Friday, August 25, 2006

New rules let air marshals dress how they want

USA Today
New rules let air marshals dress how they want

WASHINGTON (AP) — Air marshals were told Thursday they will be allowed to dress the way they want and choose their own hotels in order to protect their anonymity while on missions.

Federal Air Marshal Service chief Dana Brown, who has been in the job for five months, said he was changing the rules, starting Sept. 1, after listening to air marshals' concerns.

In a memo to the air marshals, Brown said the dress code was changed to "allow you to blend in and not direct attention to yourself, as well as be sufficiently functional to enable you to conduct your law enforcement responsibilities."

Air marshals had complained that Brown's predecessor, Thomas Quinn, insisted on a too-formal dress code that allowed people to pick them out. The marshals said, for example, that being forced to wear a jacket and collared shirt made them stand out on flights to Hawaii.

The dress requirements were loosened in October, but the agency kept details under wraps. The change announced Thursday leaves it up to marshals how each of them dresses for duty.

Air marshals also won an agreement from Brown to let them choose their own hotels "within economic and related guidelines" to help keep their identities secret.

Marshals claimed that their undercover status was threatened because they had to stay at designated hotels and show their credentials when checking in.

A recent report to Congress found that the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport Hotel in Florida had designated the Federal Air Marshal Service "company of the month" because of the number of rooms it had reserved at the hotel.

Last week, the Homeland Security Department was ordered to investigate whether it fails to protect the identities of its undercover air marshals from passengers, as alleged by a whistleblowing employee.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel ordered the investigation after finding a "substantial likelihood" that the marshals' policies may have violated laws, resulted in mismanagement or put its employees in danger.

Brown has been reaching out to rank-and-file air marshals since he took the job as director. He has said that morale was worse than he thought after speaking with a number of air marshals.

He praised the marshals for helping to restore order in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, evacuating civilians from Lebanon and providing more security on international flights after the recent terror plot in Britain was broken up.

Air marshals were on the Northwest Airlines Amsterdam-to-Bombay flight that was diverted Wednesday after a dozen passengers acted suspiciously.

Thousands of armed, undercover air marshals were rushed into service after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The exact number is classified. They are now a part of the Transportation Security Administration.