Earlier this month, a federal air marshal left her loaded service weapon in the bathroom of a plane going from England to New York. According to four marshals familiar with the incident, a passenger found it.
A gun in the bathroom:
The incident happened on April 6, on board of a Delta flight going from Manchester to Kennedy International Airport.
The passenger who found the weapon gave it to a member of the crew, who in return gave it to the marshal. However, the marshal didn’t follow protocol and she didn’t report the incident until several days later
Sources familiar with the case said that despite her grave error, the marshal was assigned to another flight a few days later
The parent agency of the air marshal service, the Transportation Security Administration, stated that they are aware of the incident. However, they refused to comment publicly on the matter stating that they were “reviewing the circumstances of this incident.”
According to current and former air marshals, stated that leaving a loaded weapon unattended is a significant security breach which should’ve caused an investigation.
Former air marshal, Craig Sawyer, said: “You can’t have inept people leaving weapons in a lavatory. If someone with ill intent gets hold of that weapon on an aircraft, they are now armed.”
Sources in the know say that the air marshal who left her weapon unattended is a new hire. No additional information was provided by the T.S.A.
This incident occurred days after officials received information claiming that Islamic State militants might try to target aircraft by hiding bombs in electronic devices. This led the US and UK to ban laptop computers, iPads and other devices larger than a cellphone aboard direct inbound flights from 10 Muslim-majority countries.
A string of embarrassments:
The air marshal service has been plagued by a series of embarrassments in recent years. This includes allegations of sexism and racism, as well as employees arranging their schedules to meet up for sexual rendezvous.
Robert MacLean, a federal air marshal, was fired after he told a reporter that the agency is planning on reducing the number of air marshals on flights. He sued and the case went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. It decided in his favor in 2015
This incident raised questions about how the agency handles discipline by current and former employees. They state that they have been forced to resign or were fired due to much smaller issues.
MacLean said: “It’s a toxic culture and a lack of accountability.”
The first line of defense against Sept. 11-style terrorist attacks are these plainclothed air marshals who sit anonymously next to ordinary passengers. The idea started during President John F. Kennedy’s time in 1961 to protect planes against hijackings.
However, this incident could prove congressional critics the air marshal program right. They claim that it’s wasteful and unnecessary, as it costs nearly $1 billion per year, approximately 10% of the T.S.A.’s budget. Critics also claim that it’s unclear if the program has actually stopped a terrorist attack.