Federal Air Marshal Service: Wikis


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Air Marshal
USA - FAMS.jpg
USA - FAMS Badge.png
Names Federal Air Marshal
Type Public Safety & Homeland Security
Activity sectors Commercial aviation
Competencies Willingness to travel independently and extensively, excellent physical shape, firearm proficiency, leadership, communication and motivational skills[1]
Education required US citizen under age 40, psychological screening, prior experience in similar field (e.g. security or airline travel), intensive training program[1]
Fields of employment Commercial airliners
Related jobs Policeman, SWAT, counterterrorist

The Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) is a United States federal law enforcement agency under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Air Marshal service is meant to promote confidence in civil aviation by effectively deploying Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) to detect, deter, and defeat hostile acts targeting U.S. air carriers, airports, passengers, and crews.[2]

Because of the nature of their occupation, Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) often travel in pairs, and sometimes in groups of three. As officers, they are required to maintain one of the highest standards for handgun accuracy.[2] An FAM's job is to blend in with other passengers on board aircraft and rely heavily on their training, including investigative techniques, criminal terrorist behavior recognition, firearms proficiency, aircraft specific tactics, and close quarters self-defense measures to protect the flying public.[2]



The air marshal program was originally created by President Kennedy in 1963. He ordered that federal law enforcement officers be deployed to act as security officers on certain high risk flights.[3] The Federal Air Marshal Service began in 1968 as the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Sky Marshal Program. It was initially composed of 6 volunteers from the FAA's Flight Standards Division who were trained in firearms at Brownsville, Texas. Later, it became an integral part of the Civil Aviation Security Division of the FAA and was expanded using volunteers from that division. These personnel were given firearms and some close quarters combat training at the FBI Academy located on the US Marine Corps training grounds at Quantico, VA.

In 1969, in response to increasing acts of air piracy, President Nixon ordered the immediate deployment of armed federal agents on United States commercial aircraft to counter the increasing threat of air piracy by unbalanced individuals and terrorist organizations. Initially, the deployed personnel were federal agents from the Department of Treasury. Subsequently, the United States Customs Service formed the Division of Air Security, and established the position of Customs Security Officer. Approximately 1700 personnel were hired for the position of Customs Security Officer and were trained at the Treasury Air Security Officer training complex at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia. CSO's were deployed on US registered commercial aircraft flying both on domestic and international routes in an undercover capacity in teams of 2 and 3. CSO's also handled ground security screening on selected flights at domestic US airports.

Following the mandatory passenger screening enacted by the FAA at US airports beginning in 1973, the Customs Security Officer force was disbanded and its personnel were absorbed within the US Customs Service. By 1974 armed Sky Marshals were a rarity on US aircraft and the former CSO's had been reassigned as Customs Patrol Officers, Customs Inspectors, and Customs Special Agents. [4]

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan requested the expansion of the program and Congress enacted the International Security and Development Cooperation Act, which expanded the statutes that supported the Federal Air Marshal Service. Contrary to the impression given in the TSA Our Mission statement, the FAM program was begun in response to domestic hijackings and FAM operational flights were almost exclusively conducted on domestic US flights until 1985. After the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in 1985 and the enactment of the International Security and Development Cooperation Act, the number of FAMs was increased and their focus became international US Air Carrier operations. Due to resistance of several countries e.g., the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany to having individuals carrying firearms entering their countries the coverage of international flight operations was initially spotty. As resistance to the entrance of armed personnel to their countries was overcome through bilateral negotiations and agreements reached as to the terms and handling of the weapons when they were brought in country, the FAMs were able to operate worldwide in carrying out their mission to protect US aviation from hijackings.

Air Marshals were originally designated as US Customs Security Officers assigned by order of President John F. Kennedy on an as-needed basis, and later were specially trained FAA personnel.[5] Also contrary to the impression from the TSA Our Mission statement, the Customs Officers were phased out in 1971-1972. Many of them transferred to the FAA Civil Aviation Security Division to serve as Aviation Security Inspectors and also in the volunteer FAM program directed by the FAA's Civil Aviation Security Division.

