EXCLUSIVE — U.S. air marshals are planning to stage an open rebellion against the Biden administration over a plan that would strip 99% of commercial flights from federal protection as people take to the skies during the busiest time of the year for air travel .
Dozens of federal air marshals have agreed to refuse a Biden administration order that they leave their assignments and go to the southern border , where they will drive, feed, and care for illegal immigrants due to a shortage of Border Patrol agents.
“The rank and file air marshals are going to refuse to deploy and risk termination,” said David Londo, president of the Air Marshal National Council, in a phone call with the Washington Examiner on Tuesday. “You’re almost going to have a mutiny of a federal agency, which is unheard of.”
The overseeing agency, the Transportation Security Administration, said in a statement provided after deadline that claims that air marshals are doing menial tasks were “entirely inaccurate and does not reflect the critical and professional law enforcement role these officers perform.”
The administration’s order would leave just 1-in-100 U.S. flights with federal agents on board, one-eighth of its normal coverage.
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It is the first time amid the 20-month-long unresolved border crisis that federal employees have formally turned against President Joe Biden and his Senate-confirmed officials at the Department of Homeland Security . The air marshals are willing to risk everything for how the government is risking national security, Londo explained.
“Morale is so destroyed from this,” said Londo, whose organization serves as an association, not a union. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Air marshals would be risking their jobs as inflation rages and the United States potentially heads into a recession.
The air marshals, who are federal law enforcement agents within the Transportation Security Administration’s Federal Air Marshal Service, have been tasked with menial jobs at the border.
Just this week, air marshals pulled from planes and sent to the border were “heating up sandwiches,” driving immigrants in custody to the hospital and waiting inside for hours on hospital watch, and effectively babysitting adults who are already in confined spaces, Londo said.
“These highly skilled [air marshals] are being made to perform mainly non-law enforcement civilian humanitarian duties,” Londo wrote in the letter obtained first by the Washington Examiner.
In mid-2021, the Federal Air Marshal Service asked for volunteers willing to go to the southern border for 30 days and help process the growing number of illegal immigrants in custody. Earlier this month, the government changed course and announced that the deployments would become mandatory.
The air marshals fought the order but only got the length of the deployment dropped from 30 days to 21 days. DHS ordered a minimum of 150 more air marshals to the border on Dec. 7. At present, dozens plan to refuse and are preparing to be fired for taking the stand.
“Air marshals are deployed two to three nights a week. Now they’re taking them away, and their marriages are already on the rocks,” Londo said.
On Monday, the Federal Air Marshal Service’s Miami Field Office announced the deployments would now last indefinitely. Air marshals have already been sent to El Paso, Laredo, and McAllen, Texas; San Diego; and Tucson and Yuma, Arizona.
The council sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas as well as the TSA and Federal Air Marshal Service on Monday, warning them that the order is self-defeating because it makes the skies less safe for people traveling during the busiest time of the year.
“According to the Federal Aviation Administration year to date there have been 2,178 reports of unruly passengers, 767 investigations initiated, and 517 enforcement actions taken. Not to mention the fact there has been two attempted attacks on our homeland since 9-11 during the holiday season,” the letter states. “Your policy has resulted in a complete loss of confidence in Secretary Mayorkas, FAM Director Stevenson, and Administrator Pekoske’s ability to lead DHS/TSA/FAMS.”
Londo pointed in his letter to recent violent passenger attacks midflight that involved weapons smuggled aboard the plane, as well as a cockpit breach on a Southwest Airlines flight last week.
The National Association of Police Organizations issued a statement in support of the air marshals and warned that they were already in a bad place before the deployments became mandatory.
“The Federal Air Marshal Service is understaffed and covering the fewest number of flights since before September 11, 2001,” said NAPO, a coalition of more than 1,000 police departments across the country. “We strongly question the decision by the Department of Homeland Security to divert much-needed aviation security to the southern border especially as we enter the busiest travel season of the year, particularly as a Federal emergency has not been declared at the border.”
Behind the scenes, the council is working with the DHS Office of Inspector General to launch a federal investigation into the Biden administration’s repurposing of air marshals.
Hondo accused TSA Administrator David Pekoske and Federal Air Marshal Service Director Tirrell Stevenson of “fraud, waste, and abuse of authority and violations of federal law” in a letter sent to DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari exclusively obtained by the Washington Examiner.
In the Nov. 18 letter, Hondo called on the inspector general to investigate the legality of the air marshal deployments. He wrote that the only exception to pulling air marshals from their jobs would be in the case of a declared national emergency, which has not been declared. Even if an emergency were declared, air marshals would only be permitted to assist other agencies with transportation-related matters.
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The Biden administration has refused to call the record-high number of noncitizens being encountered at the border over the past 20 months a crisis. Border agents have encountered approximately 4 million people attempting to illegally enter the U.S. since Biden took office — more than the Obama administration’s eight years in office.
The TSA defended the operation in a statement provided to the Washington Examiner early Wednesday.
“Federal Air Marshals are performing law enforcement support to the mission at the southwest border,” according to a TSA spokesman. “The TSA Federal Air Marshal Service is a highly valued member of the DHS law enforcement team and has an ever-expanding role within DHS, working closely with other U.S. and international law enforcement agencies to safeguard the nation’s transportation systems.”