- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 3, 2004

The safety of federal air marshals and the flying public was compromised by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) executives during a recent TV news program, says the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, which wants a Senate committee to investigate “unwarranted security disclosures.”

Federal Air Marshal Service (FAM) executives showcased operational security procedures during an NBC program in a “misguided attempt to bolster public confidence,” thus putting agents and the public at risk, John Adler, national secretary for the law officers group, said in a letter to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Apparently, FAM executives have taken the reckless position that providing the world with a step-by-step narrative of how federal air marshals covertly pre-board commercial flights and make threat assessments is somehow going to improve public confidence,” Mr. Adler said. “In effect, they have sacrificed the safety of both passengers and air marshals for several sound bites.

“FAM executives should be focusing on how to support their air marshals make flying safer for the American public and not broadcasting terrorist tutorials,” he said.

The program was aired Feb. 5 and 6. The letter to Mr. Hatch, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, was sent Feb. 17.

The Federal Air Marshal Service, a division within ICE, is assigned with promoting confidence in the nation’s civil aviation system through the deployment of marshals on selected commercial flights to detect, deter and defeat hostile acts targeting U.S. air carriers, airports, passengers and crews.

ICE spokesman Dave Adams dismissed Mr. Adler’s accusations, saying the TV piece was “thoroughly vetted through the highest levels of Homeland Security” to ensure that no sensitive security details were released.

“We worked very closely with NBC in the filming of the program to guard against the release of any security issues,” Mr. Adams said. “It was carefully made to be sure it did not compromise the air marshals or the public. Accusations to the contrary are totally false.”

Mr. Adams said ICE owes the public “a snapshot of this very important agency,” and the NBC program was an attempt to do that. He said it also gave the agency an opportunity to show would-be terrorists and others that the air marshals were a significant deterrence to hijackings.

“The program provided a deterrence for those who might think they could make an attempt to hijack an airplane,” he said.

But Mr. Adler told The Times any would-be terrorist who watched the program would be able to determine whether an air marshal was on a particular flight based on the information disclosed. He said the program documented procedures used by air marshals before every flight on which they are assigned, including the process by which they approach the airline counter and go through the boarding process.

“By showing up at the gate an hour early, a person with evil intentions could easily determine whether air marshals have been assigned just by observing the process outlined on the program,” Mr. Adler said.

“After viewing the program, I believe FAM executives provided the enemy with their playbook and then challenged them to sack their quarterback.”

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