After reading the Homeland Security Today report, Federal Air Marshals Fail to Assess Capabilities, by former Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) agent Clay Biles, I wasn’t the least bit surprised that things are still as bad in the FAM program as Biles described — I was in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) version of the FAM program from 1988 to 1992 when the program was a disaster waiting to happen (not much different than how Biles described it now), and was a FAM team leader from 1993-1995 when the program was turning into an elite organization. We got rid of most of the dead weight and greatly increased the physical fitness and shooting standards, but we only had about 50 FAMs in the program.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), of course, grabbed control of the FAM program after the 9/11 attacks and basically devolved the program back to its original disastrous state.
“There is nothing so important as trifles,” said Sherlock Holmes.
Early in my federal career, I adopted Mr. Holmes’ methodologies and deductive reasoning to help me do my job. I obtained results far in excess of the capabilities of our intelligence, law enforcement and security agencies combined; what with identifying the terrorist threat before the 9/11 attacks and attempting to prevent them (among other incidents), as well as recognizing the lack of the government’s ability to prevent the attacks by just focusing on the trifles and applying a few deductive reasoning principles.
In my testimony before the 9/11 Commission on May 22, 2003, I stated, “what happened on 9/11 was not a failure of the system, it was a system designed for failure.” A crisis in government, not just a few bureaucracies. The crisis is worse now than it was in the lead up to 9/11.
In 1988, after we were hit with another round of terrorism (relatively mild compared totoday) I joined FAA Security with the intention of helping them fulfill their anti-terrorism mission. I was a Federal Air Marshal from 1988 to 1992. While on paper we had the same physical fitness, academic and shooting standards as most of the other federal law enforcement agencies, no one ever failed. If a candidate failed to complete the two mile run in the allotted time, they’d conduct a private re-test of the individual the following day with the turtle miraculously passing the run with seconds to spare.
The same thing occurred with shooting standards. One female in my basic class had trouble pulling the slide back on her pistol during the reloading drills, contorting herself into a standing yoga pretzel while pointing the pistol at all the FAMs to her left. The range instructors let it happen. One instructor told me they were “burned” by their bosses for adhering to strict range-safety rules in a previous class, and weren’t about to go through that hell again for pulling a minority female off the firing line.
A male colleague had a negligent discharge of his firearm while in my office, narrowly missing killing someone. Instead of disciplining the shooter (a minority male), headquarters made all the FAMs under-go basic firearms familiarization training all over again — basic Girl Scout stuff. I quit the FAM branch in 1992 after sending a letter to the Inspector General’s Office complaining of incompetent management. As an American with a Slavic background, I am very sensitive to the need for a workable Equal Employment Opportunity system that makes sense.
The bombing of PanAm 103 in 1988 was a wake-up call to the politicians that pulled the strings of the bureaucracies. In the early 1990’s, they appointed a retired Marine Corps general to run the FAA Security Division. The general shelved political correctness and focused on the mission. He transformed the FAM branch into an elite organization, getting rid of most of the dead weight by adhering to upgraded physical fitness and shooting standards. During this time frame if terrorists attempted to hijack a plane with FAMs on board, they would have been killed before they could blink twice. I am honored to have played a part in this era of the program as a FAM Team Leader. The general’s tenure ended in the mid-1990’s, and he left an indelible mark in my mind on what can be accomplished with responsible leadership from the lowest supervisor thru the highest pay grade.
Unfortunately, however, after the general left, the FAA reverted back to the best of its Tombstone Agency behaviors. I quit the FAM branch shortly thereafter and became a Team Leader of the FAA Red Team in 1995. The Red Team was another positive development from the PanAm 103 disaster, but lacked something in its implementation designed to replicate the tactics and equipment terrorists would use against the civil aviation system around the world. We repeatedly documented that a half-witted terrorist could do anything, anytime and virtually anywhere he wanted too. We reported this deplorable state of affairs to the highest authorities in FAA. They did nothing.
In August 1998, I sent a letter to the FAA Administrator as well as the Secretary of the Department of Transportation trying to convince them there was “a dangerous culture of mismanagement within the Security Division of FAA,” and that the United States “faced a potential tidal wave of terrorist attacks.” They did nothing.
