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January 21, 2005
Air Marshals Snow-Blindness Leaves America Unprotected

First we have the Federal Air Marshals making themselves obvious to anyone flying by wearing professional clothing on board flights, a highly visible target for any terrorists who want to commandeer a commercial flight. After we complained that the air marshals should blend in, we find out that they in fact disappear entirely when it snows:

Hundreds of federal air marshals were grounded and unable to access critical information to pinpoint potential terrorist activity for eight hours on the eve of President Bush's inauguration after snow paralyzed the Mission Operations Center in Washington, said several air marshals and a supervisor. The marshals said they could not reach the Mission Operations Center (MOC) by telephone to be placed on other flights after hundreds of flights were rerouted because of the snow, and marshals seeking information on reports of a dirty bomb in Boston were unsuccessful. "They were flying blind," said the supervisor, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "An inch of snow shut down the Federal Air Marshals system's [ability] to gather, receive or request information.

"It basically put the entire aviation security system and flying public at risk because the air marshals were not able to properly do their jobs," the supervisor said.

The supervisor said MOC sent out a message at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday that the "system was shut down and they were not answering phones or anything" because they did not have enough staff working.

One inch of snow kept the air marshals incommunicado? Pardon my disbelief, but one inch of snow barely qualifies as a storm in Minneapolis. Did the 911 centers in DC shut down? Were planes grounded in DC? Obviously not. People went to and from work, and phones got answered all over the city. On Inauguration Day, when one reasonably could expect some terrorist activity if it happened at all, eight hours passed by before air marshals started flying again.

The Washington Times has multiple sources for this report, but the official word is that everything was just fine at the MOC and it remained fully staffed. The FAMS spokesman, Dave Adams, refused to say how many people showed up for work but that they had no problems answering the phone. That leaves us with someone lying about the problem, either the agents and the supervisor or Adams, and neither choice makes me feel any safer. If Adams lied, then FAMS needs an outside task force to take over and start running the agency like an emergency-response team rather than a civil-service backwater.

On the other hand, if the agents and supervisor lied, it points to a severe morale problem in what should be a highly-motivated specialty interdiction team. That indicates some sort of fatal disconnect between management and the agents, one already known to exist because of the terminally stupid dress code that FAMS director Thomas Quinn imposed on his agents. Again, it appears to call for a high-level review of FAMS management.

Congress and the White House needs to address this situation. If Northwest and Delta can put the planes in the air, FAMS should be able to answer the phone. Anything else, especially on Inauguration Day, is unacceptable.

Note: It doesn't surprise me in the least that Michelle Malkin is all over this story.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 21, 2005 6:30 AM

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» Snow In DC! Run For Your Lives! from Hoodathunk
When I moved to northern Virginia 17 years ago, I remember being nearly stunned at the reaction the locals here have to even a forecast of snow. People mob the grocery and home improvement stores and wipe out a week's supply of bread, milk, toilet pa... [Read More]

Tracked on January 22, 2005 8:22 AM

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