It has emerged that Federal Air Marshals have been involved in over 200 incidents of negligence relating to firearms between 2005 and 2017. Some as serious as leaving a duty pistols in bathrooms and accidentally discharging their weapons in hotel rooms.
CNN have reported on documents they have obtained relating to the Air Marshal service’s mishaps with firearms. Some of the reported issues were as simple as improper storage of firearms but others were more serious such as self inflicted gunshot wounds.
There are 19 cases of air marshals accidentally firing their weapons, one recent case involved a marshal shooting himself in his right foot while another in 2013, resulted in a round being fired in a hotel room which passed through an adjoining wall and hit a telephone in the next room.
Numerous cases of firearms being left in bathrooms, both on board aircraft and in airports, are documented. CNN report that at least 13 incidents involved alcohol while other documents showed that air marshals were frequently working while sleep deprived. A study conducted by the Division of Sleep Medicine of Brigham and Women’s Hospital at Harvard Medical School discovered that 75% of air marshals flying domestic missions tired – likely increasing the risk of serious errors while on duty.
Issues with marshal training have also been documented with one instructor allegedly throwing simunitions into a fire causing detonation and debris to hit a colleague in the face. Daniel Kowal, a supervisory air marshal and section chief at the agency’s Atlantic City training facility, responded saying: “When we hear incidents like this, we immediately convene a panel to address them and we look at what was the underlying cause, what happened, if and when the training failed, how and why did it fail, and how do we plug that gap.”
Brian Borek, agency president at the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, who represents air marshals, responded to CNN’s report saying “These challenges are not unique to FAMS (Federal Air Marshals Service) agency, however. This exists at all large-scale organizations. This in no way translates to the readiness or skill set of air marshals. They are the best in the world.”
UPDATE 12/1/2018: TSA Public Affairs:
“The documents CNN possesses, which span 12 years of reporting (2005-2017), demonstrate that the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) addressed disciplinary matters on far less than one percent of the workforce, and we are proud of the thousands of highly skilled and trained Federal Air Marshals (FAMs) who keep our skies safe every day. Federal Air Marshals come from all walks of life spanning towns across America and are dedicated and professional public servants. They come to work every day for one reason: to protect the traveling public. It is due to their dedication and service that we all have this valuable layer of security. The safety and well-being of all of our FAMs is paramount, TSA and FAMS understand the unique challenges of its workforce and continually evaluates quality of life issues and makes adjustments to address workforce concerns. Despite the insinuation that firearms training is inconsistent, FAMS has achieved a nationwide qualification level that exceeds the standards for a firearm instructor, that doesn’t happen without consistent training.”“The Transportation Security Administration’s training methods and procedures are designed to ensure our workforce is mission ready while maintaining security and protecting the traveling public. The Federal Air Marshal Service’s (FAMS) top priority is to deploy resources on flights, both domestic and international, to mitigate any threat. FAMS training is fundamental for accomplishing our mission and mitigating the challenges of the current threat environment.”