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Douglas J. Hagmann
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By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

26 March 2008: In the event you missed it, CNN aired a special investigative report last night, concluding that of the 28,000 commercial flights originating in the U.S., fewer than one percent are protected by Federal Air Marshals. The CNN report is outlined at this link, and is the product of a number of interviews with air marshals speaking to CNN in off-the-record interviews.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) strongly denies the claims outlined in the CNN report at “the actual number of flights that air marshals cover is thousands per day.” Their response is on their web site here.

What then, is the truth?

Since last fall, I have spoken to several individuals who are currently employed as federal air marshals. Each interview was conducted under the strict condition of anonymity as the federal employees stated that they were not at liberty to talk. In each case, however, there was a dominant issue that was raised by those charged with insuring the safety of the flights they handled: FLIGHTS CONTINUE TO BE AT RISK.

Information obtained from each source was consistent in content:

1. Air marshals are only on a small percentage of flights. Although no one source would commit to a number, those who offered general statistics put the number at under ten percent;

2. Each source referenced the TSA’s bloated budget, cited by CNN at $720 million this year alone - where is the money going?

3. Each source also cited the method used by the TSA to identify “covered flights.” According to the sources interviewed by CNN, “the marshal service considers a flight “covered” even if an air marshal is not on board — as long as a law enforcement officer or pilot in possession of a firearm is on board, even if that person is flying for personal reasons. The number of “covered flights” is thereby intentionally exaggerated.

These findings by CNN are consistent with the information developed independently by the Northeast Intelligence Network.

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