Prior to September 11, 2001, the Federal Air Marshal Service consisted of varying numbers of FAMs depending upon the perceived threat and funding availability. Only 33 FAMs were active on 09/11/01.[6] As a result of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered the rapid expansion of the Federal Air Marshal Service. Many new hires were agents from other federal agencies, such as the U.S. Customs Service, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, ATF, IRS CID, and many others.[7] A classified number of applicants were hired, trained, and deployed on flights around the world. As of August, 2006, this number is estimated to be in the thousands.[8] Currently, these FAMs serve as the primary law enforcement entity within the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

On October 16, 2005, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff officially approved the transfer of the Federal Air Marshal Service from the Bureau of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) to TSA as part of a broader departmental reorganization to align functions consistent with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "Second Stage Review" findings for:

  1. consolidating and strengthening aviation law enforcement and security at the Federal level;
  2. creating a common approach to stakeholder outreach; and
  3. improving the coordination and efficiency of aviation security operations.

As part of this realignment, the Director of the Federal Air Marshal Service also became the Assistant Administrator for the TSA Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), which houses nearly all TSA law enforcement services.

Securing other modes of transportation

Since July 2004, TSA has provided supplemental personnel to assist mass transit systems during major events, holidays, and anniversaries of prior attacks. These TSA personnel deploy as Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams (VIPR teams), whose goal is to provide a random, unannounced, unpredictable, high-visibility presence in a mass transit or passenger rail environment. The level of assistance transit systems request depends on a transit system’s local political and security environment. A VIPR team may combine various types of TSA assets including federal air marshals. Beginning in July 2007, TSA significantly increased the number and frequency of VIPR deployments, from an average of one exercise per month to one or two exercises per week.[9]

There were issues with federal air marshals and early VIPR deployments. TSA field officials said the initial exercises put their safety at risk. TSA required federal air marshals to wear raid jackets or shirts identifying them as air marshals, which potentially compromised their anonymity. In response to this concern, TSA changed the policy; federal air marshals now attend VIPR exercises in civilian clothes or jackets that simply identify them as DHS officials. Some transit security officials reported that federal air marshals were unfamiliar with local laws, local police procedures, the range of behavior encountered on public transportation, and the parameters of their authority as federal law enforcement officers.[10]


  • Assistant Administrator TSA Office of Law Enforcement (OLE)/Director of FAMS: Robert S. Bray [1]
  • Deputy Assistant Administrator TSA OLE/Deputy Director of FAMS
  • Assistant Director, Office of Field Operations
    • Deputy Assistant Director, Eastern Region (11 Field Offices)
    • Deputy Assistant Director, Western Region (10 Field Offices)
  • Assistant Director, Office of Flight Operations
    • Transportation Security Operations Center
    • Systems Operations Control Division/FAMS Mission Operations Center
    • Investigations Division
    • Liaison Division
    • Flight Programs Division
    • Emergency Preparedness Division
  • Assistant Director, Office of Training & Workforce Planning
    • Training Management Division
    • Federal Air Marshal Training Center (New Jersey & New Mexico)
  • Assistant Director, Office of Security Services & Assessments
    • Office of Security
    • Office of the National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program
    • Security Assessments Division
    • Explosives Division
  • Assistant Director, Office of Administration & Technical Services
    • Management & Organization Division
    • Management Operations Division
    • Policy and Procedures Division
    • Infrastructure Support & Development Division


Federal Air Marshals or Civil Aviation Security Specialists go through an intense, two-phase training program. The first phase of the program is a seven-week basic law enforcement course. This training is completed at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artesia, New Mexico; Air Marshals also receive follow-on training at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in New Jersey. Their training is tailored to the role that the Federal Air Marshals will be performing while on the job. Some of the specific areas covered in this training include constitutional law, marksmanship, physical fitness, behavioral observation, defensive tactics, emergency medical assistance, and other law enforcement techniques.

The second phase trains the candidates for tasks that they will be expected to carry out in the field. This training places an emphasis on perfecting the marksmanship skills of the candidates; a necessity of the job due to the tight confines of an aircraft, as well as the number of bystanders. Candidates who successfully complete this training will be assigned to one of 21 field offices, where they will begin their missions.

Equipment and practices

The Air Marshals may be deployed on as little as an hour's notice and at high risk locations.[6] Undercover Air Marshals were deployed on flights in and out of New Orleans during Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002; flights coming near Salt Lake City during the 2002 Winter Olympics; and cities visited by President George W. Bush.[11]

Federal Air Marshals carry the Sig Sauer P229 service pistol in a .357 SIG chambering. As noted above, Air Marshals must be re-certified on their firearm quarterly. According to an anonymous Air Marshal, they are trained to "shoot to stop", typically firing at the largest part of the body (the chest) and then the head to "incapacitate the nervous system".[12]

Under the service's original dress code policy, Air Marshals were required to conform to a strict dress code, well-shaved and with a conservative haircut.[citation needed]

