Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sky King

From out of the clear blue of the
Western sky comes... Sky King!

--My orders came through.
My squadron ships out tomorrow.
We're bombing the storage depots at Daiquiri at 1800 hours.
We're coming in from the north, below their radar.
--When will you be back?
--I can't tell you that. It's classified
--Airplane! (1980)

Homeland Security Administration gets a lot wrong in its approach to countering the Terror threat to the U.S. The Air Marshal Service is a prime example.

Tennessee Rep. Jimmy Duncan quotes an 11/08
USA Today story on his webpage:

“Since 9/11, more than three dozen Federal air marshals have been charged with crimes, and hundreds more have been accused of misconduct. Cases range from drunken driving and domestic violence to aiding a human-trafficking ring and trying to smuggle explosives from Afghanistan.''

"Actually, there have been many more arrests of Federal air marshals than that story reported, quite a few for felony offenses. In fact, more air marshals have been arrested than the number of people arrested by air marshals (
Duncan Blasts "Useless" Air Marshal Service)."

Nice to know our tax dollars are supporting criminal enterprises beyond the mundane stealing of office pens. Rep. Duncan continues:

"We now have approximately 4,000 in the Federal Air Marshals Service, yet they have made an average of just 4.2 arrests a year since 2001. This comes out to an average of about one arrest a year per 1,000 employees.

"Now, let me make that clear. Their thousands of employees are not making one arrest per year each. They are averaging slightly over four arrests each year by the entire agency. In other words, we are spending approximately $200 million per arrest. Let me repeat that: we are spending approximately $200 million per arrest."

The cost per arrest is staggering, especially considering their low quality. Only three significant arrests since 9-11-2001, with only one conviction (Richard Reid).

Is there even a threat to our commercial aviation sector? If so, are Air Marshal the appropriate tool with which to counter the threat? Proper police and intel coordination linked with Transportation and Security Administration protocols should neutralize the threat before the security zone is penetrated by would-be hostile operatives.

The security system now has superfluous layers serving no obvious purpose. One example is screening for the components of liquid explosives which, even if smuggled aboard, could not be effectively combined to create an improvised mixture (unless a work area with scales were available.)

Explosives are not manufactured as easily as martinis that are shaken and not stirred. The realistic threat is not a James Bond type, contrary to the government hype. The types apprehended to date are pathetic, untrained crazies or wannabes posing theatrical threats -- they lack finely-honed operational skills. Yet this terror theater seems adequate to scare us witless.

The Rep questions the disparity between the threat and the scale of the U.S. response:

"Why, absent any evidence of a serious terror threat, is a war to on terror so enormous, so all-encompassing, and still expanding? The fundamental answer is that al Qaeda's most important accomplishment was not to hijack our planes but to hijack our political system.”

“For a multitude of politicians, interest groups and professional associations, corporations, media organizations, universities, local and State governments and Federal agency officials, the war on terror is now a major profit center, a funding bonanza, and a set of slogans and sound bites to be inserted into budget, grant, and contract proposals.''

After nearly a decade of the Phony War on Terror (PWOT ©) and 40 years of experience with international and transnational terrorists and state and non-state sponsored groups it would be reasonable to expect that our government would understand what are and are not realistic tactics for dealing with terrorism. Al-Qaeda is not our first rodeo.

Ranger remembers when "CT" (Communist Terrorist) was applied to the National Liberation Front/VC of the Republic of Vietnam, a label used to demonize their nationalist, anti-colonialist Communist efforts. It did not work then, and it will not work now. Sticks and stones...

Words are only words.

[Cross-posted at RangerAgainstWar]


  1. All quite affordable considering we've probably spent somewhere over $1B/head per card carrying AQ principal in the glorious war.

    In the history of mankind, has there ever been a more cost effective event than 9/11 to bankrupt a country morally and financially?

  2. srv says:

    "In the history of mankind, has there ever been a more cost effective event than 9/11 to bankrupt a country morally and financially?"

    That's a great question. That was such a cheap and inspired operation; it achieved precisely what it set out to do. Psychologically eloquent, and achieved with such a small loss of life.

    Has there are ever been better? Has there ever been a more gullible empire than the U.S.?

  3. Air marshalls are like cops in rich neighborhoods or small towns - their primary purpose is deterrence, not combating a "threat." So I'm not sure that the metrics listed are the right ones to consider. I do think, however, we'd still get that deterrence with a lot fewer marshalls at much less cost to the taxpayer.

  4. The Air Marshall program was instituted for a specific purpose - deter hijacking, which is a low frequency event. When the types of event the Marshalls were to deter increased, some pencil head decided that the number of Marshalls should increase. As to whether the probability of an event went up, who knows. Since the advent of the Marshall program, the increased screening and list of prohibited materials has probably reduced the probability of an event simply by reducing the tools necessary to conduct an event.

    Think about it. A boring, dead end job that involves constant travel and airline food - the same as the passengers. Cramped in a modern day coach seat for hours, trying to blend in. No one can know what you do for a living, so if the woman in the next seat tries to start up a conversation, you either have to act anti-social or be a liar. But, you are allowed to have a gun and a badge and draw good pay. Guaranteed to draw the cream of American youth!

    An equally compelling case can be made for every investment in air traveler security. Based upon dollars per arrest, probably the "magic wands" they check us with are wasteful. That's the problem with measuring "deterrent" measures. A truly successful one would result in no arrests after a while.

  5. Al,
    My personal response to this issue is- i won't fly anymore unless absolutely necessary.
    I'll keep my horse out of the race.
    You can never quantify deterrence, as you point out. No matter what, it can always be justified when forecasting budget requirements.That's the sublime beauty of the pwot, it makes sense even when it doesn't.

  6. To all,
    Todays CBS News reports that a Fed Air Marshall is accused of raping a woman at gunpoint.
    This can be googled.
    I'll bet this was not an example of flying the friendly skys nor is it what we meant by flying United.