be SAFE.

vulcanApril 10, 2010 10:41 AM

P.S. You know of course that the reason for all that is not some guy who lit his underpants (absurd,isn´t it) but the same as why your streets suddenly are full of military,Nazi-looking police that cannot be recognised as anything but military; you are being condtioned for the Nazi-Empires Dictatorship. Your president allready has changed the laws to make it possible;: WHY?

John David GaltApril 10, 2010 12:53 PM

I still believe the major problem with airline security, and a major cause of 9/11, is the fact that the system tries to disarm passengers at all. How about instead, the system encourage anyone with a concealed-carry license in his home state to pack a weapon (preferably with frangible loads) while traveling? I'll bet we'd see a lot fewer incidents, and those would end earlier and with less damage. No group of five thugs is going to be able to intimidate 300 passengers using box cutters if the passengers include a dozen average Joes with pistols in their coat pockets.

Chris KeatingApril 10, 2010 1:35 PM

@John David Galt

I used to do my own oil changes but I stopped because my cars got more complex and my skills didn't. My time has become increasingly valuable and it's actually cheaper to pay a professional mechanic to do it. If you want untrained "average Joe's" to provide airline security, you're probably going to be disappointed with the results.

Also, the argument against the FAMS is that *unarmed* passengers, not Air Marshals stopped the shoe and underwear bombers. After 9/11, passengers realize that they're the last line of security and we act accordingly.

SkippernApril 11, 2010 6:27 PM

After reading this I decided on making an essay on the theme. I know that most types of Law Enforcement are identifiable even when off duty, and people traveling regularly are also easy to be spotted, specially in the lines at airports and other busy travel hubs.

A chance is that a future terror attempt will have this in mind, and find a way to smoke out the air marshal, and maybe even fish for it in order to get more fire-power smuggled onto the plane.

If an air marshal should be fully undercover and undetectable, than he must be an average Joe on an odd travel, but than how can he than be trained?

I believe that the Federal Air Marshal Service is a breach of security, no matter how much deterring effect he have, that is the same as having an unlocked backdoor with no guards on a federal building, somebody will know about it and can use it to his advantage.

GreenSquirrelApril 12, 2010 2:10 AM

@ Mike Y at April 9, 2010 9:33 PM

"I've endured the indignity of a random pat-down by security. Air marshals, by comparison, are unobtrusive and mostly invisible."

I totally agree.

However that doesnt mean they work or are a good use of finite funding.

I have a stone in my house which prevents terrorist attacks. It is totally invisible and is very, very effective - since I have had it, there have been no successful hijackings on a UK flight.

Would you fund it?

"But observation is more than just using your eyes. You use your ears to eavesdrop. Your sense of smell might pick up something. The air marshal is really interested in the composition of that flight, not the entire airport."

Very good point and this is the closest to a justification for one I can think of. It still leaves them a very expensive, inefficient way of giving a small boost to the security of the flight.

However, how effective this addtional "personal touch" is seems hard to determine.

Is it realistic to assume that an air marshall is going to be able to spend his two hours or so before the flight getting close enough to every passenger to determine this sort of information. Are they suitably trained and motivated to know what to pick up on? Or are they going to spend time, like most people in a boring reptetive job, day dreaming and talking to the cabin staff?

"BTW, the effectiveness of CCTV has also come under question in this blog."

I am sure it has but I dont get your point here. I do not agree with everything Bruce says. CCTV is a detective control but must have at least as much of a deterrent as an Air Marshall for anything other than a suicide-intent attacker.

With this form of attacker, however, what does the air marshall do?

If there had been an Air Marshall on the plane with the underpants bomber, and the underpants bomber had been successful, what different would the AM have made?

But all this aside. my biggest issue is that this is a *very* expensive, manpower intensive security solution with no way of measuring its effectiveness nor determining its suitability.

I am not a huge fan in faith based security as experience tells me it is rarely cost effective (or even effective).

Matt from CTApril 12, 2010 11:21 AM

Clive -- I think 50% is seriously over estimating the admin and court burden on Air Marshals.

