- The Washington Times - Monday, August 30, 2004


The government hired air marshals accused of domestic violence, drunken driving and sexual harassment, and doesn’t hold them to a high enough standard of conduct, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general says.

“Many federal air marshals were granted access to classified information after displaying questionable judgment, irresponsibility and emotionally unstable behavior,” Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin said in a report released yesterday.

Asa Hutchinson, the department’s undersecretary, disagreed with the report’s conclusions.

In a written response, Mr. Hutchinson said an independent arbitrator reviewed background checks on 161 air marshals who were hired despite having minor offenses in their records. The arbitrator concluded that all but two cases had been handled properly, he said.

Mr. Hutchinson also said new standards and guidelines have been set for determining whether applicants are suitable to be air marshals, whose job is primarily guarding planes while they are in flight.

Thousands of air marshals were rushed into service after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The exact number is classified and the marshals travel undercover, but pilots say they guard only a small percentage of daily flights.

Disciplinary problems with the air marshals arose in 2003. Managers within the Federal Air Marshal Service subsequently found that some had financial, employment and criminal problems in the past, the report said.

Of 161 cases, 62 had been accused of domestic violence or assault, drunk driving or sexual harassment, and half of those were arrested at least twice in the past decade.

One applicant who was offered a job as an air marshal had been denied a gun permit by the state of New York for undisclosed reasons. Another air marshal wasn’t eligible to be rehired by the U.S. Customs Service, which said he is “very aggressive, confrontational and has the potential to get in trouble.”

Others had filed for bankruptcy in the past seven years, misused government resources, been fired, suspended or made to forfeit pay in previous jobs.

Mr. Ervin’s report also said discipline is sometimes lax in the Federal Air Marshal Service.

Between February and October 2002, there were 753 documented reports of sleeping on duty, lying, testing positive for alcohol or illegal drugs while on the job or losing weapons, the report said. In many cases, air marshals were suspended with pay.

Federal airport screeners would have been fired or suspended without pay for similar offenses, the report said. “Since air marshals are weapon-carrying law enforcement officers, they can and should be held to a standard of conduct at least as high as that of screeners.”

Mr. Hutchinson said many accusations of misconduct were less severe — for example, for rudeness or tardiness — than the inspector general reported. He said 101 air marshals were fired between March 2002 and March 2004.

Thirty-two more quit rather than be fired, he said.

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