In late 1999, my good friend and colleague, Steve Elson, put together a large stack of documents (loaded with trifles) which he collected from FAA Security folks from around the country proving FAA’s malfeasance, and placed them in a blue binder he labelled, The Big Blue Book of Death. Starting about two years before the 9/11 attacks, Elson and I delivered this book with an accompanying briefing to the Office of Inspector General and to the Government Accountability Office. They did nothing. We then began banging on the doors of individual Congressmen. They did nothing.
The two most prominent Congressional offices we visited were Senators John McCain and John Kerry. While we were able to deliver a one hour briefing as well as the The Big Blue Book of Death to a senior staffer in McCain’s office, she just blew us off; not the least bit concerned.
We attempted to get into Kerry’s office, but he would have nothing to do with us since we weren’t his constituents. Later, we were joined by another colleague who was a constituent of the senator. Months before the attacks, Brian sent a letter to the Senator accurately describing the likely probability of multiple airplane hijackings and crashing planes into various targets. The Senator did nothing.
Prior to the 9/11 attacks, the FAA was known as the "Tombstone Agency," preferring to let people die before they made security improvements. It’s management of the FAM program was a clue to this; just another trifle. After the attacks, of course, the government took the aviation security responsibilities away from the FAA. But rather than kill off the Tombstone Agency’s way of doing business, the government copulated with it and produced a monster child called TSA, as well as the mother of all bureaucracies, the DHS, neither of which learned the hard lessons from the failure prone Tombstone Agency.
Our politicians have a history of rewarding failure prone bureaucracies by continually dumping more tax dollars on them — the more they fail, the more money they get.
The 9/11 Commission blamed a “failure of imagination” and a “failure to connect the dots.” I submit that the government had too much imagination in the lead up to the attacks bordering on hallucinations; it’s not that they failed to connect the dots, it’s they didn’t want to connect the dots. It was more important for them to maintain the bureaucratic status quo rather than prevent the horrible deaths of 3,000 people. All they had to do was look at the critical facts (trifles), which they had delivered to them on a silver platter. The 9/11 Commission wasn’t just a whitewash, it was the mother of all deceits!
After the attacks, most of the FAA managers and employees automatically transferred to TSA. Those who chose to could finish out their government careers within FAA – totally unscathed, most with promotions. When you combined the worst of the tombstone managers of FAA with the newly hired misfits of TSA, the resulting bureaucracy makes the FAA bureaucracy look like an elite anti-terrorism organization in comparison.
After the attacks, I filed a formal Whistleblower Disclosure with the United States Office of Special Counsel (OSC), an independent agency that reports directly to the President. The OSC agreed with most of my allegations against FAA. President Bush did nothing.
I was transferred to TSA shortly after the attacks. Until I was forced to retire in 2014, I was entombed in an entry level staff job fit for a monkey. Congress set up a system whereby a federal employee can report gross violations of waste, fraud, abuse and threats to national security caused by government mismanagement, but even if you followed the procedures to the letter of the law, Congress allows the same bureaucracies to persecute whistleblowers any way they wish. President Obama actually did do something; he prosecuted more government whistleblowers than every other president combined.
If our politicians and bureaucrats would have at least admitted the errors of their ways, then appropriate steps could have been taken to correct these problems. Currently, security is no better than it was before 9/11, based simply on TSA’s Pink Team (as I called it in my 9/11 testimony) assessments, which have revealed it’s even worse in some cases, all while spending our tax money like oil sheiks on a drunken buying binge. Our current President has vowed to drain the swamp; but I doubt he realizes just how putrid the place really is.
Bogdan Dzakovic earned his Master’s degree from Northeastern University in 1983 with a concentration in security administration. He’s a former Coast Guard Officer and former Special Agent with the Naval Investigative Service. From 1988 until 2014, he worked for the government in the aviation security field as a Team Leader in the Federal Air Marshal Service as well as a Red Team leader. He was one of the few people who actively tried to prevent the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He filed whistleblower cases against both the FAA for its malfeasance before the attacks and against TSA for its malfeasance after the attacks. He retired from federal service in 2014. He’s author of, Fortress of Deceit, the Story of a 9/11 Whistleblower.
Editor’s note: Also read the reports by Contributing Writer Clay Biles, a former FAM agent:
SPECIAL ANALYSIS: Federal Air Marshals Fail to Assess Capabilities
FAMS Must Promote from Within and Build Culture of Professionalism
Federal Air Marshal Service’s Failure to Adapt to New Aviation Threats is Alarming