Senator’s Inquiry Follows Allegation that 99%

 Flights Have No Air Marshals on Board 






WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. John Kerry wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff today, urging him to provide more information about the number of flights in the U.S. that are actually covered by a Federal Air Marshal (FAM). The letter is in response to allegations made in the media by whistleblowers, which indicated that less than one percent of flights are actually guarded by an armed officer. The importance of having this last backstop of security on board America’s airplanes is not lost on a nation that still bears the scars of the September 11th attacks

“After September 11th, the government promised to make our skies safe again. Billions of dollars were spent to ensure that Armed Marshals were covering commercial flights, so that if every other safety precaution failed, someone would be on board to prevent disaster,” said Kerry. “But now whistleblowers tell us that the promise of Air Marshals may be a mirage. This isn’t what Congress intended. The American people deserve to know what has happened with the Federal Air Marshal program to keep passengers safe.” 

The text of Kerry’s letter is below: 

April 1, 2008 
Secretary Michael Chertoff 
United States Department of Homeland Security 
Washington, D.C. 20528 

Assistant Secretary Kip Hawley 
Transportation Security Administration 
601 South 12th Street 
Arlington, VA 22202-4220 

Dear Secretary Chertoff, 

The Federal Air Marshal Service has provided a crucial last line of defense against the hijacking of commercial flights since its inception in 1970 (then called the Sky Marshal program). After the attacks of September 11th, Congress authorized the dramatic expansion of this program and dramatically increased its funding so more flights could be covered and the public’s confidence in the safety of air travel could be restored. 

Unfortunately, however, recent press reports indicate that less than one percent of the commercial flights within the United States have a Federal Air Marshal (FAM) on board. Given the crucial function that these Air Marshals perform – as well as the billions of federal dollars that have been spent on the program since 2001 – these reports, if true, are unacceptable. While recognizing that certain facets of this program are classified, Congress must be kept informed as to the basic parameters of this program and how many flights are actually covered by FAMs. 

As you know, I have been a long-standing advocate for the Federal Air Marshal program. According to CNN, Dana Brown, Director of the FAMs, suggested that there were “many thousands” of FAMs around the globe. To that point, I respectfully request your assistance in answering the following questions: 

• Is this number accurate? 

• What is the total coverage for flights, how does this compare with the previous seven years, and do you feel it is adequate to secure our flights and provide an effective deterrent? 

President Bush called attention to the value of this program in his September 20, 2001, address to Congress in which he said: “Tonight, we face new and sudden national challenges. We will come together to improve air safety, to dramatically expand the number of Air Marshals on domestic flights, and take new measures to prevent hijacking.” While I understand the need for certain aspects of this program to remain classified, more information must be made available to the Congress to ensure proper oversight and to reassure public that they are safe in the skies. 

Thank you for your consideration of my request. I would appreciate a response to my questions before April 11, 2008. 


John F. Kerry