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Flight marshal numbers disputed
Flight reports by the Federal Air Marshal Service show that federal agents were on less than 10 percent of the nation’s flights in December, a number several air marshals say was inflated to make it appear to Congress that commercial air travel is better protected than it is.
“The numbers reported to headquarters come back higher than originally reported and are sometimes upwards of double the number of what is actually flown,” an air marshal said. “Everyone knows they are padding the numbers.”
FAMS flight reports for December, obtained by The Washington Times, show air marshals were on about 9.4 percent of the nearly 30,800 daily domestic and international flights.
But the marshals say that figure is impossible, because more flights are reported as having armed agents aboard than the service’s 21 field offices can deploy.
The marshals say the numbers are manipulated upward to make it appear as if the agency has met staffing levels that Congress mandated.
Congress members and officials at the Government Accountability Office are the only people outside the Homeland Security Department privy to the number of air marshals and information about the flights they protect.
FAMS spokesman Dave Adams initially refused to comment on the methods used to count missions unless a page of the monthly reports containing the data was faxed to him for verification.
“When CBS had accusations about President Bush’s reserve-duty time, CBS gave them the courtesy to review the document before commenting on it, and I would like the same courtesy,” Mr. Adams said.
After reviewing the document, he only said: “For obvious security and operational reasons, we never comment on the specific locations or numbers of federal air marshals employed around the country on any given day.”
“At the same time, we can neither confirm nor deny the accuracy of the information provided to reporters purporting to detail the locations and deployment of air marshals,” he said.
FAMS has never divulged the number of armed agents protecting planes, except to say that it is in the thousands.
The December reports include the number of flights from all major airports on which air marshals depart, which The Times did not reveal as requested by the Homeland Security Department because of national security reasons.
The Times received some of the flight reports on Monday, the day U.S. intelligence and security officials said new information indicates that al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has asked Iraq-based terrorists to focus future attacks on targets inside the United States.
The officials said al Qaeda wants to rival its September 11 attacks, in which almost 3,000 people were killed in terrorist plane hijackings.
According to the flight reports, the number of missions air marshals flew on any given day ranged from a low of slightly more than 2,000 to as many as 3,400.
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