Federal air marshals have identified 444 suspicious persons and were involved in 28 arrests – none for terrorism – since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The Los Angeles Times says the figures were included in a report by Congress’ General Accounting Office due today.
The marshals unit a little more than 30 marshals and a $4.4-million budget before the terrorist attacks to several thousand marshals and a budget of $545 million. The exact number of marshals is classified. The report said that 96 percent of the marshals are men, 73 percent are white and 72 percent are between the ages of 31 to 45. Congressional investigators recommended that the service improve its system for tracking the hours worked by marshals, for whom fatigue is a leading job-related problem. “The report put to rest a lot of my concerns, but I’m not quite comfortable,” said Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), who requested the investigation. “We’re going to continue to monitor this program. I want to make sure the marshals continue to provide safety for the flying public.”
While encounters with 444 suspicious persons may sound alarming, that number is very small in the context of 35,000 airline flights and an estimated 1.8 million passenger trips a day. “A suspicious person can be someone who acts nervous,” said the GAO’s Gerald Dillingham. “These were not 400 potential terrorists. They were people who, for whatever reason, struck a marshal as suspicious.”