Secretary Ridge Announces Official Transfer of Federal Air Marshal Service to ICE

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For Immediate ReleaseOffice of the Press SecretaryNovember 25, 2003

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge today announced the official transfer of the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) from the Transportation Security Administration to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The move enhances homeland security and re-enforces DHS's commitment to air security by fusing all of the investigative resources within the Border and Transportation Security Directorate at ICE, the largest investigative arm of Homeland Security.  The move also expands Homeland Security's ability to respond to air security threats by creating a vastly larger surge potential of trained federal agents who can respond during times of crisis.

"This is the right move at the right time for the right reasons," said Secretary Ridge. "ICE offers the Air Marshal Service multiple investigative resources, such as better coordination with other law enforcement agencies and broader training opportunities. And the Air Marshals bring unique law enforcement and air security resources to ICE."

While touring the Federal Air Marshal training facility in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Secretary Ridge reiterated Homeland Security's commitment to the security of the flying public.  "The Federal Air Marshals are but one part of a multi-layered security system for our nation's air passenger system," he said.  "TSA and Homeland Security have taken numerous steps that have made our commercial air system far safer than it was before September 11th."

Besides adding thousands of new air marshals to fly on commercial airplanes, since September 11th, TSA and Homeland Security have worked in partnership with the airline industry to improve air security by:

  • Hiring and training more than 45,000 professional transportation security screeners.
  • Federal screeners receive more than 100 hours of training, instead of the 3-4 hours of training provided to contract screeners before September 11th.
  • Federal screeners undergo rigorous background checks.
  • Federal screeners are constantly being informed of the latest intelligence to assist them in looking for threatening items and materials.
  • TSA aggressively tests the system using undercover auditors, and reviewing the results of the tests with screener supervisors and managers.
  • Adding more than $1 billion of new technology in airports across the country.  This includes replacing all airport metal detectors with new detectors using the latest technology.
  • Screening 100% of checked baggage for explosives.  
  • The congressionally-approved methods of screening baggage in use today are set out in the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush on Nov. 19, 2001.  This Act authorizes TSA to use a variety of methods to screen checked baggage, including electronic explosive-detecting machines, canines and physical inspections.
  • Nationally, about 92 percent of all bags are screened electronically. At a handful of airports, bags are screened by other congressionally approved methods.
  • Prior to 9-11 only about than 5 percent of all bags were being screened by any means.
  • Hardening cockpit doors in more than 6,000 commercial passenger planes.
  • Training more than 500 volunteer pilots as Federal Flight Deck Officers, authorizing them to carry guns in the cockpit.
  • Requiring daily pre-flight inspections by airlines, of every commercial passenger plane in operation.
  • Working with airlines, airports and other airport employers to complete more than 1 million background checks on all of their employees.  This includes criminal background checks done by the airports.
  • Closely monitoring the use of airportentification badges in an effort to prevent security breaches.
  • Working with airports to increase curbside security.
  • Working with airport authorities and local law enforcement to improve airport perimeter security.

Michael J. Garcia, ICE Acting Assistant Secretary, said that the FAMS are being integrated into ICE as one of six operational divisions dedicated to homeland security.

"This fusion of the FAMS into ICE will not only establish an integrated law enforcement presence in the aviation sector; it will enhance ICE's overall law enforcement capabilities and resources to enforce its mission, which is to detect and prevent vulnerabilities or violations that threaten the nation's homeland security," said Garcia. "Our goal at ICE is to create a seamless web of resources that can be used wherever the threat is greatest."

In order to prepare the FAMs for high-altitude surveillance, deterrence, and combat, the Federal Air Marshal Service sends each trainee to William J. Hughes Technical Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  

The stringent training program there includes behavioral observation, intimidation tactics, and close quarters self-defense.  In addition, ICE Air Marshals are held to a higher standard for handgun accuracy than most federal law enforcement officers.