A program created after 9/11 to protect the flying public is being abused by Congress, according to an association representing federal air marshals, essentially creating, in their words, a VIP “concierge service” for members.
The Air Marshal National Council, which represents some of the nation’s roughly 2,000 air marshals, says the problem began after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Following that, some fearful lawmakers began requesting security — not just on Capitol grounds, but to and from their districts and even to vacation spots.
The Transportation Security Administration, which runs the Federal Air Marshal Service, began reassigning agents from “high risk” commercial flights to accompany members of Congress instead. This angered some sky marshals, as protecting the public is their primary mission. Capitol police, and when necessary the U.S. Secret Service, are tasked with protecting lawmakers. After 9/11, then-President George W. Bush gave the air marshals responsibility to protect the flying public, upping the number of agents from 33 to more than 4,000. Today, the program covers some 30,000 commercial flights a day.
“Air marshals can only be assigned to high-risk flights. That means flights that have been deemed through our vetted process that have a security risk,” said Sonya Hightower LoBasco, executive director of the Air Marshal National Council. “When these processes are violated and they’re taken advantage of and they are just tossed to the side now as if they don’t matter, we’re really looking into creating a major problem for ourselves in the aviation domain.”
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