After approving a program to cross-train customs and immigration agents as reserve air marshals for deployment during heightened alerts, Congress quietly abandoned the program over a year ago as a “waste of resources,” the GAO revealed yesterday:
The plan was first disclosed in September 2003 by Tom Ridge, then Homeland Security secretary.
Ridge announced that the air marshals would be combined with immigration and customs agents in the same agency so agents in both could be cross-trained and used for aviation security. The move would allow more than 5,000 armed federal law enforcement agents to be deployed on commercial aircraft, he said.
“This realignment offers a sweeping gain of additional armed law enforcement officials who will be able to provide a ‘surge capacity’ during increased threat periods or in the event of a terrorist attack,” Ridge said at the time.
By October 2004, Homeland Security had cross-trained some immigration and customs agents, but stopped because of congressional concerns that it was “an ineffective use of resources,” the report said.
Eight months ago, air marshals warned the US that they did not have the numbers to provide the comprehensive protection that we had anticipated would be demanded in the aftermath of 9/11. While this article rightly states that the exact number of air marshals remains confidential, the air marshals themselves have repeatedly claimed that they do not have the numbers to meet their current, normal-condition mandate. During an emergency or a heightened alert, we have no reserve on which to call to ensure passenger safety on high-risk flights.
We need Congress to rethink its priorities on air security. Americans took back to air travel on the premise, after 9/11, that we had better levels of security both before boarding and while in flight. The four-year history of the federal Air Marshal service has instead brought mismanagement, politically-correct silliness, dress-code irrelevancies, and now the revelation that no reserves exist if specific threats arise against the American air transportation system. We found out how valuable this system is to the American economy in the aftermath of the worst terrorist attack in history. Surely Congress can burn a few more Bridges to Nowhere to fund the air marshal service and the system of reserves necessary to prevent another such incident.