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Wed, Apr 26, 2006

Are Air Marshals Put At Risk By Their Own Agency's Policy?

Often, "Trusted Agents" Aren't Allowed To Board Discretely

If you're a federal air marshal whose job depends on anonymity, it's kind of tough to remain anonymous if you're asked to board the plane as part of a team -- in full view of the passengers who are waiting in the gate area.

That's why, two years ago, the FAA designated air marshals as "trusted agents." That meant they could board the plane at anytime -- or stay on board the aircraft during layovers -- even if the crew wasn't on board the aircraft.

So, why, then did the Federal Air Marshal Service order them to disregard that new rule and continue boarding at the convenience of the airlines? In essence... that means the marshals' ability to board discretely rests with a single gate agent.

United Press International has obtained restricted documents that show the government doesn't want marshals on board unless there is at least one airline representative already on board the aircraft. This has raised concerns among marshals -- some of whom have become whistleblowers -- who say their safety is being compromised, often at the whim of that single gate agent.

And every time they get on board an aircraft, the marshals say, the procedure is different.

Bodgan Dzakovic, a former team leader in the pre-9/11 air marshal service, told UPI that one solution would be to have TSA workers meet the marshals, and escort them through security barriers onto the ramp area, where they could board completely out of sight of other passengers. Currently, air marshals are only allowed such access at their home airport.

"Now that the marshal service is back inside the TSA," said Dzakovic, "these kinds of arrangements should be easier to make."

Marshals say almost anything would be an improvement over the current system... or lack thereof.

'All I can tell you is, the situation is ridiculous," said Federal Air Marshal Frank Terreri. "We are treated like nuisances."

FMI: TSA's Air Marshal Homepage

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