Federal Air Marshal Frank Terreri of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) successfully sued senior executives of the Department of Homeland Security complaining that policies prevented Air Marshals from speaking out that current policies (such as their strict dress code, "Federal Air Marshal discount" mandatory grouping hotel policy, airport policies that force Air Marshals to walk up security checkpoint exit lanes, and priority aircraft pre-boarding before handicapped passengers and passengers flying with small children) make Marshals easy targets for any possible hijackers, making them stand out as the government agents concealing firearms, and thus eliminating their effectiveness.[13] A policy change in August 2006 allows Air Marshals to wear whatever clothing they want and stay at any hotel to protect their anonymity,[14] but former Director Dana A. Brown in 2006 enforced the policies that mandate FAMs to both walk through security checkpoint exit lanes and pre-board aircraft in full view of general passengers in the terminal.[15]

FAMS under Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Budgeting issues within the TSA created tension between funding for airport screeners versus the FAMS, and in time the FAMS was realigned to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The reasoning was that the FAMS could be re-designated as Criminal Investigator/Special Agents and would have a career path. ICE also had an investigative division with Special Agents specializing in investigating immigration and customs violations. Those immigration and customs agents would be cross trained to serve as supplemental FAMS in the event of a national emergency or in response to intelligence requiring additional marshals on flights.

Ultimately, one of Asa Hutchinson's final decisions before resigning as head of DHS's Border and Transportation Security Directorate was the issuance of a memorandum determining that Air Marshals would not also be ICE Special Agents. In 2005, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff conducted a second-stage review of DHS' organization and ordered the FAMS to be moved from ICE and back to the TSA. The move to TSA was effective October 1, 2005.[16]

Incident involving Rigoberto Alpizar

On December 7, 2005, Federal Air Marshals shot and killed 44-year-old U.S. citizen Rigoberto Alpizar, a passenger of American Airlines Flight 924, on a boarding bridge at Miami International Airport.[11]

According to initial media reports of the incident, a fight broke out between Alpizar and his wife,[17] after which Alpizar suddenly ran up the aisle from the back of the plane. Lonny Glover, national safety coordinator for the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, said: "As the man came forward it was obvious that he was upset ... That's when one of our attendants at the front of plane told him, 'Sir, you can't leave the plane.' His response, she said, was 'I have a bomb.' It was at that point that the air marshals gave up their cover and pursued him out the door and up the jet bridge."[12]

On December 8, 2005, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said that the President was satisfied that air marshals acted appropriately in the Alpizar shooting.

Sensitive Security Information (SSI)

Sensitive Security Information (SSI) is a label used for unclassified information that could compromise aviation safety.[18]

On July 29, 2003, the FAMS Agency Executive Vice President for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), FAM Robert MacLean, disclosed that the FAMS planned to remove air marshals from long haul flights in order to avoid the cost of an overnight hotel stay.[19] The plan was ordered when TSA was faced with a budget shortfall and right after DHS issued a July 26, 2003 warning that terrorists were planning to smuggle weapons onboard aircraft leaving the U.S. East Coast, United Kingdom, Italy, and Australia with the intention of hijacking them. After Congressional outrage, the plan was cancelled before going into effect. This plan was at odds with the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA), whose Section 105 states that "Deployment of Federal Air Marshals... [on] nonstop, long distance flights, such as those targeted on September 11, 2001, should be a priority."[20]

MacLean was fired for "Unauthorized Disclosure of Sensitive Security Information (SSI)" as a result of his whistleblower disclosure.[21] He is challenging this charge in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He claims that his termination was a retaliatory act in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)[22]and a spending ban in appropriations law, commonly known as the Anti-Gag Statute.

Other controversies

In recent years the Federal Air Marshal Service has been the subject of controversies related to the number of flights that are actually manned by air marshals and of criminal activities involving air marshals. CNN conducted an investigative report by Drew Griffin that included current and former air marshals that accused TSA of hyping the numbers of manned flights and of poor quality training.[23] [24] The TSA has rejected the report and pursued investigations into personnel who gave interviews to the media. They also responded to the accusations. [25]

Another investigation was conducted by reporter Amy Davis of Houston news station KPRC into the possibility that air marshals with criminal convictions were still being employed by FAMS.[26][27] The investigation discovered that 28 had been hired with pre-existing misdemeanors and that several current air marshals had been convicted of or awaiting trial for disorderly conduct and DUI's to sexual crimes against children. The investigation led to US Congressman Ted Poe of Houston getting involved.