How much time does it take to type into the laptop, "Another uneventful flight." At the rate of arrest quoted, court time as well as spending time with the prosecutor preparing for court will be minimal.

Aside from the air marshal issue, how much time a police officer spends on service delivery v. administration can get gray quickly.

In my area it is not unusual for a State Trooper to park his cruiser and be merrily typing away on his reports, only to raise his head when his radar gun beeps for someone over the speed limit, or license plate OCR picks up an interesting plate.

He's using that time to do both activities -- filling out administrative paperwork, while also providing the service he's supposed to do of being a visible deterrent and watching for speeders.

MarvinKApril 12, 2010 12:25 PM

I think they'd be better off spending their money on campaigns to teach people how to react to a hijacking. The planes that showed the most resistance and uprising against hijackers did the least damage--and I suspect if people were taught to respond quickly and that there is strength in numbers, they might even have better luck in the case a plane gets hijacked or whatever.

BadtuxApril 12, 2010 3:23 PM

For the person up there who complained about air marshalls being armed: Yes, they are, but with frangible loads which do not penetrate even thin metal. Furthermore, the danger to aircraft from bullets has been grossly overrated due to Hollywood hype. In Vietnam we discovered the hard way that properly designed aircraft will fly even looking like swiss cheese, a few bullet holes through the skin of an aircraft will not do a whole lot to it, aircraft have even had the door opened while at altitude (and promptly ripped off by the airstream) and safely descended and landed. A bullet through the pilot's brain a few moments before landing is pretty much the only bullet that will turn an airliner into an exploding fireball.

As for arrests by air marshalls, I'd expect there to be relatively few arrests done by air marshalls, since their primary purpose is dealing with hijackings and we have not had hijacking attempts since 9/11/2010 and only a couple of bombing attempts (the shoe bomber and the underpants bomber). Other disorderly conduct -- conduct that does not threaten the safety of the airliner or its passengers -- is generally handled by the crew and local law enforcement. In a sense, air marshalls were rendered redundant by the heightened airport security that kept our skies safe from the threat of too-big toenail clippers, it's hard to do anything really threatening with a tiny pair of fingernail clippers, and the crew and other passengers have been able to handle things because of that. As usual, we're fighting the last war, when the battlefront has moved on... even security theatre has proven good enough to keep most real weapons off of airplanes, which in turn means the air marshalls are on board, but with their main reason for being no longer applicable.

DieinafireApril 12, 2010 9:50 PM

The reason why Air Marshals exist? Trafficking. They are never screened and ,with the exception of pilots and flight attendants, are the only people allowed to pass unhindered through "airport security" [sic].

Prove me wrong.

averrosApril 13, 2010 4:49 AM

Of course, I'd rather be in a company of armed civilans who know they'll be judged murderers if they shot me in error, than in a company of any of the many kinds of "Law Enforcement Offficer" who know they'll be given paid vacation (aka "administrative leave") and later be found acting "according to the procedure" by their own internal "investigation" if they shoot me for no reason other than not liking my face.

So. Permit concealed carry on all aircraft and every place else. Fire all Air Marshalls and most other cops. Problem solved.

(It looks like some state legistlatures started to gain a clue... like, Arizona, which decided to legalize concealed carry *without* any permits).

KevlarJacketApril 13, 2010 11:10 AM

@ averros at April 13, 2010 4:49 AM

Yeah, cos a concealed weapon is really useful - thats why soldiers patrol with them hidden.

Obviously Arizona wants a return to the fictional wild west of the cowboy movies where the moment something happens its a race to see who can draw fastest and kill everyone else - in self defence of course.

And should your utopia be realised, with no cops it really is a case of everyone for themselves so why bother concealing the weapon - carry an assault rifle....

Concealed weapons do nothing except comfort the inherent fear their owner feels about interacting with others.

JessApril 14, 2010 12:42 PM

Kev, it seems your discomfort is more with the "weapon" part than the "concealed" part. Don't burden us with your psychoses. Some of us have more reasonable fears, which are focused to a far greater extent on the military-enforcement-industrial complex rather than on an armed citizenry.

