History is at times our greatest teacher and can help us predict the future if we listen to the lessons already learned. In September of 1970, President Nixon was blindsided when the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) successfully hijacked three jumbo jets and later blew them up in Jordan. At the time, there were just 12 air marshals, and they weren’t flying regularly.
On June 14, 1985, President Reagan was blindsided when TWA flight 847 was hijacked shortly after takeoff from Athens. The passengers endured three days of being held captive, and one American, Navy diver Robert Stethem, was killed. The U.S. had seven air marshals available; yet again, they weren’t flying.
On Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush was blindsided when terrorists hijacked four jumbo jets and crashed them into the twin towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. There were only 33 active air marshals.
Since then, the number of air marshals has increased considerably, to an estimated 3,000 — but not all of them are making sure the skies are safe.
These deployments involve the federal air marshals doing mainly humanitarian work, not duties that have any relation to the typical counter terrorist, transportation security duties they are trained to perform.
Currently, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is sending hundreds of federal air marshals per month to the border. Those air marshals are now not covering high-risk flights, the number of which the agency says is classified.
This is happening as we enter the busiest travel time of the year, a time of year that has seen the homeland attacked twice before. On Dec. 22, 2001 Richard Reid boarded American Airlines flight 63 in Paris and attempted to kill hundreds of passengers onboard by igniting his shoes which were laced with explosives. One Dec. 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Airlines flight 253 in Amsterdam and attempted to ignite explosives that were in his underwear.
History is screaming at us that we are setting ourselves up for failure once again.
Politics aside, the irresponsible decisions being made at the top of the Federal Air Marshal Service and DHS could have devasting implications. We are going into the busiest travel season with high-risk flights uncovered. Our families will be boarding flights assuming our government has their safety and security at the forefront, not realizing their government has prioritized the well-being of migrants at the southern border.
Today, all the members of the Air Marshal National Council (AMNC) join me in calling on Congress to stop the reckless deployment of highly specialized federal air marshals to the border to perform non-law enforcement duties. Let our professional and dedicated air marshals do their job and keep America’s transportation systems safe and secure.
David Londo is the President of the Air Marshal National Council.