Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Shoot Me First, But Make Sure I Look Professional

Michelle Malkin's article "Homeland Security for Dummies" in the December 15, 2005, Frontpagemag.com here was right on target.

Tom Quinn's obsession for having Federal Air Marshals (FAM) wear blazers, suits, ties, etc., to look "professional" is a holdover from his days with the US Secret Service and particularly from his assignment with the Presidential Protective Division. He needs to differentiate between looking professional and performing effectively.

The FAMs need to be undercover, but only allowing appropriate attire won't go far enough to establish and maintain their cover. There are other procedural considerations that must be addressed to ensure the FAMs' effectiveness. In general, the procedures must make the FAM indistinguishable from the general public from the time he arrives at his departure airport until he leaves his arrival airport after the flight.

This would not normally be unusually difficult, except the FAM is carrying a firearm. Federal Aviation Administration regulations require armed law enforcement officers to go through one or more too-often public identification and authentication procedures. Those procedures are instantly recognizable by competent surveillance teams working on behalf of the bad guys.

If the federal government is taking the FAM program seriously, its marshals need to be taught how to detect surveillances. Surveillance detection and countersurveillance teams need to be onsite and instantly available to identify and watch those who are trying to spot the FAMs or gather other target assessment information.

Check-in procedures for the FAMs need to be so discrete as to make the FAMs indistinguishable from the rest of us.

On board the aircraft, all armed law enforcement officers need to be known to each other but to no one else. The regulation requiring that already exists. The challenge is for the flight crew to make the notifications without alerting unwitting passengers to the presence and identification of any armed law enforcement officers. The procedures for the FAMs and other armed offices to identify themselves to flight crews must be made more discrete.

Any functional undercover operation requires a great deal of planning and skillful execution if it is to be safe and effective the operatives and invisible to those who do not need to know of its existence. Requiring undercover FAMs to wear particular attire does not enable them to operate safely, effectively, or invisibly. Neither does making them publicly perform administrative measures that make them stick out like a sore thumb.

If Tom Quinn is unaware of the resources in the Washington, DC, area that could help him make the FAM program more effective without endangering his marshals, then he's truly the wrong person for that job.


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