AndrewApril 14, 2010 7:38 PM

@Chris

>> What I do not like are idea like "let's give the pilots guns."

I don't like giving up Constitutional rights and liberties in the name of illusory security. This isn't about what we like, this is about what works and doesn't work.

>> Arming pilots makes about as much sense as arming, say, surgeons and then declaring their hospital secure.

There is a long history of pilots flying armed. The surgeon metaphor breaks down quickly because arming pilots is intended as a specific defensive measure against someone interfering with an operation in progress, i.e. altering the flight path of an aircraft. Pilots are well suited by personality and many of them by prior military service to the requirements of close quarters combat aboard an aircraft. Armed pilots, like air marshals, add a level of randomness that substantially interferes with hijacking plans. Pilots are also much cheaper than air marshals, even if one factors in the weeks of training and cockpit / tactical simulator time.

>> And, in my opinion, random plain-clothed Air Marshals aren't really a deterrent. I think they should be uniformed.

No. This makes them far too easy to spot. A uniform is a control measure -- we put uniforms on police and soldiers so the public knows who the players are. Uniforming air marshals would reveal how few there really are and make them a continuous sitting duck in a hijack scenario.

>> If you only want spotty coverage, then maybe letting off duty cops fly is a good idea -- it seems to work fine for night clubs and concerts.

The average police officer is about as trustworthy with a firearm as the average teenager with a racing motorcycle. Negligent discharge incidents are common in law enforcement, common enough that I would want a special training course for any police officers who fly armed.

Actually, I'd open up the course to _anybody_. Law enforcement, civilian CCW holders flying between permitted states, even non-pilot flight crew (with a special Federal airport CCW that covers them in airport and stayover hotels). A main focus of the course would be weapons retention. Frangible ammunition would be required when flying armed. If someone is three weeks and $1000 worth of training serious about flying armed, they can have the seat next to me. :)

@KevlarJacket

Crime is a complex phenomenon and criminals look for attractive targets. You have the inklings of a point regarding concealed carry vs. open carry, except that open carry gives the advantage back to the attacker while concealed carry means the occasional but very unpleasant surprise for said attacker. The whole dynamic is so different aboard aircraft that only concealed carry by trained personnel is truly a viable option. (Others should transport firearms in checked baggage.) CCW in general is a debate outside the scope of this article.

J.D.April 18, 2010 11:14 AM

Question: Why shouldn't the airlines themselves be responsible for there own security?

I think that there is more then one solution to this problem. I think that the industry and the government should look at a defense in depth strategy when dealing with flight security.

Sure allow L.E.O.'s and others with special training (military, CCW holders and such) to fly armed. Require the airlines to take over there own security and treat these folks like rail road police granting them police powers. Finally, continue arming the pilots while expending the program to include more pilots and flights.

At no time do I suggest allowing just anyone to fly armed. I think that there should be background checks and training for these folks.

GreenSquirrelApril 23, 2010 8:04 AM

I realise this thread is probably dead now (or if not it should be) but this seemed on topic:

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/04/22/...

"Federal Air Marshal Charged With Raping Woman in Airport Hotel"

Innocent or guilty, I still fail to see any reasonable argument for them existing or being armed on planes.

