- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The House Judiciary Committee has initiated a congressional inquiry seeking answers from the Federal Air Marshal Service as to what flights are protected and the possibility of its undercover agents being exposed by a dress code.

Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and committee chairman, and John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat and ranking member, set an Oct. 15 deadline in a letter to Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) Director Thomas D. Quinn to answer seven pages of questions.

The letter specifically cites a July 9 story in The Washington Times reporting the strict dress code, and references three other reports that terrorists are probing flights, that marshals cover less than 5 percent of daily flights, and security problems raised by its hotel policy.

“We are concerned by media reports, as well as reports from other sources, detailing alleged security gaps in air travel,” the letter says. “As part of our oversight responsibilities, the committee has the duty to ensure that the efforts of the FAMS are effective. We also owe a duty to the American public to do everything we can to make certain that air travel is as safe as possible.”

Lawmakers want to know if the dress code, which in some offices mandate suits or sports coats on all flights, is harmful in identifying the undercover agent. One team of marshals covering a Southwest Airlines flight out of Columbus, Ohio, was pulled from protecting a plane during a high-alert period because they were not wearing sports jackets.

The committee asked for reports of all disciplinary action against agents for not adhering to the dress code.

“Moreover, we are concerned about reports that air marshals are required to stay in certain designated hotels and identify themselves specifically as federal air marshals, not just as government agents,” the letter says.

FAMS spokesman Dave Adams said they have received the letter and will respond.

“We received it. We are obviously concerned about the same issues the Judiciary Committee addressed in their letter. We’ve been asked, and have answered most of those questions already by members of the House, and we fully intend to comply with all of the requests made in this letter,” Mr. Adams said.

The committee began the inquiry after womenswallstreet.com reporter Annie Jacobsen reported a June 29 incident aboard Northwest Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles and suspicious behavior of 14 Syrian passengers, which marshals and pilots say resembles a “terrorist probe.”

The letter asks for a summary of probes that have been reported and investigated, as well as conclusions.

“I think it’s a terrific display of the check-and-balance system at work as it should be,” Mrs. Jacobsen said yesterday. “I don’t know which I’m more excited about, reading the questions or looking forward to the responses.”

The committee asked about a policy directing FAMS to file at least one “surveillance detection report” a month that marshals say has led to the filing of fraudulent reports.

Classified information such as the exact number of marshals has been requested, as well as the number of flights covered each day, the size of the aircraft being protected and distance traveled. Some marshals say they are rarely flying 757s cross-country, which terrorists used September 11, and instead are flying smaller aircraft two to four legs a day.

Marshals also say the ammunition they use is too powerful and can go through a terrorist and hit a passenger or the plane’s hydraulics. The committee asked numerous questions about the ammunition and agent training.

Mr. Quinn said the bullets used would incapacitate a terrorist, but not exit the body.

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