- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Homeland Security officials acted correctly in investigating federal air marshals who criticized the agency or divulged sensitive information, according to an inspector general’s report released yesterday.

“These investigations, and actions taken by Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) against air marshals as a result of these investigations, were appropriate under the circumstances,” the report says.

Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin said the findings are based on an internal directive that forbids the law-enforcement officials from speaking to the press without authorization, “criticize or ridicule” government agencies, post messages on the Internet or divulge information classified as sensitive security information (SSI).

The report found that 11 investigations of marshals were conducted for speaking to the public, to the press or on the Internet and that at least three investigations resulted in dismissal, resignation or administrative leave for an undisclosed number of marshals.

At least one investigation occurred after press reports last year that the number of cross-country and international flights protected by air marshals was being cut back to save money.

After the cuts were publicized by MSNBC, the TSA transferred $9 million back to the flight budget, the report says. The Washington Times reported recently that protecting cross-country flights remains a low priority for the FAMS and that instead, marshals are flying two to three short flights each day.

“There was a temporary decline in the number of flights that air marshals flew beginning on Aug. 1, 2003. Flights decreased as much as 17 percent before returning to normal again on Aug. 6, 2003,” the report says.

In mid-August, MSNBC reported that management was conducting a “witch hunt” to determine who leaked the information, and Rep. Jim Turner, Texas Democrat and ranking member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, asked Mr. Ervin to investigate whether there had been retaliation.

Out of thousands of air marshals in 21 field offices, 157 air marshals in eight offices were interviewed, and 30 said they had been threatened about releasing information to the public.

“Five air marshals from two field offices said they were threatened with prosecution for disclosing information to the press or public. They said their supervisors’ threats included being led away in handcuffs, being fired and prosecuted, or being subjected to polygraph exams if the leaks continued,” the report says.

However, the inspector general (IG) questioned the legal accuracy of whether the policy allowed for arrest and prosecution for releasing a government record.

The report also said there is no evidence to support accusations that threats were made to take action against marshals under the Patriot Act.

David Adams, FAMS spokesman, said the report “substantiates we did not conduct any type of witch hunt against out employees, and we feel the IG report is a fair representation of our offices and our personnel.”

“The IG found no evidence of retaliation in talking to the press or public, and also said neither the FAMS or TSA threatened to take any action under the authority of the Patriot Act,” Mr. Adams said.

Air marshals discounted the report, which examined incidents last year, and said retaliation continues against agents, some in the past few months.

One marshal accused of leaking a memo was grounded and ordered to wash cars for a week in August. The marshal said he was not the leaker and asked the inspector general to investigate, but he said the request has been ignored.

The leaked memo was key to a story that a quota system to file reports forced some marshals to file false surveillance-detection reports.

Frank Terreri, federal air marshal agency president with the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, was put on administrative leave last month, just days after his organization released a public statement announcing a vote of no confidence in FAMS director Thomas Quinn.

“Our action was not an ad hoc reaction, but routine procedure consistent with policy,” Mr. Adams said.

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