On August 6, 2006, two air marshals were sentenced in the Southern District of Texas (Houston) after having been convicted of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and bribery charges. According to a DOJ press release "Shawn Ray Nguyen, 38, and Burlie L. Sholar, 33, were sentenced to 87 months and 108 months in federal prison, respectively, by United States District Judge Kenneth Hoyt on Monday, August 28, 2006. Nguyen’s lesser sentence is a result of the court’s consideration of his cooperation with the United States." [28]

See also


  1. ^ a b http://jobprofiles.monster.com/Content/job_content/JC_Military/JSC_PrivateSecurity/JOB_FederalAirMarshall/jobzilla_html
  2. ^ a b c "Federal Air Marshals". http://www.tsa.gov/lawenforcement/programs/fams.shtm. Retrieved 2006-10-29. 
  3. ^ Price, Jeffery C.,and Forrest, Jeffery S., Practical Aviation Security (Burlington, M.A.: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2009), 138
  4. ^ http://www.cbp.gov/xp/CustomsToday/2004/June/other/sky_marshal.xml
  5. ^ http://www.tsa.gov/lawenforcement/mission/index.shtm
  6. ^ a b "Air marshals grounded over 'security'". news.bbc.co.uk. 2003-06-23. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3020570.stm. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  7. ^ http://public.cq.com/public/20060911_topten_fams.html
  8. ^ Charles, Deborah (2006-08-25). "Air marshals to go native; dress code relaxed". news.yahoo.com. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060825/od_nm/usa_airmarshals_dc_1. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  9. ^ DHS-OIG-08-66 TSA’s Administration and Coordination of Mass Transit Security Programs, June 2008, p. 6
  10. ^ DHS-OIG-08-66 TSA’s Administration and Coordination of Mass Transit Security Programs, June 2008, p. 28-29
  11. ^ a b "Shooting Puts Air Marshals in Spotlight". Associated Press. 2005-12-08. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,178039,00.html. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  12. ^ a b Thomas Frank, Mimi Hall & Alan Levin (2005-12-08). "Air marshals thrust into spotlight". USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-12-07-air-marshals_x.htm. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  13. ^ Federal Air Marshal Association (2004-09-24). "FAMA Press Release" (PDF). FAMS Director Refuses No Cost Changes Enhancing Aviation Security. http://famaonline.com/MediaRelationsDocuments/PRESSRELEASE20040924.pdf. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  14. ^ "DHS Gets Rid of Dress Code, Hotel Regulations for Air Marshals". Associated Press. 2006-08-25. http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,210368,00.html. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  15. ^ "Air Marshals Denied Boarding After Altercation With Flight Crew". ABC News. 2006-11-15. http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2006/11/air_marshals_de.html. Retrieved 2006-11-15. 
  16. ^ http://www.dhs.gov/xnews/releases/press_release_0703.shtm
  17. ^ Quijano, Elaine et al. (2005-12-09). "White House backs air marshals' actions". CNN.com. http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/12/08/airplane.gunshot/index.html. Retrieved 2006-08-25. 
  18. ^ "GAO-05-677 Report on SSI". The U.S Government Accountability Office. 2005-06-29. http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d05677.pdf. Retrieved 2005-06-29. 
  19. ^ "Memo Warns Of New Plots To Hijack Jets". The Washington Post. 2003-07-30. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A64871-2003Jul29?language=printer. Retrieved 2003-07-30. 
  20. ^ "Section 105 of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act". The Library of Congress (Thomas). 2001-11-17. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/cpquery/?&sid=cp107GKkxU&refer=&r_n=hr296.107&db_id=107&item=&sel=TOC_30593&. Retrieved 2001-11-17. 
  21. ^ "Ex-air marshal to sue over 'SSI' label". The Washington Times. 2006-10-30. http://www.washingtontimes.com/functions/print.php?StoryID=20061029-115609-8718r. Retrieved 2006-10-30. 
  22. ^ "Whistleblower Protection Act". U.S. Office of Special Counsel. 2006-11-30. http://www.osc.gov/wbdisc.htm. Retrieved 2006-11-30. 
  23. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2008/TRAVEL/03/25/siu.air.marshals/index.html
  24. ^ http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/04/16/griffin.marshal.training/index.html
  25. ^ http://www.tsa.gov/press/happenings/fams_statement_cnn.shtm
  26. ^ http://www.click2houston.com/investigates/17121409/detail.html#story
  27. ^ http://www.click2houston.com/investigates/17121409/detail.html#video
  28. ^ http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/assets/press/OIGpr_060829_Nguyen.pdf

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