Air Marshals On No-Fly List
Some federal air marshals are being repeatedly delayed — or denied — boarding on flights because their name is on a terrorist watch list, Audrey Hudson reports.
False identifications based on a terrorist no-fly list have for years prevented some federal air marshals from boarding flights they are assigned to protect, according to officials with the agency, which is finally taking steps to address the problem. Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) familiar with the situation say the mix-ups, in which marshals are mistaken for terrorism suspects who share the same names, have gone on for years — just as they have for thousands of members of the traveling public.
One air marshal said it has been “a major problem, where guys are denied boarding by the airline.” “In some cases, planes have departed without any coverage because the airline employees were adamant they would not fly,” said the air marshal, who asked not to be named because the job requires anonymity. “I’ve seen guys actually being denied boarding.” A second air marshal said one agent “has been getting harassed for six years because his exact name is on the no-fly list.”
Presumably, these are isolated cases. How many air marshals share a name with a terrorist suspect? One would think, therefore, that this would be a reasonably easy problem to correct, no?
Indeed, one would think that someone who shows up with a gun and an Air Marshal badge would go through a different queue, anyway. How hard would it be to cross check him against the FAM list? Or, for that matter, employ some sort of biometric scan? I had to do that to get into work at a federal facility, even though nobody was carrying guns and there was virtually no classified material being dealt with.
Given that passengers are screened before boarding and that there hasn’t been a terrorist incident on a plane in years, the danger to the public posed by the occasional marshal missing a flight is negligible. The real issue here is that, if the system is managed so incompetently that even credentialed federal agents are being falsely caught in its snare, why should we have any confidence at all that it’s protecting us from terrorism? Isn’t it far, far more likely that virtually everyone tabbed as a terrorist suspect is a false positive? And that, since the existence of the list is common knowledge, an actual terrorist would travel using forged documents under an assumed name? Or that al Qaeda would use “fresh” people to carry out major plots?