Maxine Waters among lawmakers accused of abusing privilege of air marshals on flights
A program that was created after September 11th to protect the flying public is being abused by Congress, according to an association that represents federal air marshals and, in his words, essentially creates a VIP "concierge service" for members.
The Air Marshal National Council, which represents some of the nation's roughly 2,000 air marshals, says the problem started after the January 6 riot at the Capitol. Following this, some fearful lawmakers called for security - not just for Capitol reasons, but to and from their districts and even vacation spots.
The Transportation Security Administration, which operates the Federal Air Marshal Service, instead began reassigning agents from "high risk" commercial flights to escort members of Congress. This upset some sky marshals as protecting the public is their primary responsibility. The Capitol Police and, if necessary, US intelligence are there to protect lawmakers. After September 11th, then President George W. Bush made the air marshals responsible for protecting the flying public and increased the number of agents from 33 to over 4,000. Today the program includes around 30,000 commercial flights per day.
"Air marshals can only be assigned to high-risk flights. This means flights that have been identified as safety-related as part of our screening process pose a safety risk," said Sonya Hightower LoBasco, executive director of the Air Marshal National Council. "When these processes are violated and exploited and now they are just tossed aside as if they don't matter, we are really trying to create a big problem for us in the aviation sector."
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Some of the traveling lawmakers already have security data, while others who requested the service have skipped their scheduled flights. This is based on records verified by Fox News. It was also reported that lawmakers from both parties were using the service - sometimes for official reasons, sometimes for personal travel.
One such flight, according to a complaint filed with the House Committee on Ethics, involved Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Who flew from Washington DC to Minneapolis on April 17 to attend the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Waters was already accompanied by two armed Capitol Police and two US intelligence agents when she allegedly asked two air marshals and two other marshals to accompany them to the airport as they touched down.
On Friday evening, the US Capitol Police and the US Secret Service denied these claims that Fox neither granted protection to the congressman during the flight.
"Congressman Maxine Waters has misused numerous government resources," the complaint said. "Federal Air Marshals were removed from a 'high risk' flight to cover Ms. Waters' flight to Minnesota. The high risk flight took off with no armed law enforcement on board, leaving a national security void."
"Air marshals for the Miss Waters trip were given high risk missions, removed from those missions and reassigned to the Miss Waters mission in addition to their already armed security detail of the Capitol Police," Hightower said. "This was not an official business trip. We still have no justification as to why government resources were used to fly Miss Waters to Minnesota."
Another air marshal familiar with the incident said: "It's ridiculous. There are now 30,000 other flights without armed agents."
Waters did not respond to multiple inquiries from Fox News.
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TSA issued a statement stating: "Following the January 6th events at the US Capitol, the Transportation Security Administration has increased the presence of security and law enforcement agencies throughout the transportation system to include airports and airplanes on board for those traveling Protect the public, including members of Congress. ""
Harassing lawmakers in public isn't new, but Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) say convention flights are not their primary role.
"Placing FAMs on airplanes simply because a member of Congress requests it is a tremendous abuse of government resources," said David Londo, president of the Air Marshal National Council, in a complaint to the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department on April 20. The FAMs are now removing agents from regularly scheduled "high-risk" flights to get them on flights with members of Congress, most of whom already have their own federal armed security data on board. It has become some kind of extremely expensive concierge service for members of the Congress. "
Fox News is told that Congressmen wanting security should call the Capitol Hill Police, which will call a TSA connection, which will then call the request or type it into the Air Marshal's mission operations computer. According to Hightower, "all flights were covered regardless of whether the VIP was on board." Federal air marshals work in teams of two.
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Another representative, not affiliated with the Marshal Group, admitted that the Congress' VIP or concierge services had been "greatly expanded" after the January 6 uprising. When asked why TSA participated, he said, "They know where their bread is buttered."
What is not clear is whether the Capitol Hill Police force will apply a "threat rating" to the request of Congress or simply approve all of them, regardless of rank or target.
The US Capitol Police did not respond to several Fox News inquiries regarding legislative inquiries. But the agency went out of its way to dismiss a certain claim made by the Air Marshal National Council following this story. "The USCP had no officers or agents on the plane with Rep. Waters," a spokesman told Fox.
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