Federal Air Marshal: Deputize Passengers to Deal with Threats in the Air

By Melanie Arter | June 10, 2015 | 1:01pm EDT
A plane takes off from LaGuardia Airport in New York. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Federal Air Marshal Robert MacLean told Congress Tuesday that flight crews and law enforcement should have the legal authority to “deputize and indemnify vetted able-bodied passengers to protect themselves” and airplanes from destruction in the event of an attack.

“Flight crews and law enforcement officers need the legal authority to deputize and indemnify vetted able-bodied passengers to protect themselves and the jet from destruction. We could do this process during our Pre-check,” MacLean said, referring to the Transportation Security Administration’s screening program, which pre-qualifies low-risk air travelers for expedited and more efficient security screening.


“There’s no reason why an athlete or a military member can’t walk deep into the cabin to restrain somebody. During Pre-check enrollment, we can ask passengers to volunteer to be these deputy air marshals during critical events and qualify them at training centers,” MacLean added.

He proposed several measures to improve airline security during his opening statement to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s hearing on oversight of the TSA.

MacLean warned that “if a terrorist group puts thought into it, it’s relatively easy to sneak small bombs into jets in order to blow up at high altitude.”

“Bombs just won’t pass through checkpoints,” he said. Airport workers don’t effectively screen the cargo of delivery drivers, who bring “daily megatons of items consumed by passengers in the boarding areas.”

“That cargo includes food, drink, condiments, cooking oil, cleaning products, and then all of the packaging that goes with it. Then you have all of the dense stacks of newspapers, magazines, and books. This mountain is nowhere near getting the screening that passengers are getting at the checkpoints,” MacLean said.

He proposed taking Transportation security officers off checkpoints and “exhausted air marshals out of airline chairs and deploy them deep inside the bowels of the train stations and airports to do traditional foot patrol such as the uniform Viper teams and the undercover red teams.”

MacLean said when he flew missions, he tried “desperately” to find terrorists, but instead “disrupted three illegal alien smuggling operations” based on his experience “learning the mundane routines of the traveling public, building rapport with the airport workers and local authorities, knowing the area real well and just simply reading faces.”

He proposed greatly expanding the TSA Precheck and making it free.

“More people in Precheck frees up resources to focus on attackers. I’d like to see TSOs roaming airports with mobile Pre-check application kits and soliciting passengers during their delays,” he said.

He suggested putting more air marshals on the ground by completely securing the flight deck or cockpit.

“We need to have more faith in human intelligence gathering and the intuition of bold officers, but in order to get more air marshals on the ground, you need to completely secure the flight deck or the cockpit where the pilots are in control of the jet. Every flight deck should have a modified shotgun with an emergency lock switch,” Maclean said.

“Shotgun pellets are an ideal since the primary concern is to stop an attacker trying to force the door open. In a highly unlikely miss, shotgun pellets will not harm passengers or the aircraft,” he said.

“The group of pilots who use their own funds to travel to Artesia, New Mexico, spending a week being trained and issue a TSA 40-caliber semi-automatic pistol can miss and kill an innocent passenger in the very back of the cabin with a jacketed bullet. Once again, this is highly unlikely, but it’s possible,” MacLean said.

He noted that “armed pilots are not allowed to carry pistols on international flights due to very restrictive handgun laws in foreign countries,” but allowing pilots the use of “a shotgun modified to stop one or two hijackers trying to break into the cockpit from one foot away” would prevent another 9/11.

Also, the use of a secondary barrier would be effective during times when the pilot must open the flight deck door to use the bathroom or get something to eat or drink, MacLean said.

“It’s an extreme hazard whenever a pilot opens the flight deck door to use the lavatory or to get food or drink. An amped up attacker can dive inside and destroy the jet. There’s a cheap and perfect solution to this: secondary barriers - 10 horizontal cables attached to a vertical pole a flight attendant can simply stretch across the galley and lock in place.

“This barrier buys the flight crew plenty of time to quickly get the pilot back into the flight deck and lock the door. In order to control unruly passengers who could be suicidal attackers setting up a ruse for the law enforcement officers on board. Every cabin should be equipped with restraint systems and non-lethal tools to restrain unruly passengers or stop murderous attackers,” he said.

“Passengers may do nothing because of the potential civil liability and because they’re expecting air marshals to respond. An air marshal taken away from protecting the flight deck endangers the entire jet. The pilots may not be able to safely land a jet for hours over an ocean while attackers are going on a murder spree,” said MacLean.

“In the case of absolute chaos in the cabin, the pilots need the ability to disorient attackers by shutting off all lighting or flashing blinding strobe lights or high-pitch sound alarms, and when that doesn’t stop the mayhem, pilots can actually don oxygen masks and depressurize the cabin, knocking out the attackers due to the rapid breathing heart rate,” he said.

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