So says David M. Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service. Some are criticizing the official dress code which requires marshals to make the standard government fashion statement: jacket, tie, short hair, shined shoes. Today’s traveler is getting more and more casual in attire, which means that marshals stick out more and more. Case in point: As they settled into first class on American Airlines Flight 1438 from Chicago to Miami, they were supposed to be the last line of defense against terrorists — two highly trained U.S. air marshals who would sit unnoticed among the ordinary travelers but spring into action at the first sign of trouble. Imagine their chagrin when a fellow passenger coming down the aisle suddenly boomed out, “Oh, I see we have air marshals on board!” The incident, detailed in an intelligence brief, is an example of something that happens all too often, marshals say. The element of surprise may be crucial to their mission, but it turns out they’re “as easy to identify as a uniformed police officer,” the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association said in a complaint to Congress. Still, Adams, the Marshal spokesman, defends the dress code: “If a guy pulls out a gun and he’s got a tattoo on his arm and [is wearing] shorts, I’m going to question whether he’s a law enforcement officer.” Sure, at some point someone who looks really outlandish might not command the same respect, but that doesn’t mean they all have to dress like Fox Mulder. Can we at least get these guys some polo shirts? In other air safety news, what will become of the TSA? The anti-terrorism agency that Congress rushed into existence just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks to protect America’s planes, trains and trucks is shrinking and could all but fade away. The Transportation Security Administration, which hired some 65,000 employees and has spent more than $10 billion over 3 1/2 years, has been beset by complaints about its performance, leaving it vulnerable to congressional Republicans who want to reduce the size of government. After the terrorist attacks, “people were panicked to put in place a massive bureaucracy,” said House Aviation Subcommittee Chairman John Mica. The Florida Republican says the time has come to rethink TSA and cut it back. Also, check out Bob Poole on air safety.
Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.