E AnthonyOctober 9, 2010 9:32 PM

In reference to the above postings involving air marshals on aircraft, you are all incorrect and absolutely do not know what you are speaking about! That includes Mr. Shiner. I am an Air Marshal and I am highly trained. Even more so than that fraction of elite military forces in firearms and hand to hand combat. It is a correct statement in that there have been more Air Marshals arrested than air marshals arresting people on air planes. We are a force that has not been placed on an aircraft to arrest someone. The purpose of our jobs as air marshals are to "eliminate" the threat to the aircraft first, air crew second and then the passengers. We are counter terrorists with law enforcement authority in special aircraft and maritime jurisdiction, not flipping police officer on a beat! Not to say that police officers are not important people because they are and they place their lives on the line every day.. We are highly trained counter terrorist personnel trained to kill anyone that wants to take over the aircraft and use it as an instrument of mass destruction or to kill the passengers on board the aircraft. When you people can educate yourself to the facts of counter terrorism and what it takes in the different arenas, then speak about the importance of air marshals. People have always got to add their two cents worth that amounts to rubbish and lip service! There were over 300,000 applicants for the position of air marshal after 911, and only 7,000 to 10,000 were vetted as qualified for the position. Needless to say, there were a few individuals that made it through the hiring process that do not deserve to be there or inflated their experiences in order to make it through the hiring process. Regular road police cannot do this job, because it is a federal jurisdictional issue and international jurisdiction issue and agreements made between the US State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and foreign countries. So please zip your lips. I work hard and have sacrificed more than any of you have and could ever yourselves! As far as the airline industry is concerned, we have tried to work as a team with them. There are a few pilots and crew members that are not happy with the authority that we carry and yes there have been some Marshals that are just out right assholes, but we look at it like this; If the airline industry had been doing their jobs in implementing the correct level of security before and on 911 we would not have had a 911! It is so unfortunate that certain people want to be arm chair quarterbacks and think they know everything about the aviation domain when they have NO IDEA of what it takes to combat these ideological and theological inferior genetic cave men! If you really want to know, there are more pilots that fly drunk from their drinking binges the night before they are scheduled to fly than Air Marshals that have been arrested. And those pilots are endangering an aircraft of 150 plus passengers and personnel by flying a 50 to 100 million dollars plus aircraft that could crash into communities and kill all on board the plane and in the community or area the plane possibly crashes. And as a matter of cost effectiveness, PLEASE, there have been hundreds of trillions of dollars wasted on welfare, subsidies, aid to other countries that steal it and not use it for what it was intended for….. SO Please spare the nonsense about the expense!!!! Be a part of the solution people and fight these idiots not a part of the problem and want to give them equal right!

C U AnonOctober 10, 2010 7:57 AM

E Anthony :-

> In reference to the above postings involving air
> marshals on aircraft, you are all incorrect and
> absolutely do not know what you are speaking
> about! That includes Mr. Shiner.

Are you saying everybody above are compleatly and utterly uninformed?

If so that is a very very bold statment to make and would need to be backed up to a significant level.

Also who is "Mr. Shiner"? I see nobody by that name above.

> I am an Air Marshal and I am highly trained.
> Even more so than that fraction of elite military
> forces in firearms and hand to hand combat.

Again that is a very bold statment to make and realy requires to be substantiated.

> It is a correct statement in that there have been
> more Air Marshals arrested than air marshals
> arresting people on air planes.

Just how many real "terrrorists" have the Air Marshal service actually arrested?

> We are a force that has not been placed on an
> aircraft to arrest someone. The purpose of our
> jobs as air marshals are to "eliminate" the
> threat to the aircraft first, air crew second and
> then the passengers.

That sounds like you are claiming Air Marshals are "Judge Jury and executioner" is that the official policy?

> We are counter terrorists with law enforcement
> authority in special aircraft and maritime
> jurisdiction,

I will admit I'm not intimately familiar with the US and International legislative frame work under which Air Marshals draw their authority (how many people realy are?). But from what has been reported publicaly Air Marshals actualy have a very limited remit when it comes to law enforcement within their jurisdiction which again is strictly limited (in both cases for very good reason).

> not flipping police officer on a beat!

Do you mean "not a" or "flipping a"?

I assume the former. Even though it could easily be argued that an Air Marshal's limited jurisdiction and restricted law enforcment remit makes them less than a LEO "on the beat" in terms of capability and legislative authority, even if that where not the case it is still a very disrespectful statment to make.

> Not to say that police officers are not important
> people because they are and they place their
> lives on the line every day..

Yes they do, and the serious injury and fatality rate of Police officers and Air Marshals could make an interesting comparison of the respective risks of each job.

> We are highly trained counter terrorist
> personnel trained to kill anyone that wants to
> take over the aircraft and use it as an
> instrument of mass destruction or to kill the
> passengers on board the aircraft.

