Official: Air marshal probe 'appropriate'
From Mike Ahlers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- One federal air marshal has been fired, at least one has resigned and several others have been disciplined in the past two years for disclosing sensitive information to the media or on public Web sites, according to a report released Tuesday.
But the report's author, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security, said it does not appear there has been a "witch hunt" to ferret out employees who talked to the media. Instead, he called the investigations "appropriate under the circumstances."
The Federal Air Marshal Service is an agency that places armed, plainclothes officers on passenger airplanes to stop possible hijackings. Its operations are secret; even the number of marshals is confidential.
But several air marshals have gone public with complaints about alleged shortages in personnel and about a dress code and other policies they say hinder their mission.
According to Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin, the air marshal service has conducted seven investigations and the Transportation Security Administration has conducted two investigations of air marshals for allegedly disclosing sensitive information to the media or public.
As a result of those investigations:One air marshal was fired for divulging sensitive information in a newspaper article, the inspector general said. The air marshal "disclosed specific information about operations, including flight seat location, work schedule, workforce size, and a description of training equipment," the report says. The article also included the air marshal's picture, it says.One air marshal resigned while he was being investigated for writing an article for a professional newsletter without authorization.One air marshal was placed on leave for allegedly making disparaging statements about a boss on a Web site.One air marshal service employee, not an air marshal, resigned while under investigation for disclosing sensitive information to MSNBC.
It was an MSNBC report that gave rise to the inspector general's investigation. On July 30, 2003, the MSNBC Web site published two articles discussing the air marshal service. The first article alleged that TSA planned to remove air marshals from some flights because of budget shortfalls; the second article reported that the TSA reversed the decision.
A month later, MSNBC reported that the TSA was conducting a "witch hunt" to discipline employees who talked to the media. Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, asked the inspector general to investigate.
The Ervin's office interviewed 157 air marshals. Some 120 did not believe that the air marshal service had threatened them, seven refused comment and 30 believed they had been threatened about disclosing information. Five air marshals said they were threatened with arrest if they were found to have released information, even though to do so is not a criminal offense, the report says.
"While the alleged threats ... may have been excessive," Ervin said, he noted that some information considered sensitive prior to September 11, 2001, is now being classified as secret.