Report: Air marshals concerned they are too visible

A House committee released a report Wednesday providing insight into rank-and-file federal air marshals' views on how their jobs could be improved.

One recommendation in the report, which included comments that air marshals submitted to the Transportation Security Administration over the past four years, was to end their requisite boarding with the airline flight crew, and instead board the plane with passengers.

"We need to be more secretive and blend in more," said one air marshal, whose name was redacted in the Judiciary Committee report.

Marshals have to identify themselves to up to 10 airline employees on a flight, which could pose a security risk, the marshal said. "Many of these employees are not discreet and state out loud what we do," the comment, dated Aug. 28, 2002, stated.

Health issues and fatigue also came up repeatedly. A summary of responses from 35 federal air marshals listed health issues and fatigue first out of 24 suggestions.

"Sinus and ear problems are becoming a major concern," the summary stated, citing headaches, vertigo, nausea, joint pain and muscle cramps as recurrent problems, especially when air marshals had to watch over more than three flights in a day.

The federal air marshals cannot discuss specific policies or procedures, said agency spokesman Conan Bruce. However, "quite a few [policies cited in the report] have already been changed" and others are under consideration, he said.

"We support the overall objectives of the report," he added.

Some complaints resembled what managers might expect of employees who work long hours on a tight schedule.

Another summary of comments from 35 marshals asked for eight- or nine-hour shifts and requested that authorities balance the number of overnight flights marshals must take. It also sought more variety in airlines marshals oversee.

"Throw us a bone every now and then," a comment suggested.

The report included one dispatch -- a resignation letter from former air marshal William Meares, which also was sent to five senators, two congressmen, the House Judiciary Committee and former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn -- that contained accusations that went beyond the other comments.

"There is no question that terrorists … can easily determine whether or not a particular flight is covered by air marshals," Meares wrote on Sept. 7, 2004. He criticized prearranged rates at hotels that identify federal air marshals "to unscreened hotel employees."

"It has been alarming and disappointing to watch how [Federal Air Marshal Service] managers have squandered their opportunity to fulfill such a critical mission at such a critical time," Meares wrote.

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