That is a very curious statment which presupposes any body you take action against (kill) had the intentions you identify. Also that you could clearly identify that was their intention prior to taking action against them. I will comend to you a little reading matter google "death on the rock" for information about a UK special forces action against PIRA personnel and the subsiquent trial.

> When you people can educate yourself to the
> facts of counter terrorism and what it takes in
> the different arenas, then speak about the
> importance of air marshals.

You are making a significant presumption that all the people who have posted to this blog are not cognisant of various "arenas" of counter terrorism, whilst also presuming that you are cognisant with all are "arenas" of counter terrorism. I know of no acknowledged experts on counter terrorism that would claim to be cognisant with all "arenas".

I am however aware that quite a few European counter terrorism experts (who have significantly more experiance than their US counterparts) actualy regard the US Air Marshal service as implemented in the US to be worse than nothing for many reasons. One of which is the comparison to the Israeli flag carrier, firstly the Israeli system has full coverage of all aircraft whilst the US service covers less than 10% of flights (depending on who you believe it could be as little as 1% of flights with effectivly no coverage on some carriers). Even at 50% coverage which is not economicaly possible the odds of an Air Marshall being on four aircraft (the number used on Sept 9) is only 1 in 8 or 12.5% which gives the terrorists an 87.5% chance of having an aircraft without an Air Marshal to hinder them. Without a doubt this puts the passengers themselves as the first line of defence as seen with "Captain Under Pants" and "Private Hot Foot". That is on simple odds the Air Marshals are going to fail on another 9/11.

>People have always got to add their two cents
> worth that amounts to rubbish and lip service!

That is an extrodinary statment from a US citizen I was under the impression that most US citizens believed in the right of free speech as an essential part of the democratic process.

> There were over 300,000 applicants for the
> position of air marshal after 911, and only 7,000
> to 10,000 were vetted as qualified for the
> position.

And your point is?

If you had read newspapers over the past few years you would know that the US job market has many examples of 300+ applicants for just a single minimum wage job. Of which at best all but one failed to get.

> Needless to say, there were a few individuals
> that made it through the hiring process that do
> not deserve to be there or inflated their
> experiences in order to make it through the
> hiring process.

Again what is your point?

Are you claiming that the Federal Employment Process is deficient or are you claiming that people are either claiming to be not what they say they are or are actually ill suited to the job?

In the commercial environment something like 5% of new hires don't make it throug the probationary period. Many people over inflate or make false statments on their applications, it's known as "CV Inflation" and it is considered so endemic in some fields that employers automaticaly discount to the detriment of more honest applicants (thereby setting up a downwards spiral). Part of staff turnover in new hires is that employers are just as bad at over selling jobs with the result that some hires feel they have been conned.

As for criminal or other socialy unacceptable behaviour, by far the majority of offenders do have jobs when they commit their transgressions. Do you seriously expect Federally Employed persons to be very much different?

If so why?

> Regular road police cannot do this job, because
> it is a federal jurisdictional issue and international
> jurisdiction issue and agreements made between
> the US State Department, the Department of
> Homeland Security and foreign countries.

What is so special about you and other Air Marshals prior to getting your jobs that makes you so different to "Regular road police"?

Or are you making the claim that "Regular road police" cannot go through the learning process for some "mental defficiency" reasons that is officialy verified?

> So please zip your lips.

Tell me with all your specialised counter terrorism training did they not indicate that suppression of free speach by dictators, police states and other repressive regimes is one of the primary reasons that people under these regimes become disafected and in some cases fight back resulting in these repressive regimes accusing them of terrorism etc?

> I work hard and have sacrificed more than any
> of you have and could ever yourselves!

Are you claming that your job is so physically and mentaly arduous that no other job can compare, thus you are fitter than the best athletes and have a better knowledge that top scientists and proffessionals such as doctors, engineers, lawyers or even statesmen?

Likewise are you claiming that the sacrafices you have made personaly are greater than the 3000 persons killed the many more injured and their families on 9/11 that gave rise to your job oportunity?

