CNN reports that armed federal air marshals fly on fewer than 1 percent of U.S. airline flights, or fewer than 280 out of roughly 28,000 each day.
The network bases that finding on anecdotal observations by one unidentified airline pilot, and an unidentified federal law enforcement officer, not an air marshal, who regularly flies in and out of Washington, D.C.
Air marshals themselves, also speaking on condition of anonymity, tell the network that the 6.5 percent flight “coverage” claimed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is impossible given staffing levels. The TSA, however, classifies flights “covered” if they have armed flight deck crew members, or armed law enforcement officers onboard as passengers, according to the report.
In this case, as others, TSA reminds readers that its goal is to allocate available resources based on risk. Last May, ABC news reported that five to six U.S. marshals flew on each flight inbound from Germany, amid intelligence reports that terrorists might be planning to blow up multiple airliners simultaneously over the Atlantic.
The marshals interviewed, however are “especially troubled” by a lack of coverage on flights in and out of New York City and Washington,D.C., the country’s financial and polticial capitals, respectively, as well as al Qaeda’s targets on 9-11, according to CNN.
Douglas R. Laird, CPP, president of Laird & Associates, Inc., and former head of security for Northwest Airlines, told Security Management that terrorists are well-aware of the long odds that air marshals would be present on one or more planes targeted in a coordinated attack.
Conversely, terrorists learned on 9-11 that passengers are willing to sacrifice themselves to thwart an attack, Laird said.
Laird thinks that a small contingent of air marshals could be maintained to cover high risk-flights like last springs, but says most of the program’s funding would be better spent on security research and development, he said.