The Homeland Security Department’s sense of fashion is endangering the lives of federal air marshals by making them conspicuous to terrorists, says the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.
Marshals, they say, must follow a strict dress code and military grooming that is enforced by the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS).
According to memos obtained by The Washington Times, marshals must wear a suit, or a coat and tie, when flying from all cities, even traditionally casual locations such as Orlando, Fla. Their hair must be worn in a conservative style. No beards are allowed, and dress shoes are required for both men and women.
Marshals have nicknamed their neckties the “hangman’s noose” because they say it allows an attacker from behind to incapacitate them.
“The bottom line is these guys are supposed to blend in a crowd on a plane, and no one should be able to pick these guys out from the rest of the people on a flight,” said John Amat, spokesman for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA). “There have been many instances where air marshals have been picked out by travelers; people give them the thumbs up and thank them.”
The strict dress code is a response to complaints from the airline industry that marshals were inappropriately dressed in jeans and T-shirts or sweat shirts, said Dave Adams, spokesman for FAMS in the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Homeland Security Department.
“We deem it appropriate when traveling on mission status to be dressed appropriately,” he said.
A federal air marshal who spoke on the condition of anonymity called the dress code “ridiculous.” Managers wait for marshals to deplane to check whether they are cleanshaven and wearing proper attire.
“We are not asking to wear shorts and flip-flops and look like beach bums,” the marshal said.
The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) said air marshals “look like FBI or Secret Service agents straight out of central casting,” and the Allied Pilots Association said changes are needed immediately to protect the officials’ identities.
Homeland Security spokesman Brian Doyle said each of the 21 field offices has the discretion to allow marshals to dress appropriately for the region and weather.
Mr. Adams said, “We deny those allegations [of the dress-code details]” from FLEOA and AFA, whom he said are “stating inaccurate information that is sensitive security information.”
“I am not going to discuss the effectiveness of the guidelines being disseminated outside, and releasing sensitive security information to the media is doing the organization a disservice,” he said.
According to one memo from the air marshal office in Orlando, male officers “will wear a business suit or sport coat with dress pants and tie, or sport coat with dress pants and collared shirt. Jackets are required for male air marshals. In addition, male and female air marshals must wear leather dress shoes (as opposed to docksiders or athletic shoes).
“You will not compromise your cover simply by dressing professionally,” the memo said.
One frequent flier from Florida said the marshals are easy to spot and look like “military Ken dolls.”
“You can tell who they are; no one dresses up to travel anymore, and most offices are business causal,” the traveler said.
A memo from the Chicago office says men must wear a business suit with a collared dress shirt, tie and dress shoes. Female marshals must wear business suits with a blouse, knit top or dress shirt and dress shoes.
“With sufficient justification and the advance approval of the respective (agent in charge), FAMS will be allowed to deviate from the above requirements. However, this will not be a routine occurrence.”
The memo also said, “Anyone found not to be in compliance with this policy will be placed in a leave status. Moreover, all dress violations will be considered misconduct and followed up with quick and firm disciplinary action.”