- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 4, 2005

A group of federal air marshals is suing top Homeland Security Department officials to challenge internal rules that forbid them from disclosing waste, fraud and abuse within the agency.

The case filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia this week against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Federal Air Marshal Director Thomas Quinn says the rules “smother and prevent the disclosure of information” that could improve public safety efforts aiding the war against terrorism.

The lawsuit also challenges internal investigations of the Federal Air Marshal Association (FAMA) and says marshals are being threatened with disciplinary action and criminal prosecution if they do not reveal other marshals belonging to the nonunion group.

FAMA legal counsel Stephen G. DeNigris says the agency rules are unconstitutional and “nothing more than an attempt by the Federal Air Marshal Service to prevent oversight by Congress and the public at large of an agency rife with mismanagement and pettiness.”

Policy Directive ADM 3700 prevents air marshals from “criticizing or ridiculing” policies or employees, creating or participating on nongovernment Web sites, and bans employees from speaking at public gatherings, appearing on radio or television or releasing information on any matter pertaining to the service, the lawsuit says.

The complaint was filed Thursday and notice sent to the Homeland Security Department (DHS), which has 60 days to respond. “Because it’s pending litigation, we’re unable to comment,” department spokesman Manny Van Pelt said.

Leaks to the press have made Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) managers “paranoid” and they are conducting “fishing expeditions” to discover who is criticizing management and polices, Mr. DeNigris said.

According to one air marshal and FAMA member, the group acts a fraternal organization for marshals and federal flight deck officers (armed pilots) to pursue airline safety issues. The group has been critical of Mr. Quinn and his policies, including the recently redesigned dress code. The marshal said Mr. Quinn is hoping to “silence the masses from being able to criticize problems in aviation security.”

Several marshals in the organization have been interrogated about who the members are, its board of directors and other private information, the lawsuit states. Marshals were threatened with prosecution for even admitting they were interrogated. “If you want to know what happened, I would refer you to the lawsuit,” a second marshal said.

The lawsuit says that FAMA President Terry Babb was interrogated on Nov. 17 and told “his failure to answer their questions could subject him to disciplinary and/or criminal action for interfering with or impeding an official investigation.”

Mr. Babb was ordered to answer questions on the group’s organization, details of its incorporation, dues and money spent and whether members made public statements about the service.

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