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Flight Security at Risk? Air Marshals’ Border Mission Criticized

Payam Javan: In response to concerns over the deployment of federal air marshals to the Southern border to assist with humanitarian efforts, critics are highlighting potential risks to airline security. The controversy stems from claims that diverting air marshals to border duties compromises safety on domestic flights, a point underscored by recent incidents. One notable case involved Severo Torres, who attempted to stab a flight attendant and breach a plane door on a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Boston in March 2023. This incident, cited by the Air Marshal National Council, exemplifies the perceived dangers of reducing air marshal presence on commercial flights.

Sonya LaBosco, speaking on behalf of the Air Marshal National Council, criticized the policy, arguing that such deployments leave flights vulnerable to in-flight incidents. She described air marshals being tasked at the border with non-security roles like distributing water and performing logistical tasks, activities she characterized as inadequate for addressing potential threats to aviation security. Critics, including LaBosco, argue that reducing air security measures while millions of undocumented immigrants remain in the country poses heightened risks akin to the vulnerabilities exploited during the 9/11 attacks.

A report from the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security supported these concerns, noting that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) did not conduct a comprehensive risk assessment before deploying air marshals to the border. The report highlighted a lack of established performance measures to gauge the impact of these deployments on TSA’s core mission of safeguarding the nation’s transportation system. Despite assurances from TSA officials that flight safety was not compromised, the report pointed to survey responses from air marshals themselves indicating skepticism about the effectiveness of the border deployments in enhancing overall transportation security.

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