> As far as the airline industry is concerned, we
> have tried to work as a team with them.

That might be the Air Marshal mantra but it is not that of air industry observers reporting after due diligence on what they percieve as the reality of the situation.

> There are a few pilots and crew members that
> are not happy with the authority that we carry

I know that in the UK and other European nations that various proffesional bodies that represent pilots and the airlines had grave doubts about the idea of "Air Marshals". Not least on the question of the authority and the attendent responsability for safety of the passengers crew and airframe.

Further most have not changed their view point.

> and yes there have been some Marshals that
> are just out right assholes, but we look at it like
> this;

Is this the official view of the Air Marshal service or the locker room / canteen view of the disaffected workers?

> If the airline industry had been doing their jobs
> in implementing the correct level of security
> before and on 911 we would not have had a
> 911!

Ahh the uninformed view. In by far the majority of cases the airlines and airport security personnel where doing as a minimum what they where legaly obliged to do.

And it needs to be noted that little as that was with hindsight it was and still is a dam sight more than any other method of transportation including private flights.

I suggest you go and look up the official story as to why the 9/11 terrorists where allowed to board with box cutters in their possession.

To save you the effort half of the 9/11 terrorists where pulled by the FAA CAPPS system for extra screening (which was carried out) however as they where not carrying prohibited items in their luggage or on their persons they where allowed to board with their weapons of choice and once aboard their luggage was put in the hold.

> It is so unfortunate that certain people want to
> be arm chair quarterbacks

That's part and parcel of living in a democracy.

> and think they know everything about the
> aviation domain

Something you clearly do not.

> when they have NO IDEA of what it takes to
> combat these ideological and theological
> inferior genetic cave men!

Oh dear the 9/11 terrorists where by no means "cave men" they certainly stayed in good hotels traveld first class and enjoyed the good life. It also appears that they where of above average intellect.

Even post 9/11 the majority of insurgents are no more cave men than the coaliton troops they fight and certainly compared to the US population a higher percentage have higher education.

If you are perhaps refering to Captin Under Pants and Private Hot Foot, then you have to take a step back before making a generalization from them to others.

It has been suggested on this blog and in several other places that the two men concerned where of considerable danger to themselves as well as those around them under ordinary circumstances. And based on this not good insurgent or terrorist material as they where congenitaly incapable of being anything other than a significant risk to any team or cell they where attached to.

Thus in effect once recruited they where kept isolated and used as patsies on missions that where actually probably designed to fail.

That is they succeeded in getting the message out that the terrorists are still around, however they neither killed nor hurt others so did not give bad publicity to the terrorists financial supporters and also even when taken alive they had no intel of any worth.

This has actually given rise to some "conspiracy theorists" claiming that they where funded via US taxes as a "fund raiser" for various Federal agencies or NGO's seeking tax dollars.

> If you really want to know, there are more pilots
> that fly drunk from their drinking binges the
> night before they are scheduled to fly than Air
> Marshals that have been arrested.

Is that by number or by normalised comparisson?

Do you actually know the number of pilots that are qualified to fly commercial aircraft into US airspace?

Likewise do you actually know the number of Air Marshals?

Oh and do you know the number of pilots that have actually been tested and found to be above the alcohol limit, let alone been actualy "incapable".

Personally from the statment you have made I realy don't think you do.

> And those pilots are endangering an aircraft of
> 150 plus passengers and personnel by flying a
> 50 to 100 million dollars plus aircraft that could
> crash into communities and kill all on board the
> plane and in the community or area the plane
> possibly crashes.

Yes and by far the majority of passenger aircraft crashes are not in any way related to alcohol consumed by pilots (the figures are not clear so I will not quote numbers).

By far the majority of "pilot error" crashes that aree genuinely "pilot error" the cause has been either ill health or insufficient adherance to training.

> And as a matter of cost effectiveness, PLEASE,
> there have been hundreds of trillions of dollars
> wasted on welfare

I think that is actually very unlikley as a factual statment, It is more of a political or ideological statment.

