Continued from page 1

“The actual flight numbers are artificially high to give a perception that the aviation transportation system is actually better protected by air marshals than what it is. But we’re suffering from shortfalls in manpower because of mass exodus of marshals in the last two years,” the first marshal said.

The marshals also say the number is inflated because agents who leave the service but remain employed by the federal government and can be used by FAMS are still counted as marshals, as are Border Patrol agents used during peak travel periods.

At one time, FAMS employed the 4,000 agents mandated by Congress, but the number has been halved, marshals say. Based on the number of guns issued, there are about 2,200 marshals stationed nationwide to fly seven days a week.

During Senate hearings on the September 11 commission report in the fall, Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, questioned whether there has been a decrease in the number of air marshals protecting aircraft and demanded that FAMS provide her office with data.

Mrs. Boxer’s office did not return calls last night.

Marshals always travel in teams — a minimum of two agents and sometimes as many as four per plane. This means a minimum of 1,100 teams protect domestic and international flights. With sick days, regular days off, vacation and medical leave, it is statistically impossible to cover even the minimum number of flights listed by the report on any given day, the marshals say.

“The numbers don’t add up; it’s way too much,” a marshal said. “Several field offices have complained about it and were told to shut up. This is a scam.”

More than 2,600 flights were listed as covered on Christmas Eve, 2,039 on Christmas Day and 2,893 on New Year’s Eve.

“The numbers are impossible,” said another air marshal.