14 Years After 9/11 Attacks, Are Federal Air Marshals Irrelevant?


After the 9/11 attacks, the federal government assembled a small army of undercover air marshals to protect flights and prevent similar hijackings. The new job drew mostly retired, patriotic FBI agents, police officials and U.S. soldiers, who were assigned to assure jittery passengers that it was safe to return to the nation's airports. Fourteen years later, the Los Angeles Times reports, the federal air marshal program is mired in budget cuts, allegations of misconduct and management turmoil, prompting some to question whether the multi-billion dollar experiment has outlived its usefulness. Rep. John Duncan (R-Tn.), a key member of the House Oversight Committee that is investigating problems with the air marshal program, told the agency's new director last month that the program is “probably the least, or certainly one of the least, needed organizations in our entire federal government.” At a price tag of $9 billion over the past 10 years, Duncan called the program “ineffective” and “irrelevant.”

Critics say improved airport-screening techniques and reinforced pilot cockpit doors have raised questions about whether air marshals still play a role. At the same time, there have been no significant in-flight terror threats in more than five years. Some air marshals have complained they feel they are merely “riding the bus” as they hopscotch around on domestic and international planes. Former agents say some field offices have been closed and agents furloughed, and that training and other support services have been curtailed. “I hated every day of it,” said former air marshal Jay Lacson, who said he is suing after being fired for inappropriately releasing confidential job information. “I couldn't stay awake. I got colds. You get complacent. They don't need the agency anymore.”

Comments are closed.