Welfare is used to provide a minimal level of existance to those who would otherwise be without a legal income.

As has been long established with drugs the cost of crime related to the benifit the criminal gets from the crime is exceptionaly disproportianate.

That is to raise the dollar value for their next fix the cost to society is between 100 and 1000 times as much when it does not involve violence. When vilonce is involved such as murder then depending on whose "life value" figures you use this could be as much as a million times.

So if you stopped welfare payments realisticaly what do you think would happen in the terms of total cost to society?

> subsidies,

These are usually politicaly originated incentives, you can thus judge the value from the political asspect or social asspect. I would usually expect there to be a significant difference in value and benifit to society and the politicians.

> aid to other countries that steal it and not use it
> for what it was intended for…..

Again this is often politicaly inspired. Often "aid" is given as a "political bribe" so it is hardly surprising if it gets misappropriated against it's "officialy designated" use.

It is odd how NGO's such as charities like the Red Cross apear to be able to get a significantly higher level of aid to those it is intended than Governmental organisations. Which raises the question of if those governement organisations are actually competent to hand out the aid, or if the "aid" name tag is just a way of getting the tax money for other political etc reasons.

> SO Please spare the nonsense about the
> expense!!!!

It is US and other tax payer money that funds the Air Marshals they have an absolute right to question not just if it is value for money or not but also the actual amount.

And like all defence spending it is an open question as to what is to much (to little becomes apparent when you are attacked).

> Be a part of the solution people and fight these
> idiots not a part of the problem and want to
> give them equal right!

Equal rights for all is seen as a bed rock for any longterm viable society. When it is absent the society generaly colapses either from within or by external preasure (barbarians at the gates)

A very significant part of why the US is facing the current terrorist situation is that US foreign policy over many decades has made it almost impossible for the situation not to occure.

Part of this is by being "unfair" or not giving "equal rights" to those who's resources the west uses and abuses. Unfortunatly what those who commit such abuses for short term gain do not appear to realise is that it does effect the home economy and thus weaken the US in return in the longterm. Or perhaps they do and realy don't care as long as they are seen to be giving shareholder value.

I need to say at this point that your comments give me significant doubt as to if you are who you say you are or even if you are what you say you are, or have actually recieved any counter terrorism training you claim. Which gives rise to the question as too if you are "tired and emotional" or a "troll". By replying to you I have given you the benifit of the doubt and assumed the former.

Dave (one of many)October 15, 2010 4:52 PM

@C U Anon:

I would have sworn that was Clive Robinson when I started reading the response to E Anthony. Guess someone else writes like Clive...

Anyway, thanks for the nice response to E Anthony. I certainly hope you are correct and that he is not NOT an Air Marshal. Seems like someone with his attitude shoudn't be representing America. But, at the same time, I am afraid that his attitude is fairly common in Gov. After all they DO know better than the rest of us :)

WILLNovember 16, 2010 1:32 PM

I definitely think the Air Marshal service is a much-needed organization. Like the military, the men and women of the agency train and train to do something they hope they never have to do. I tip my hat to them.

Cindy K.November 22, 2010 2:06 AM

My son is going into the Air Marshalls next month. After reading, I am not sure what to expect. He feels he is joining to perform a service for his country. I am proud of him, as you would be your own son for wanting to join.

kwhNovember 24, 2010 10:38 AM

Shame on you Bruce. That's not a legitimate measure of their "effectiveness". They have a complex job, same as anyone else, and they do more than just arrest people. They are working in concert with the FBI and other agencies on investigations. They are certainly not just sitting on a plane and riding back and forth, as this idiot congressman proudly asserts. How insulting.

MattNovember 24, 2010 10:58 AM

Bruce the information you provide has no source or reference. To me it's a great point, but you provide no substantial evidence therefore it lacks validity.

SugoiNovember 24, 2010 1:47 PM

Idea: Instead of focusing efforts on thwarting threats, how about we focus on giving extremist groups/crazies less reason to threaten in the first place?

Phil MayesNovember 24, 2010 2:43 PM

Maybe instead of checking for weapons, we should encourage people to travel as armed as possible. Why isn't the NRA pushing for this? (Before getting all huffy, note that I am in part parodying the NRA position that carrying firearms in, say, a bar makes us all safer.)

Captain StubingNovember 24, 2010 3:04 PM

As a pilot, I would say Air Marshalls are much better security than the theater of the TSA. In fact they are about the only part of government-enforced security that I have any faith in at all. The fact they are making so few arrests really only underlines the fact that flying just isn't as dangerous as the TSA would like you to believe, and that the public, by and large, are decent and law abiding citizens.

If it were upto me, I'd keep Air Marshalls around, and cut the TSA in half, starting with their ridiculous AIT machine and intrusive patdowns, and I would push the TSA towards a security paradigm much more like Israel's personality/behavior-based profiling. It seems to me you could attract brighter and more talented (and better trained) individuals to do that kind of work if you paid people well to do it. So instead of 50,000 goons making $45k a year, you could have 25,000 security experts making $90k/year.

But I guess that just makes too much sense.

O'ReallyNovember 24, 2010 6:37 PM

That's right! I want a cop on every street
corner to protect me! I want a camera in
every room of my house with the feds
watching!

Oh wait, Orwell beat me to it!
1984.
Imagine a boot, stomping on a human
face, forever.
The zionist/satanist Utopia.

KevenNovember 25, 2010 4:34 AM

I was thinking of messing with the TSA guys by acting like I am enjoying the groping, I think it would make their job much less enjoyable (unless they found me attractive)

DMartingApril 18, 2011 9:17 AM

You're all a bunch of fuck!ng retards. Air Marshals are just like the security firm I work at. We get hired to clean up facilities and compounds because of vandalism, thefts, etc. Then, of course, after we do our job for several months and things turn around, the client sees no more need for us because we aren't hooking as many people up and reporting as much damage any more. Their problem has been solved, what do they need us for now? So they cancel the contract. Then what happens? You guessed it. A few months down the road they're begging for us to come back in and clean things up again.

People may be able to spot some Air Marshals, some people probably give themselves too much credit thinking that they've spotted Air Marshals. At any rate, the simple fact that anyone planning anything like 9/11 or the host of other highjackings throughout modern aviation history has to wonder if there may be 1, 2, 3...maybe more, armed Air Marshals on any given flight is worth the cost to protect the flying public.

DaveJanuary 2, 2012 3:12 AM

Hmm, not have us air marshals due to the cost of 200 million per arrest or have terrorists blow up a Super Bowl stadium or during the Olympics. Hmm, I gotta think hard about this one...


Thank god for US Air Marshals (1985-1995) Ret.

C U AnonJanuary 3, 2012 4:05 AM

@ Dave,

"Hmm, not have us air marshals due to the cost of 200 million per arrest or have terrorists blow up a Super Bowl stadium or during the Olympics. Hmm I gotta think hard about this one.."

How do you equate "Air Marshals" who basicaly sit on their arse for most of their overly paid existance with stoping "terroristss blow up a..."

If a terrorist is going to "blow up" something then he is most likley to fill a truck or other road based vehicle with an amonium nitrate based "fertilizer bomb" as they have repeatedly done.

Now unless the "Air Marshals" have some "oh so secret section" that checks every single road vehicle capable of carrying a "fertilizer bomb" 100% whilst not being able to stop the increase in hijacking of such vehicles, I would sugest you either realy don't know what you are talking about, or more likley to protect a pork barrel you are spouting fertilizer from the wrong orifice.

Retired cop and marineMay 20, 2012 8:29 AM

Marshals job is not to make arrests. Its to shoot and kill domeone who attempts to take the plane down. When someone gets a boxcutter on bosrd and starts cutting throats, the heroes will back down. A sky marshal will eliminate the threat.

faisal musallamFebruary 25, 2013 10:42 AM

am looking a job sky marshal. i worked with the Rj jordan airlines fo3 years now am retierd my ayge is 40 yaers i love this job and i like to work agine,,absolutaly this'sthe beast job in the world

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